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:
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.
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.