Marriage Rates in the United States, 1900–2018

Questions for Sally Curtin, Health Statistician and Lead Author of “Marriage Rates in the United States, 1900–2018.”

Q: Why did you decide to do a report on marriages?

SC: NCHS computes and publishes marriage rates every year, in total and by State.  As we were working on the 2018 rates, we noticed that the rate had declined yet again, to an all-time low.  This prompted us to write a report looking at the trend over the long term, to help put the 2018 rate in perspective.

Q: Was there a specific finding in the data that surprised you from this report?

SC: The marriage rate had been declining since the early 1980s and by 2003 the rate had dropped below the previous low of 7.9 during the heart of the Great Depression (1932).  The rate had leveled off from 2009 to 2017 but then dropped again by 6% from 2017 to 2018.   This most recent drop after leveling off at a relatively low level does make you wonder how low it will go.

Q: Do you have any data on U.S. marriage rates before 1900?

SC: Yes, federal data on marriage go back to 1867 and are published in a previous report which also includes a detailed history of the marriage and divorce reporting.  However, the data from 1867-1899 were less reliable and often not national so we focused on 1900-2018 in this report.  Nonetheless, the 2018 marriage rate of 6.5 per 1,000 is lower than any of the rates from 1867-1899, which ranged between 8.6 and 9.6 per 1,000.

Q: What is the take home message for this report?

SC: The message is that a declining trend in the marriage rate which began in the early 1980s has continued into the 21st century and now the rate is at an all-time low, even lower than in the heart of the Great Depression.

Q: Do you have demographic breakdowns of U.S. marriage rates?

SC: NCHS collects counts of marriages but no longer collects detailed information on marriages—the characteristics of brides and groom from marriage certificates.  This collection ceased in the mid-1990s due to budgetary and priority considerations. But we do know from other data sources, namely data from the Current Population Survey from the Census Bureau, that the average age at first marriage has continued to increase and is about age 30 for males now and age 28 for females.


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