Marriage is considered one of the key components of family life used to measure social cohesion and stability. Detailed statistics of marriages, divorces and separations are taken by the United States Census Bureau to help analyze historical trends and patterns. The Census Bureau has several methods to obtain information about marriages: National Center for Health Statistics, SIPP, American Community Survey and the census itself. Statistics show that the current average length of marriage is eight years. This number has remained relatively stable during the history of marriage related record keeping since World War II. This statistic, however, hides significant trends in the number of people getting married and when they are doing it.
How Data is Collected
The Survey of Income Data and Participation (SIPP) is the most important source of marriage data. Records of marriages and divorces were kept before the program’s start in 1986, but details like race, age and economic variations were unclear. SIPP collects marriage data by conducting surveys at four-month intervals of men and women over the age of 15. A large sample size of 39,000 households is used to discover lengths of marriages, divorces and widowhood. This sampling size leads to a margin of error of 0.5 percent. Less detailed information has been taken by the U.S. Census Bureau since the end of World War II.
The most notable change from 1986 to 2009 was an increase in the average age of a first marriage. This increase is partially accounted for by fewer women getting married at younger ages. For women aged 25 to 29, those who have never been married rose from 27 percent in 1986 to 47 percent in 2009. A lower percentage of women got married in each age category over time, but the shifts get smaller as age increases. Men have also been getting married later in life since the 1950s. The average age for first marriage rose from 23 to 28. Changes in divorce rates are a bit more complicated to compute due to several different variables being at play. Divorce rates rose in 1970s, but they stabilized and even declined in the decades that followed. Experts often cite dramatic changes in divorce law that occurred during the early 1970s for why such a blip occurred n the statistics.
The Average Length of Marriage
While statistics have shown that less people are getting married in general, and doing it at older ages, the average length of marriages has not shifted in a definitive direction during the past 60 years. In 2009, the average length of a first marriage was eight years. This number was fairly consistent along racial lines: black couples had an average length of 8.6 years and whites of 7.8 years. This number was also consistent whether the relationship was a first or second marriage. The average age for men who divorce in their first marriage is 32, and for women it is 30. Statistically, second marriages will end in divorce exactly ten years later for both genders. Statistics have also provided information about when couples decide to separate. The average time until separation is about seven years for couples who end up getting divorced, which is only one year less than the divorce itself.
What the Statistics Tell Us
The statistics about marriage and divorce tell us a lot about social realities in U.S. society. Despite reports about skyrocketing divorce rates and weakened family institutions caused by social change, couples who marry stay married for about the same amount of time as they have in the past. The real changes have come from people deciding to get married later in life or not at all. A large part of this shift can be attributed to the liberation of women in the work place. More women now have a chance to make an independent living than they did in the past, reducing their independence on a working male for survival. Changes can also be attributed to growing acceptance of alternative lifestyles. Both men and women were expected to get married at relatively young ages in the past. Single people, including single mothers and fathers, are now more accepted than they ever were.