Ever since my post in June Never marrieds piling up I’ve been curious what the data would look like for 2012. The US Census has the data posted, and I’ve updated the charts. I’ve also added two new charts at the end which show the breakdown by race. As I shared previously, the first two charts are time series for white women going back to the last year I have easy access to data for, 1999. Here is the chart for ages 25 to 49:
I left the 20-24 age bracket off the chart above because the never married rate for that group has been fairly flat the last few years and it changes the scale of the chart. However, I have created a version of the chart including that age group for your data analysis pleasure.
Here is a zoom looking just at the 30-49 age groups:
My basic analysis of the data hasn’t changed since my previous post, but the additional data reinforces that something very important is happening.
More and more women continue to postpone marriage past their late 20s, and those who do so are finding it harder to marry in their 30s. The changes in the later age groups likely dramatically understate the eventual impact of the existing choices because there is a delay before the changes in each age bracket fully cascade into the next older bracket. Note that the same situation exists between the early and late thirties brackets which we saw with last year’s data, only more pronounced. The late thirties group has been increasing even though the corresponding values for the same group five years earlier were constant. This indicates that marriage rates for women in their mid thirties have been declining over the last five years.
At the same time, we see that women in their early thirties now are starting off with significantly lower marriage rates than just a few years ago. Putting this together, more women are ending up in their early thirties having not married, and fewer women are able to marry in their thirties.
Note that the women currently in the 35-39 bracket have a 15.4% never married rate. When these same women were in the 30-34 age bracket 5 years ago they had a never married rate of 18.5%. However, the women currently in the 30-34 age bracket have a much higher never married rate of 25.1%! It seems unlikely that today’s early thirties women starting from this much higher number will be able to drop down to 15% in five years, especially since we know the rate of marriage for that group has dropped considerably. They will probably be lucky to drop down to 20%. However, the cascade doesn’t stop there. Today’s early thirties women left their late 20s five years ago with higher marriage rates (39.3% never married) than today’s late 20s women (47.5% never married).
Where this will eventually come to rest depends on too many variables to try to predict, but at the very least we know that a significant amount of reduced marriage rates are already loaded into the system. It would take a very strong increase in later marriage rates to merely cause the values for women in their 30s and 40s to level off.
As these changes become evident, it is very likely that we will see a power shift in the “marriage market” as the husband shortage for marriage delayers becomes obvious. The psychology of markets tends to revolve around fear and greed. For the last 40 years, the marriage market has been characterized by greed on the part of would be brides and fear on the part of would be grooms. This is why women have felt so comfortable making marriage a last priority, behind education, career, and casual sex. The recent history of the marriage market can accurately be summed up as 40 years of ultimatums by women, with men backing down in the face of each new ultimatum. The nonchalance by women towards marriage has been misinterpreted by many as a lack of interest in marriage, but I believe that it is reflective of an assumption that marriage will be theirs for the taking, so what is the rush? The statistics above tend to bear out the logic of this position. Young women look at their late 30s and early 40s aunts and see that all but a handful managed to marry. But the same stats which explain their current level of comfort show why that comfort will soon be coming to an end. At some point as more and more thirty-something women find themselves unable to marry the mood of the marriage delayers will turn from greed to fear. Instead of looking for reasons to reject men, they will focus more on holding on to the men they can get. This will be a change on the margins, but it will be enough to be noticeable. This will have the follow on impact of changing the prevailing mood of late 20s and thirty-something men from fear to greed, as they notice a sudden embarrassment in SMP options.
I was also interested in the breakdown of these figures by race. I’ve focused on marriage rates for white women when looking at time series to simplify the analysis. I don’t have the time to chart out the different races year by year, but I have pulled together some snapshots showing the same basic data by race. Here is what it looked like in the year 2000 (source):
Here is what it looks like now (source):
Edit: I’ve exported the spreadsheets I used to create these charts to excel format (originals in Libre Office). Here is the file with the time series for White women. Here is the file showing all races. As always, please let me know if you spot any errors in my calculations.