This survey compared average daily spending across age groups for singles, marrieds, “domestic partners” (up to age 49) and divorced individuals. Comparing just single and married individuals we see that regardless of the age group, average daily spending was higher for married individuals than for single ones. The spending differences in the youngest age group among these, those aged 18-24, is particularly striking, with marrieds spending nearly double single individuals in the same age group. This is in part due to the tendency of college students to have lower incomes as well as be less likely to be married, but the pattern remains clear for every age group compared. On average, marrieds in each age group spent (and presumably earned) about 35% more than singles within the same age group. As to the viewpoint that lower-income individuals are less likely to get married that is partially true, but if we compare the incomes of previously-married (divorced) individuals we see that once again, in every age group, those divorced earn less than those married within their age group. Even those divorced individuals in their 50s and 60s, the majority of whom have probably been divorced for a decade or more, are still earning substantially less than those still married within the same age group. In fact, we see that those divorced in their 50s earn less than those never-married singles. This provides clear evidence that is the institution of marriage and presence of it in one’s life that motivates individuals, especially men (as we saw in the previous article) to spend and earn more than when they are single or divorced.
It should be noted that these comparisons reflect individual spending, regardless of the size of household. In other words, while we would expect that marriage generally involves a bigger house, extra car, more food, etc., when two individuals join together as a married couple, the facts show that the total spending of those two individuals as a married couple is more than the same individuals when they were single. In the case of spending in marriage, one plus one doesn’t equal two, but is greater than two. This is also seen, though to a lesser extent, with cohabitators. Those living together but not married spend more than their single counterparts, but about 10%-20% less than married couples within the same age group. This is significant, because along with the rise in singleness, there is also a substantial rise in cohabitation. Indeed, many men and women who in previous decades would look for marriage as a safe and permanent outlet for intimate relationships, now become serial cohabitators (the average non-marital cohabitation lasts about a year and a half).
Based on U.S. Census data, the rate of marriages fell by more than 30% from 1990 to 2010, with even sharper declines among those in their 20s. As a result, today almost half (47%) of individuals in the age 25-34 age group in the U.S. have never married. According to the U.S. Community Survey, only about 7% of never-marrieds in this age group are becoming newly married each year. Within the 35-44 age group just one in twenty-five never-marrieds get married each year and by the age of 50, it is less than one in fifty. Taken together, it is likely that fewer than half of today’s non-married 25-34 year olds will ever be married. In addition, a million or so individuals will become divorced every year, further swelling the pool of unmarried men and women across America. Simple statistics indicate that the dwindling percentage of American married families will dwindle further in the coming decades.
As to the why of these trends, there are a multitude of reasons. Besides the increased tendency for cohabitation instead of marriage, falling marriage rates have been blamed on everything from higher student loan debt to the greater abundance of enjoyable leisure time activities. There has been a notable turn away from marriage by men who, as I noted in a previous article, are increasingly leaving both the workforce and family life. Analysis of relevant data clearly indicates that men in particular need to earn more in marriage than outside of it, with related family and relationship stresses and heavier workload, both within and outside the home. In addition, a large and growing percentage of men see the attractions outside of marriage greater than those within. As men see the ill-treatment and misfortune that many men around them have suffered by individuals, courts, and society, a substantial group of those men will never enter into or go back to the institution of marriage.
This is unfortunate, because much of the foundation of modern society and the economy is built upon marriage and man’s position within it, which has driven men to build families and build the economy. The institution of marriage along with the biological instinct of men has driven them to be producers and providers for the benefit of their families and society. Historically, men have been inventors and innovators, worked in the most difficult jobs, and for the most pay, sacrificing themselves for the benefits of family and intimacy. Now however, and despite societal pressures to “conform”, as the costs of relationships, marriage, and divorce have grown, with dwindling benefits, a large group of men are turning away from the institution of marriage.
Unfortunately, we may be past the tipping point where marriage as an institution can be recreated in a manner pleasing to both sexes and culture. Each year that the marriage rate falls it becomes more acceptable and even preferred to be out of the dating game, the stresses and demands within marriage and the high chance for an emotionally agonizing divorce. When more friends and more fun are seen outside of marriage it will become increasingly difficult to convince individuals that marriage is the place for them.
Another possible tipping point that we may have passed is the average age for first marriage. For men in particular, a safe avenue for their biological drive is often found in marriage, and is most desired when a man is young, historically and biologically, usually in a man’s early to mid-20s (the average age of first marriage for men in the U.S. was below 25 from the 1920s through 1980s. With each year that passes after that point and especially upon a man reaching his 30s, a man’s logic and awareness of the dangers of intimacy and marriage increases and reproductive urges decrease. The average age of a man’s first marriage in the U.S. is now about 29. Particularly with the very visible divorce “revolution” men have seen in the last generation or two, it seems likely that a small percentage of men will want to get married once they have gone past the age of 30 and especially 35 or 40. And while women may increasingly feel content to wait until their 30s to get married, the desire for men to do so falls rapidly once they have passed their 20s. More men who marry later will mean more men (and women) that won’t marry at all.
While men may benefit on a personal level from taking a more individualistic approach to life, we will increasingly see the effects that these actions and non-actions have upon society as a whole. This reality in combination with the increasing exodus from the work force among American men will ensure a demographically weak economy. In addition to the increasing demographic headwinds from retiring baby-boomers, there will be substantial economic headwinds from the decline of marriage.
These demographic changes will lead to a slow, steady transformation in the economy with deterioration in certain sectors with increases in others. For example, I would expect that video games, electronics and sport activities should continue to see steady growth as singles use their greater amount of leisure time increasingly directed toward fun diversions. But I believe these demographic shifts will lead to a decline in the economy as a whole. If a substantial percentage of the population, say 20%, 30% or more, declines to get married, and these individuals earn 10%, 20% or more less each year than their married counterparts, this will of course have an effect on the greater economy. In a previous article I noted the historical relationship between rates of baby-making and economic growth. If the number of children born each year stays down at its current low level, or falls even further, with an increasing population retired or otherwise out of the workforce then we would also expect that to have a severe impact on the economy as a whole.
Perhaps most importantly of all, I would like to look at the impact that these changes are having on today’s children. It is them, after all, who will mostly dictate the terms of society and the economy in the middle of this century. With nearly half of children born outside of marriage, double the rate of the 1970s, I wonder if this will have an economic impact, aside from sociologic ones. I will look at this next time.