Are more Americans in love than in the past? The Census Bureau doesn’t track that, but it does keep tabs on American relationships.
These days, Americans are now less likely to be married and more likely to live alone. When people do marry, they’re doing it later in life than in the past.
While a higher percentage of Americans are divorced, a lower percentage are widows.
And more than half a million same-sex couples are now married, which wasn’t an option for people in the 1950s.
In 1949, 78.8% of all households contained married couples. In 2021, 72 years later, 47.3% of households had married couples.
Both men and women are marrying later in life. Based on census data compiled since 1890, the median ages of first marriage were at their youngest in 1956 (just over 22 for men and 20 for women). In 2019, those figures were at their oldest: over 30 for men and over 28 for women.
Marriage has declined across races and ethnicities, but the trend is more pronounced for some. The marriage rates for white, Black, and Hispanic Americans have fallen roughly 7, 8, and 11 percentage points, respectively, since 1990. Meanwhile, marriage rates for Asian Americans have remained around 61% since 1990. Marriage rates are calculated as the share of people currently married among the population 15 and older within each demographic group.
The number of unmarried men and women increased during the same time. In 2019, 35% of men and 30% of women had never been married. In 1990, 30% of men and 23% of women had never been married.
The shift is larger among Black and Hispanic people. In 1990, 43% of Black men had never been married. In 2021, it was 52%. During that period, the percent of unmarried Black women increased from 37% to 48%. For Hispanic women, it increased from 27% to 38%; the percent of unmarried Hispanic men increased from 37% to 47%.
In 1980, white men and women made up 80% of the US population and were the most likely demographic to be married. By 2021, Asian men and women were the most likely to be married. The demographic grew from 1.5% of the population in 1980 to 5.9% today.
While much of the marriage rate decline is explained by an increasing share of Americans not marrying at all, the number of people who are divorced or widowed is also changing.
Divorce rates increased across most demographic groups from 1990 to 2021. In 1990, 6.8% of men were divorced. By 2021, that figure was 8.4%. The divorce rate peaked for men in 2013 at 9%. The percentage of divorced women grew from 9.4% to 11% from 1990 to 2021.
Widowed Americans are also a smaller percentage of the population than in 1990. The widower population dropped from 3%to 2.7%. For women, that figure dropped from 12% to 8.6%. Men’s shorter life expectancy helps explain why women are more likely to be widowed.
Single-person households increased more than fivefold since 1960, from 7 million to 37 million. The population who lived with at least one other person hasn't even doubled during that period. Single-person households were 3.8% of all households in 1960. As of 2021, they were 11.1%.
The 2020 census was the first decennial count to directly ask about relationships making a distinction between opposite-sex and same-sex couples, both married and unmarried. That data is not yet available.
Census data on same-sex relationships dates back to the 2005 American Community Survey, though the agency has acknowledged data inconsistencies before a 2008 questionnaire change. The agency estimated there were 568,000 married same-sex couples nationwide in the 2019 survey.
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