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Posted on Sat, Jan 14, 2012 : 10:04 a.m.

Marriage: Are Americans putting off marriage - again?

By Wayne Baker

Editor's note: This post is part of a series by Dr. Baker on Our Values about core American values. This week, Dr. Baker is discussing marriage: do you think it's becoming obsolete?

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If you're married, how old were you when you took your marriage vows? If you've been married more than once, think of your first marriage: How old were you then?

If you married in your late 20s, then you are at what is now the median age for first marriage in the United States, according to the latest U.S. Census figures. Fifty years ago, the median age for first marriage was the early 20s, as the Pew Research Center reports. For decades, age at first marriage has been rising in America.

Delayed marriage helps to explain, in part, the shrinking number of Americans who have ever married. As we’ve discussed this week, barely half of all adult Americans are now married.

Is delayed marriage a new phenomenon?
It’s not, according to economists who have tracked age at first marriage since 1800. Age at first marriage goes up and down in long cycles.

It might surprise you (as it did me) to learn that today's median age at first marriage is about the same as it was 100 years ago. Between 1800 and 1900, age at first marriage slowly rose, peaking in 1900, and then slowly declined until 1960. Since 1960, it slowly rose again to the peak it's at today.

Are you surprised to learn that delayed marriage isn't a new phenomenon?

What's the best age to get married?

If you're married, how did age affect your choice?

Are the economics of marriage changing?

If you're married, is your income more or less than your spouse's? Who has a higher level of formal education? Answers to these questions are changing in America.

INCOME: A growing minority of wives earn more than their husbands. In 1970, only 4 percent of husbands had wives who made more money than they did. This is shifting over time, according to analyses by the Pew Research Center. Women have experienced faster earnings growth than men over the past decades. Now, 22 percent of husbands have wives who make more money than they do.

EDUCATION: Now, a little over half of married women have the same levels of education as husbands. That hasn't changed over time. In 1970, it was 52 percent. Now, it’s 53 percent. However — changes have occurred for marriages where there are differences in education levels. In 1970, 20 percent of married women had higher levels of education. Now, 28 percent do. In 1970, 28 percent of married women had husbands whose education was higher. Now, it’s 19 percent in the same situation.

These shifts in the economics of marriage influence gender dynamics — the relationships between husbands and wives.

Do you see a change in the economics of marriage?

How do these changes impact marriages?

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Originally published at, an online experiment in civil dialogue on American values.

Dr. Wayne E. Baker is a sociologist on the faculty of the University of Michigan Ross School of Business. Baker blogs daily at Our Values and can be reached at or on Facebook.



Mon, Jan 16, 2012 : 4:36 p.m.

The academic credentials to discuss marriage : Dr Wayne E. Baker is a sociologist and may have academic credentials to teach the subject to his students. It is very surprising to read all the questions that he has asked in this series on marriage. To initiate a civil dialogue, the author must present his personal credentials to the readers and establish the fact of his personal understanding of the subject matter. If the author has shared his personal experience of marriage and as to how it impacted him, I would know that he is trying for a meaningful dialogue with a reader like me. So, I would invite Dr. Baker to provide his answers to the questions he has raised and start the process called effective communication.