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Barely half of U.S. adults are married

Record few have ever walked down the aisle

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Just over half of U.S. adults are currently married, while the number who have never said wedding vows is at a record low. The median age of a first marriage has never been higher, and it's likely that the percentage of adults who are married will drop below 50 percent within a few years, a new study shows.

In 1960, 72 percent of adults 18 and older were married; today just 51 percent are, said a Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Census data released Wednesday.

"Other adult living arrangements—including cohabitation, single-person households and single parenthood—have all grown more prevalent in recent decades," Pew said:

The Pew Research analysis also finds that the number of new marriages in the U.S. declined by 5% between 2009 and 2010, a sharp one-year drop that may or may not be related to the sour economy.

The United States is by no means the only nation where marriage has been losing “market share” for the past half century. The same trend has taken hold in most other advanced post-industrial societies, and these long-term declines appear to be largely unrelated to the business cycle. The declines have persisted through good economic times and bad.

The steepest decline was among young adults. Just 20 percent of adults ages 18-29 are married, compared with 59 percent in 1960. The age at first marriage has risen by about six years for both men and women, Pew said.

Pew found marked differences between racial and ethnic groups, and by education:

The proportions currently married by racial and ethnic group diverge notably. More than half (55%) of whites are married, a decline from 74% in 1960. Among Hispanics, 48% are married, compared with 72% in 1960. Among blacks, only 31% are married, compared with 61% in 1960. Some differences between the groups can be explained by the younger age structure of Hispanics and blacks, compared with whites.

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Adults also differ markedly in their likelihood to be married by educational attainment. Nearly two-thirds of adults with college degrees (64%) are married; just under half of those with some college education (48%) or a high school education or less (47%) are married. In 1960, the most educated and least educated adults were about equally likely to be married.

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