Marriage and family, circa 2006
As the year draws to a close, the National Marriage Project’s “State of Our Unions 2006” examination of the state of marriage in America today reveals a mixed picture. Several of the worst trends of the 1960s and 1970s appear to have abated — with some even beginning a reverse — but the most important trend, the proportion of married Americans, continues to decline. So do some important others.
The negative trends include a rise in births to unmarried women, a rise in the number of single-parent households, a decline in attitudes favorable to marriage and the persistence of a historically low fertility rate which, though improving slightly, is still below replacement level.
● In total, 55 percent of all persons over the age of 15 were married, down from 57.9 percent in 2000. Six years ago there were 46.5 marriages per thousand in the United States; by 2004, that number had fallen to 40.2. Breaking the numbers down by ethnic and racial grouping shows another discouraging trend, an even steeper decline in marriage among black Americans. Only 37.9 percent of black men are married and 30.2 percent of women, down from 42.8 and 36.2 percent respectively in 2000.
● The percentage of children in households with two parents continues to fall. In 2006, 69 percent of all children under the age of 18 lived with both parents. That number is now 67 percent in the most current data (2004). The percentage of live births to unmarried women increased at an even greater pace: From 33.2 percent in 2000 to 35.7 in 2004.
● The loss of “child-centeredness.” One of the most troubling findings is the rise of attitudes highly disfavorable of married parenthood. “[L]ife with children is experienced as a disruption in the life course rather than one of its defining purposes,” the authors write. “[I]t is life before and after children that American culture now portrays as the most satisfying years of adulthood.” Not all the news is bad. ● Divorce is now on a slight decline. There were 17.9 divorces per thousand in 2004, down from 18.8 in 2000 and an alltime high of 22.6 in 1980. As of 2005, the percentage of Americans who are divorced has begun to level off for the first time since the 1950s. Between 9 percent and 10 percent of all Americans age 15 and older are divorced — which is still substantially higher than in recent decades but ends a long period of rapid worsening.
● Fertility rates are rising. As distinct from Europe, where native-born populations are not reproducing even close to replacement rates, the United States is reversing the trend. The most recent fertility rate (2004) is 66.3 births per thousand, up from 65.9 in 2000, a historical low. This number is barely half the 1960 level (118.0) but is notable because it reverses a 50-year decline.
This mixed picture can be read in varying ways. But the bottom line is that the percentage of married Americans — that indicator of familial stability and child well-being — continues to drop.