More Americans Delaying Marriage Past Their 20s, New Data Show

Marriage in America just isn’t what it used to be, and new data from the Census Bureau show just how much the nuptial picture has shifted.

People are tying the knot later and having children outside of wedlock more often across demographic groups as well as later in life, the most recent Census American Community Survey data show. The treasure trove of demographic data, released annually, suggests that there is one group for which marriage has become more common: same-sex couples.

Below, in charts, is a breakdown of what’s happening with marriage and births in the U.S. — trends that have social drivers and carry significant economic implications.

As you can see in the chart above, Americans are getting married when they’re older. The median age at first marriage for men hit 29.9 years in 2016, and women too are tying the knot later. This long-running trend matters economically: marriage often ushers in economic choices like home-buying, and married households pool wealth and resources, which can lend stability to their finances in the case of a job loss or pay cut.

As people push off marriage, they’re increasingly having babies outside of wedlock. As the chart above shows, the very poor are the most likely to have kids without getting married first, but births to single moms are rising across the income distribution.

“Parenthood now precedes marriage for many women,” Census researchers noted in areport from earlier this year. That report noted that about 40 percent of all births occur outside of marriage.

Interestingly, while black women have historically been far more likely to give birth outside of marriage, they’ve actually posted a small decline in out-of-wedlock motherhood, while Hispanic and white women posted increases in out-of-marriage births between 2006 and 2016.

The overall increase of childbirth outside of marriage could cost kids the benefits of stability and additional family income, said Isabel Sawhill, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington. Children of married couples tend to perform better in school and earn more as adults.

“The best anti-poverty program by far is having a second earner, or a potential second earner, in the household,” Sawhill said.

On the bright side, teen births remain on a sharp downtrend. In 2015, the number of women between the ages of 40 and 44 having babies exceeded the number between 15 and 19 years old for the first time, and held up in 2016 as the chart above shows.

And while many Americans have been skipping marriage in favor of just living together, that isn’t true for same-sex couples. As you can see above, cohabitation has declined among this demographic, a trend that has coincided with gay marriage legalization across the U.S.

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