The Pew Research Center released a major social trends report in November 2010 on the topic of marriage and family titled “The Decline of Marriage And Rise of New Families” (you may have heard about the cover article on this report featured in Time magazine).  They attempted to evaluate how Americans’ views of marriage have changed over the last 50 years.[1] Some of their findings merely confirmed what most see as common knowledge, but some of their findings were quite surprising.

It took me a number of lunch breaks to read through the report, but it was well worth the time spent seeing how it is chalked full of valuable social statistics.  While I would encourage you to read the full report, here are some of the most significant findings (organized by subject):


  • In 1960 72% of adults were married (and 85% were ever married), compared to only 52% in 2008 (and 73% had ever married).  Part of the difference is the higher divorce rate in modern times.
  • Among unmarried adults 46% want to get married, 25% don’t, and 29% aren’t sure.  Unmarried people in the South are most likely to want to get married (71%), followed by the Midwest (60%), West (53%), and East (49%).
  • People are putting marriage off longer.  In 1960, 68% of 20-somethings were married vs. 26% in 2008.
  • Even with the decline in marriage, Americans have one of the highest marriage rates of developed nations.  In 2006 the U.S. experienced 7.4 marriages p/1000 people.  Compare this to France and Italy with only 4.2 marriages p/1000 people in 2005.
  • 39% of Americans think marriage is becoming obsolete, up from 28% in 1978.  Interestingly, college graduates who have the most hope for the future of marriage (71% vs. 52% of non-graduates).  Unsurprisingly, those who are married have the most positive outlook for the future of marriage, followed by unmarried adults, single parents, and cohabiting parents.
  • Marriage used to be nearly as common among the uneducated and poor as among the educated and non-poor (76% vs. 72% in 1960).  Now, marriage is much more popular among the educated and non-poor (64% of college graduates are married vs. 48% of those without a college education).  Part of the reason for this change is that Americans have come to view economic security as a precondition for marriage, rather than a major benefit obtained through marriage (as it was in the past).  2007 also marked the first time that college graduates were more likely than non-college graduates to be married by age 30.
  • Why do people get married?  93% of married people said they did so for love, 87% did so for a lifelong commitment, 81% did so for companionship, and only 59% did so for children, and 31% did so for financial stability.  Unmarried adults order the reasons for why they would get married the same way.  I find this interesting because in days gone by, the order would have been reversed for most individuals.  Financial stability and children were the primary reasons for marriage.

    Race and Politics
  • 56% of whites and 32% of blacks are married.  In 1960 the marriage rates were 74% and 61% respectively.
  • 88% of blacks believe a man must be financially stable before marriage (77% Hispanic, 62% white), and 50% believe a woman must be a good provider as well (47% Hispanic, 28% white).  Due to their lower income levels, however, many do not achieve this, which may explain the lower marriage rates among blacks.
  • 67% of Republicans are married, and 57% are married with children.  Compare this to 45%/38% for Democrats.  Democrats are also twice as likely to cohabit (9% vs. 4%).


  • Americans have one of the highest marriage rates and highest divorce rates of developed nations. The U.S. divorce rate was 3.7 divorces p/1000 people in the mid-2000s, compared to France at 2.2 and Germany at 2.3.
  • The divorce rate reached its peak in 1979 and has declined since (due in part to declining marriage rates).
  • In a 2007 Pew survey 67% of Americans thought it is in the best interest of the children if two parents who are very unhappy with each other divorce (19% disagreed).  When kids aren’t involved, 58% said divorce is still preferable while 38% disagreed.
  • 32% of divorced/widowed men want to remarry, compared to only 16% of divorced/widowed women.


  • 1990 was the year “unmarried partners” was added as an option to the Census Bureau form.  Since then, the number of cohabiting couples has doubled.
  • In 2008 there were 6.2 million cohabiting couples (12.4 million individuals) (565,000 of these couples were same-sex couples).  This rose to 6.7 million in 2009 and 7.5 million in 2010.
  • In 2000 5.5% of Americans age 20+ were cohabiting, compared to 8.7% in Great Britain, 9.3% in the Netherlands, and 11.8% in Finland.  We are higher than Italy (2%), Poland (1.3%), Spain (3.3%), and Portugal (4.1%).
  • 44% of Americans admit that they have cohabited at some point in their lives (men = 46%; women = 41%).  Those aged 30-49 were most likely to have cohabited (57%).  44% of 18-29 year olds have as well, followed by 42% of 50-64 year olds, and 18% of 65+.  By race, blacks are most likely to have cohabited (47%), followed by white (44%) and Hispanic (39% – which includes any non-white and non-black person).
  • 64% of cohabiters (past and present) saw it as a step toward marriage.  69% of current cohabiters expect to marry their cohabiter someday (25% don’t expect to, and 6% aren’t sure).
  • 89% of those who are currently married but cohabited in the past, cohabited with their current spouse prior to marriage (59% only cohabited with their spouse, while 30% cohabited with other partners as well).
  • 43% do not think cohabitation is good for society, 46% think it makes no difference, and 9% think it is good for society.  Only 27% of adults age 18-29 think it is bad for society compared to 64% of the oldest adults.
  • Democrats are twice as likely to cohabit as Republicans (9% vs. 4%).

