These are interesting data about marriage and divorce from

  • Marriages are becoming less common: in most countries the share of people getting married has fallen in recent decades. However, this is not true across all countries.
  • Across most countries, people are marrying later in life.
  • Cohabitation – couples living together who are not married – is becoming increasingly common.
  • Single parenting is common and has increased in recent decades across the world.
  • The Netherlands was the first country to legally recognise marriage for same-sex couples in 2000. Since then at least 30 countries have followed suit.
  • There has been a general upward trend in divorce rates globally since the 1970s. But this pattern varies significantly country-to-country.
  • Divorce rates are lower in younger cohorts.
  • In rich countries with available data the average length of marriage before divorce has been relatively stable in recent decades, and in some cases it has even increased.

Marriage rates in the US over the last century

For the US we have data on marriage rates going back to the start of the 20th century. This lets us see when the decline started, and trace the influence of social and economic changes during the process.

  • In 1920, shortly after the First World War, there were 12 marriages annually for every 1,000 people in the US. Marriages in the US then were almost twice as common as today.
  • In the 1930s, during the Great Depression, the rate fell sharply. In the 1930s marriages became again more common and in 1946 – the year after the Second World War ended – marriages reached a peak of 16.4 marriages per 1,000 people.
  • Marriage rates fell again in the 1950s and then bounced back in the 1960s.
  • The long decline started in the 1970s. Since 1972, marriage rates in the US have fallen by almost 50%, and are currently at the lowest point in recorded history.

How did marriage rates change around the world?

The chart above shows that in comparison to other rich countries, the US has had particularly high historical marriage rates. But in terms of changes over time, the trend looks similar for other rich countries. The UK and Australia, for example, have also seen marriage rates declining for decades, and are currently at the lowest point in recorded history.

For non-rich countries the data is sparse, but available estimates from Latin America, Africa and Asia suggest that the decline of marriages is not exclusive to rich countries. Over the period 1990 – 2010 there was a decline in marriage rates in the majority of countries around the world.

But there’s still a lot of cross-country variation around this general trend, and in some countries changes are going in the opposite direction. In China, Russia and Bangladesh, for example, marriages are more common today than a couple of decades ago.


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