By Janet Adamy 

WASHINGTON -- The share of Americans getting married has fallen to its lowest level on record, according to government figures released Wednesday that reflect how economic insecurity and changing norms are eroding the institution.

The U.S. marriage rate fell 6% in 2018, with 6.5 new unions formed for every 1,000 people, according to a report by the National Center for Health Statistics. That was the lowest rate since the federal government began keeping data in 1867, said Sally Curtin, a statistician at the center and lead author of the report.

"Millennials are in peak marriage years, their 20s and 30s, and it's still dropping," Ms. Curtin said. "This is historic."

The new report shows how marriage rates plunged near the start of the Great Depression in the 1930s, then rebounded sharply after World War II, hitting a high of 16.4 marriages per 1,000 people in 1946. The marriage rate began a near-steady decline in 1982 that lasted until 2009, then remained near flat before inching upward in 2014. Ms. Curtin said there was no clear reason for the sharp marriage decline in 2018.

Many Americans are opting to form households without tying the knot, and strained finances have been a top reason. In recent years, much of the marriage decline has come for middle earners and those with only a high-school education. Declining religious adherence and growing acceptance of unmarried cohabitation have also played a role.

Just over half of American adults were living with a spouse in 2019, down from about seven in 10 in 1970, census figures show. About 7% lived with a partner last year, up from less than 1% in 1970.

The fallout from Covid-19 is likely to further discourage marriage in the near term since financial insecurity, coupled with travel and social-gathering restrictions, are matrimonial deterrents. "A lot of it is the economy, and the extent to which Covid has a lasting effect on the economy, it might affect family formation," Ms. Curtin said.

The outbreak could also create pent-up matrimonial demand that results in a burst of marriages once America rebounds socially and economically.

Marriage is correlated with positive health outcomes, longevity and economic security. A recent government report showed that age-adjusted death rates are lowest for those who were married when they died.

--Paul Overberg contributed to this article.

Write to Janet Adamy at


(END) Dow Jones Newswires

April 29, 2020 00:15 ET (04:15 GMT)

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