Grey Divorce Part II: Census Data and the Shifting Sexual Marketplace

Note: To avoid picking up trends driven by changing ethnic makeup, all of the tables presented in this post show values for non-Hispanic Whites only.

What percentage of the population marries, and when?

If you compare marriage rates for those in their twenties in 1999 vs 2009, you can see a clear trend of women (and men) putting off marriage. However, the scope of the trend isn’t as large as the rash of media stories about unmarried women in their 30s and 40s would suggest. Most women still marry in their twenties, and the vast majority marry by their early thirties.

To put this in perspective, in the US in 1890 the median age of marriage for women (all races) was 22; the same value for 2009 was just under 26 years old. PUA and MGTOW anecdotal evidence and aging feminist editor hand-wringing aside, the sky is not (yet) falling. Clearly men and women in their twenties can and do still marry if they wish to and realistically assess their own attractiveness.

Percent of Men and Women Ever Married by Age, 1999 and 2009:
Percent of Men and Women Ever Married by Age, 1999 and 2009
Keep in mind that for any given five year period the value represents the average across those years, not the value for the last year in the period. So the 57% ever married figure for women in the 25-29 year old bracket means that a somewhat larger number than 57% of women have likely married before they turn 30. Also keep in mind that just because those now in their late 30s and beyond have roughly the same rates of marriage as their counterparts did 10 years ago, this doesn’t necessarily mean that those now in their twenties will “catch up” with previous generations in the years to come.

One other item worth noting is that for older generations at least, if you live long enough the chances are very high that you will marry at least once. I wasn’t able to combine the tables for those 55 and older due to different formatting in the reports, but in both reports 97% of men and women who made it to their late 60s had married at least once. I don’t know exactly what drives this, but I would guess differences in life expectancy between married and unmarried, as well as some degree of settling.

How does the “sexual marketplace” change as men and women age?

Citizen Renegade has written extensively about how differences in aging and attraction in men versus women changes the balance of the sexual marketplace starting roughly when women are in their 30s (Warning: Citizen Renegade blog is harsh and crass). The data seems to back this up, and additionally shows how this balance continues to change as the ratio of single women to single men flips in men’s favor at approximately age 50.

Ratio of Unmarried Women vs Men and Percent of Men and Women Married and Divorced by Age in 2009:

Because men marry older, die younger, and are able to marry more beneath their own age group than women, the ratio of unmarried women to men changes from roughly .85 single women for every single man in their twenties and early thirties to over 2 single women per single man over 65. Women go from having the advantages of smaller numbers and greater attractiveness to the opposite situation. Note how the likelihood of being married peaks for women in their early 40s and declines from there while the percent of men married catches up with women in their late 40s and continues to increase until some time in their late 70s. The situation is worse for women looking to date or marry late in life than these single women/men ratio numbers suggest, because the ratio only compares single men and women of the same age. Since men often have the option to date women in younger age groups, this means the practical impact of the ratios is greater than the number itself.

The same basic trends show up in the 1999 data, except generally at an earlier age.

Note the lack of an “explosion” of divorce during the later time periods in either table. Granted these stats only reflect net changes after divorce and remarriage during the bracketed years, but we know from the AARP study that the majority of women who divorce after age 40 are not able to remarry. If there were an explosion of divorce, this should show up as a spike in the percent of women divorced. But such a spike is not present; the percent of women currently divorced continues in a gradual increase until their late 40s, where it levels off before steadily declining later in life.

Note on the data: All of the data displayed in the tables can be found from this Census web page. For simplicity, I treated any marital status other than Married Spouse Present as unmarried when calculating the unmarried women/men ratio. There are two categories Married Spouse Not Present and Separated not shown in my tables which one might call either way which I lumped in as unmarried. However, both have very small values (1-2%) so this should not materially impact the results.

Edit March 5th, 2011: Ok Cupid has a report which reinforces the data presented above.

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17 Responses to Grey Divorce Part II: Census Data and the Shifting Sexual Marketplace

  1. Gorbachev says:

    I suspected these stats – gray divorce – were bogus.

  2. dalrock says:

    I agree Gorbachev. I won’t say I knew they were bogus, but I’m always suspicious when large groups of people (vs scattered individuals) make choices which go against such powerful incentives. The fact that these would be marriages which had already stayed the test of time made me doubly skeptical. All of this was only reinforced by the lack of reference to hard data in the news stories.

    Were any of the other stats a surprise to you? Were you aware that such a high percentage of women still marry in their 20s? How about the 97% of people who make it to their late 60s have married at least once stat? I had no idea marriage was that prevalent.

