Historical Marriage Trends from 1890 to 2010: A Focus on Race Differences

Rose M. Kreider, U.S. Census Bureau
Diana B. Elliott, U.S. Census Bureau
Kristy Krivickas, U.S. Census Bureau
Matthew W. Brault, U.S. Census Bureau

Public rhetoric often decries a societal retreat from marriage – that it is an increasingly obsolete institution (Time Magazine/Pew Research Center 2010). The 1950s have been described as the “golden age” of marriage in the United States and in decline since the 1960s (Coontz 2000/1992; Cherlin 2009/2004). In this paper, we take a longer view of the history of marriage by sex and race, describing trends among those never married at age 35 and age 45 and older, and historical median ages at first marriage using Decennial Census data. We find that the 1950s and 1960s were an anomaly for men and women given the high proportions married at young ages. Race differences are particularly interesting, as black women were more often married than white women prior to World War II, yet since the 1980s, have been increasingly less likely to be married.

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Presented in Session 25: Family Formation in Comparative-Historical Perspective