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Brookings Now

8 facts on love, marriage, and childbearing in America

If you’re celebrating Valentine’s Day without a ring on your finger, you’re not alone. Many Americans are getting married later in life, if at all.


At Brookings, our experts study changes in social norms that impact marriage rates and what declining marriage rates mean for individuals, their children, the economy, and society at large.


To learn more, read Isabel Sawhill’s groundbreaking book, “Generation Unbound: Drifting into Sex and Parenthood without Marriage.” For research on how changing family structures impact social mobility, explore research and commentary from Richard Reeves, Isabel Sawhill, and others on Brookings’s Social Mobility Memos blog.

1. Fewer young Americans are getting married.


In 1960, nearly 60 percent of 20-somethings were married. Half a century later, just 20 percent of 18 to 29 year-olds were hitched in 2010.

2. Other groups are passing on marriage, as well.


Last year Pew Research Center published a landmark statistic: the share of American adults who have never been married is at a historic high. In 2012, one in five adults ages 25 and older had never been married, even though employed women have plenty of options in marriage partners.

3. So who is getting married? College graduates.


Marriage rates for college graduates over 30 are higher than marriages rates for non-college graduates. That’s a new trend, though. Until 2007, the opposite was true.

4. While Americans may not be getting married, they’re still having children.


More than 40 percent of new mothers are unmarried. And while many are living with a partner when their child is born, half will split up with that partner by the time their child is five years old.

5. Many of those pregnancies, however, are unplanned.


The number of pregnancies each year to unmarried women under 30? 1,848,485. Of those, 72.6 percent are unintended.

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6. A key cause of unintended pregnancies is the misuse of contraception.


27 percent of sexually active women age 20 to 24 use the pill as birth control. The risk of getting pregnant over a five year period while on the pill? 38 percent.

7. Children raised by married parents do better in almost every way.


Children who grow up with continuously married mothers rank on average 14 percentiles higher on the income distribution as adults than those who do not. Children raised by married parents also do better in school, develop stronger cognitive and non-cognitive skills, are more likely to go to college, and form stable marriages themselves.

8. In the end, better family planning helps everyone.


In her new book “Generation Unbound,” Isabel Sawhill defines a new approach to turn “drifters” into “planners” by promoting the use of long acting reversible contraceptives (LARCs) like IUDs. The risk of getting pregnant over a five year period while using a LARC? 2 percent.

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