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  4. Gorbachev says:

    Those were shocking.

    It’s true that most of the post-30’s I meet are married. Or divorced.

    Interesting analysis. You need to separate out the urban culture from the suburban/rural one, though. That’s going to skew the data.

  5. dalrock says:

    You need to separate out the urban culture from the suburban/rural one, though. That’s going to skew the data.

    Good point. I recall seeing a pew study not too long ago that talked about the skew on marriage & kids in the major metro areas and in the northeast. But then again with figures like 80% of women married before they turn 34 (I’m guessing, but this has to be very close) how much room for skew is there?

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  7. European says:

    These numbers are really interesting. An observation:

    In my country the median age of marriage is 32 for women and 36 for men. I don’t know about other European countries but since ours is one with a relatively high fertility (and fertility correlates with age of settling down) I would presume that in many other countries the age of marriage would be even later.

    Yet it seems that the trail of thinking of the Mens Rights/PUA/MGTOW is much less prevalent here, and to the extend it exists it exists through inspiration by American blogs. Though global this manosphere phenomenon is clearly driven by the US despite the fact that the description it gives of society is much closer to a European than a US reality.

    There’s no European Roissy despite the fact that his viewpoints would be much more apt here.

    I wonder why. That the ‘Roissy experience’ is more common represented on the American internet and in the American media world than the facts warrant probably reflects an urban domination in these areas, which leads to ignoration of the rural perspective (I’m guessing it’s especially the rural population which upholds marriage).

    Doesn’t explain the slower and lesser interest in manosphere viewpoints in Europe though.

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  16. Eddie says:

    The legal term for the “defendent” in a civil case is the”respondent”. The article says the vast majority of “respondent(s)” were in their forties.

    For one thing, what age were the petitioners, the ones who actually file for the divorce? Second, the web is full of not only “gray divorce” articles, but the vast majority of authors title their stories with reference to divorce after age fifty. Just search “gray divorce” and almost all the articles will make reference to divorce AFTER the age of fifty. This article sounds like someone trying to talk themselves into thinking that after fifty the odds of divorce are very low. The opposite seems to be true from everything I’ve read. There IS a huge increase in “after fifty” divorces which is evidenced by all the material you see about that very subject on the web. Virtually none of these articles incorporate “divorce after forty” into their titles. There are a few, but not many.

    I commented on this in the first part of this series. I was surprised to see that my comment was not “moderated” away because it does not conform with what this author seems to want to believe. A “moderator” is simply someone who won’t post a comment they don’t agree with, instead of letting all sides be heard.

    In additon, I wonder how many of those divorcing after fifty return to a prior love relationship – one from their youth. YOUNG love is extremely powerful and the memories of the first real love inevitably return. I believe many people THINK they fall in love again then realize after years of denial – and after (the supposed) love for the new person has long been gone, that they once again are thinking of the first REAL love of their youth and have only been playing charades with someone else for 20+ years until they simply are not willing to pretend anymore.

    Also, being in your forties these days is hardly considered a “gray” period as it once was. Once again, the web abounds with “Divorce After Fifty” articles not with ones about divorce after forty. You can refer to all the census data you want, but when people see what’s actually happening in society, that’s what they write about. And what they’re writing about is divorce after fifty, not forty. Census data is derived from sterile numbers. Peoples’ EMOTIONAL reality is what is being written about on a vast scale in reference to the “over fifty” divorce subject – and the vast majority of it is being written about divorce after fifty, not forty.

    I fully expect that my comment will be “moderated” away because as I stated earlier, a “moderator” is simply someone that trashes your comment if they don’t agree with it. But, let the “moderator” at least get the reasonable opinion of someone else before they delete this post because it’s not what they want to hear.

  17. Eddie says:

    I neglected to mention something in my recent post. The data are that ONE in FOUR divorces are now “over fifty” divorces. How does this jibe with 73% of the “gray divorces” happening between people in their forties and only a small percentage of divorces ocurring among those in their fifties? It just plain doesn’t. There is a divorce every 13 seconds in America. That means there is 1.125 “over fifty” divorces every minute. Do the math and that is over 591,000 “over fifty” divorces per year. The census bureau math cited in this article simply doesn’t add up. Plus, this does not count the “over fifty” marriages that stay together, yet are unhappy. For anyone over fifty out there who’s reading this comment and is married – are you actually happy? I mean ACTUALLY happy and not just selling youself a bill of goods. How many times have you secretly wished you could divorce your spouse?

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