A record number of 40-year-olds in America have never been married, and they are more likely to be men, African Americans and those who possess a level of education equivalent to a high school diploma or less, a new analysis by the Pew Research Center shows.
According to the analysis of Census Bureau data, 25% of 40-year-olds in 2021 said they have never been married, showing an increase of 5% in that population since 2010, when only 20% of the demographic reported that status. In 1980, only 6% of 40-year-olds said they had never been married.
And according to Richard Fry, a senior researcher focusing on economics and education at Pew Research Center, most of these never-married 40-year-olds aren't even cohabiting.
"While many unmarried 40-year-olds are living with a romantic partner, most are not. In 2022, 22% of never-married adults ages 40 to 44 were cohabiting," Fry notes in his analysis.
While 25% of American 40-year-olds are unmarried, Fry's analysis suggests 28% of men at that age were unmarried compared with 22% of 40-year-old women. When broken down by race, black Americans were least likely to have ever married by the time they are 40.
Some 46% of black 40-year-olds reported that they had never been married, compared to 27% for Hispanics, 20% for white Americans and 17% for Asians.
Forty-year-olds with lower levels of education were most likely to be unmarried. Some 33% of never-married 40-year-olds reported that they only had a high school level or education or less, compared to 26% who said they had some college-level studies and just 18% who had a bachelor's degree or higher.
Fry notes, however, that having a higher education level isn't sufficient to reverse the upward trend of unmarried 40-year-olds.
"The overall decrease in the share of 40-year-olds who have married is especially notable because the share of 40-year-olds who had completed at least a bachelor's degree was much higher in 2021 than in 1980 (39% vs. 18%)," he explains. "More-highly educated 40-year-olds are more likely to have married, but the growth of this group has not reversed the overall trend of delaying or forgoing marriage."
According to a 2020 report from the National Center for Health Statistics, the marriage rate reached its lowest point in more than 100 years due to changing norms and economic insecurity, even though marriage has been shown to positively impact society in health outcomes, longevity and economic security.
In the report, statisticians Sally Curtin and Paul D. Sutton noted that while adults have increasingly postponed marriage, a record number of current youth and young adults are also projected to forego marriage altogether.
The report, which focuses on the marriage rate per 1,000 population from 1900 through 2018, suggests that from 2017 to 2018, the rate dropped 6%, from 6.9 per 1,000 population to 6.5. This is the lowest marriage rate on record for the period studied.
Recent research highlighted how various economic factors have resulted in marriage increasingly becoming a status symbol of wealth. Many successful women were also being forced to choose to remain unmarried or settle for men who earn less than $53,000 and lack a college degree, according to researchers Daniel T. Lichter of Cornell University, Joseph P. Price of Brigham Young University, and Jeffrey M. Swigert of Southern Utah University in Mismatches in the Marriage Market.
University of Maryland sociology professor Philip Cohen, author of The Coming Divorce Decline, noted in an earlier report that today, marriage is becoming more of an "achievement of status" for those who choose it.
"Marriage is become more selective, and more stable, even as attitudes toward divorce are becoming more permissive, and cohabitation has grown less stable," Cohen said. "The U.S. is progressing toward a system in which marriage is rarer, and more stable, than it was in the past, representing an increasingly central component of the structure of social inequality."