Badger’s outstanding post “29/31″: A Time-Travel Video About The Wall had me wanting to see if the 2011 Census data was out. I was in luck, but it doesn’t look good for the ladies hoping to leap from the carousel into marriage.
In the past I’ve shown ten year snapshots side by side. This time I decided to see what the yearly trend looks like for the key age brackets. All data presented is for White Non-Hispanic women in the US. Other races and/or countries will look different. I have been focusing on White women because this avoids the possibility of racial demographic shifts adding confusion, and the vast bulk of the “will I be able to marry?” hand-wringing in the media is coming from White women. If anyone wants to compile this for another race or country please let me know and I’ll link to it.
When I considered the possibility of a marriage strike two years ago I angered a number of readers for not being convinced*. Some readers even accused me and/or the US Census of fudging the data. At the time the trend of reduced marriage rates was very clear for women under 35, but it wasn’t there for women 35 and over. 2009 was the most recent year data was available then, and as you can see from the chart above the percent of never married 35-39 year olds went up by only 0.8% between 1999 and 2009. In the last two years it has gone up dramatically from 11.8% to 14%. At the same time, the trends for the younger age brackets have all continued as well**. While we still can’t know for certain how all of this will be resolved, the more data that comes in the worse it looks for women planning on pulling the marriage ripcord at the last minute.
It is hard to say how much of the recent trend is driven by the economic downturn since 2008. However, the problem for the women who delayed marriage until the last minute is they don’t have the flexibility of time. Their fertility, youth, and beauty don’t care about the business cycle.
The compounding problem which seems likely is that as they and their peers become more urgent in their search for a husband, the power in the marriage market could shift from women to men. Consider the real estate bubble in places like Southern California a decade ago. Buyers who found the home they wanted would offer asking price or at times above asking price out of fear that someone else would snatch their dream home out from under them. However, once the bubble burst the psychology reversed, and now sellers are the ones urgent about closing the deal.
The makings of a possible spinster panic would seem to come from the way the flow of would be brides is backing up in the pipeline. Late 30s is the absolute last minute for women to expect to marry and have children. From what we have seen the husband panic tends to set in during the late 20s to very early 30s. This makes the recent rise in never married 35-39 year olds striking. The picture below takes a closer look at the recent trend for women in their 30s:
Note the relationship between the data points in the green and blue ovals. The women in their late 30s today are the same women we have data for in their early 30s five years prior. What the respective trends in the circled areas show is that in the last few years the rate of marriage for mid 30s women has been declining. This must be the case because when we look at these same cohorts five years prior they all started with roughly the same levels of marriage.
What should make this albeit short trend alarming for marriage delayers is that there is also a dramatic increase of younger never married women making their way through the pipe. Imagine never married women in their thirties as water in a bucket. At the bottom of the bucket there is a hole (marriage), and at the top is a pipe pouring additional unmarried women in each year. The hole in the bottom of the bucket has become constricted, and we know that the flow filling the bucket will be increasing based on the increasing numbers of unmarried women in their late 20s.
*I’m still not convinced what we are seeing is driven primarily by men deliberately avoiding marriage. I can’t prove this either way, but my own sense is that it is being driven initially by young women deliberately postponing marriage. This movement to delay marriage by women has had unintended consequences. Part of the group of men they would traditionally have married have registered the lack of interest by young women in marriage and have not seen the incentive to do the hard work to put themselves in a position to be a provider. Additionally, as men get older their SMV increases, especially in their late 20s and early 30s. At some point for many men marrying an ageing carouseler/career woman seems to become less attractive than sticking it out in the dating market with their own rising SMV.
** I left off the 20-24 age bracket from the chart above because it changes the scale, making it more difficult to see the trend for the older ages. You can see the same chart with the younger group included here.
See Also: Committed to the trail