Cohabiting Parents

  • In 2008, 6% of children under age 18 (4.3 million children) lived with cohabiting parents (up from 3% in 1990).
  • 29% of married or cohabiting parents had children before they got married or moved in together.  Specifically, 63% of cohabiters had children before moving in together, and 25% of married couples had children before getting married.  Blacks were the most likely to have had children prior to getting married or cohabiting (52% vs 26% for whites and 25% for Hispanics).
  • 43% think cohabiting parents are bad for society, while an equal number think it makes no difference.
  • Only 34% of adults age 18-29 think cohabiting parents is bad for society, compared to 58% of the oldest adults.


  • Children born out of wedlock has increased from 5% in 1960 to 28% in 1990 to 41% in 2008.  72% of black women giving birth were unmarried in 2008, compared to 53% of Hispanics and 29% of whites.
  • 33% of Hispanics, 27% of whites, and 17% of blacks are living with a spouse and child(ren).
  • As of 2008, 64% of all children live with two married parents (whether biological, step, or adoptive), compared to 87% in 1960.
  • If we isolate those children who live with a biological parent (as opposed to a grandparent, friend, etc.), 92% of children lived with married parents, 5% lived with a separated or divorced parent, and 1% lived with cohabiting parents in 1960.  By 2008 only 71% lived with married parents, 15% with a separated or divorced parent, and 14% with cohabiting parents.
  • 45% of divorced parents have sole-custody of the children (the number of women who have sole custody is double that of men), 35% share custody, and 18% have no custody at all.
  • Women constitute 77% of the total number of unmarried parents living with children.
  • 52% of black children, 27% of Hispanic children, and 18% of white children are being raised in single-parent homes.  19% of black adults are living in households with a child but no spouse.
  • 32% of black children are being raised in a home with two married parents, 6% with cohabiting parents, and 10% with no parent at all.
  • 69% of adults believe it is wrong for a woman to intentionally raise a child without the father, and 61% believe a child needs both parents to grow up happy.  Among young adults, however, only ~50% think a child needs both parents to be happy.  There’s a gender divide with 2/3 of men agreeing (29% disagree) vs. 54% of women (42% disagree).  There’s a racial divide with 72% of Hispanics agreeing vs. 65% of blacks and 57% of whites (50% of white women agree and 46% disagree).  There is also a religious divide, with 72% of regular church-goers (of any religion) thinking two parents is the ideal, but only 44% of those who seldom or never go would agree.
  • 29% of Americans think intentional childlessness is bad for society, 11% say it is good, and 55% thinks it makes little difference.  This is the only trend for which the young (37% of 18-29 year olds) are more concerned than the old (27%).
  • 62% of women under 50 and men under 60 want to have children.  Those younger than 30 are especially likely to want kids (76% vs. 45% of those aged 30-49).
  • 83% of unmarried adults who want to get married also want to have kids.  31% who do not want to get married want to have kids anyway (30% do not want kids and 38% aren’t sure).

Working Mothers

  • Women in the workforce have increased from 32% in 1960 to 47% in 1975 to 71% in 2008.  This has caused women to delay marriage and children, as well as have fewer children.
  • In 2008, 60% of mothers with children under age 3 were working, compared to 34% of women with children under age 3 in 1975.
  • In 1985, 60% of adults thought a working mother could have as good a relationship with her children as a stay-at-home mom.  In 2008 that number rose to 72%.
  • Only 22% of adults age 18-29 think it is best for the man to be the sole breadwinner of the family, and the women stay home to manage the house and children.  30% of the general public believes the same, with 62% opting for both parents working.

Same-Sex Partners

  • 204,000 children lived with same-sex couples in 2008.
  • 45% of Americans identify same-sex couples as “families,” and 63% identify same-sex couples with children as “families” (regarding the latter, 70% of women and 57% of men think so).  For comparison, 43% also believe unmarried couples w/o children are “families.”
  • Only 28% of adults age 18-29 think same-sex couples raising children is bad for society, compared to 58% of the oldest adults.  By gender, 50% of men and 35% of women agree that this is bad for society.  Those with a college degree are less likely to think it is bad for society (36%) than those without college degrees (44-46%).
  • The social stigma against same-sex couples rearing children is eroding fast.  In a 2007 Pew survey 50% thought same-sex couples raising children was bad for society and 34% said it makes no difference.  In 2010 those figures changed to 43% and 41% respectively.
  • 2010 marked the first year that a majority of Americans no longer opposed same-sex marriage (48% oppose).  Even in 2009 a full 54% opposed it.  By age, 53% of those under 30 favor it compared to 48% of 30-45 year olds, 38% of 46-64 year olds, and 29% of those age 65+.

Odds & Ends

  • 56% of married families eat dinner together every day, 34% a few times a week, 7% occasionally, and 2% never do.
  • In 1980 only 10% of women age 40-44 were childless.  By 2008 that number increased to 18% (white women most likely to be childless).
  • 68% of adults believed premarital sex was wrong in 1968, compared to only 32% who said the same in 2009.
  • 28% believe in a soul-mate while 69% don’t.  Men (31%) are more likely than women (26%) to believe in soul-mates.  Blacks (47%) are more likely to believe in this than Hispanics (47%) and whites (24%).

Congratulations!  You just saved yourself 8 hours of reading.

[1]The survey was conducted by the Princeton Survey Research Associates International in October 2010, and included nearly 3000 participants.