In 2012, a record one-in-five Americans 25 or older had never been married, the Pew Research Center reported today.* This wasn’t surprising, as matrimony has been on a decline for decades now. However, Pew did offer an extremely elegant, two-part illustration of the role economics have played in that process.
Part I: What are America’s young, unmarried women looking for in a mate? A steady job.
Part II: What do young, unmarried men lack? Steady jobs. For every 100 never married women between the ages of 25 and 34, there are just 91 employed and never-married men the same age. Where once America had a surplus of working single men, now it has a shortage.*
A dearth of eligible bachelors isn’t the only reason marriage has been on the wane. Young people are getting married later in part because they spend more time in school. Back in the day, couples got hitched, then got settled financially; today, they prefer to get their finances in line first. Oh, and then there’s birth control, changing social mores about sex out of marriage, etc.
But economics are an obvious and unavoidable dimension of the issue. That’s why it’s far-fetched to think we can revive the institution of marriage in a meaningful way without addressing the underlying forces that have left young men in such shabby financial shape.
*Correction, Sept. 24, 2014: This post originally misstated that Pew’s report was released Tuesday. It was published Wednesday. It also misstated that the number of employed and never-married men between the ages of 25 and 34 for every 100 never-married women the same age. There are 91, not 90.