But the biggest changes have occurred in the nexus between economics and relationships.
For most of American history an uneducated but hardworking man could get a job that would support him, his wife, and a family. He might not be rich or have the best of the best, but he could get by. Since few women were educated or able to earn a good living, their surest path to success was to find a man who could provide for them. This led to an implicit arrangement: The woman stayed home, took care of the kids and the house, and treated the man as the king of the castle. In return, he was expected to work as much as necessary to provide for his family.
“The arrangement” has been shattered beyond repair in recent decades by a number of factors.
For one, as America has become more prosperous and wages have risen, international shipping has become more practical, and technology has advanced, many low-skill, high-paying jobs have either been replaced by technology or gone overseas. This means that a hard-working but unskilled and uneducated man who could have once supported a family can often now barely support himself.
Additionally, as educational and job opportunities for women became prevalent, suddenly most women found that they didn’t “need” to marry a man or even stay married to support themselves. In fact, if worse comes to worse, the government steps into the role as the father and provides welfare, food stamps, school lunches, and so many other benefits. Indeed, in some cases today “a single mom is better off with a $29,000 job and welfare than taking a $69,000 job.“
What this means is that there are tens of millions of men who would have been desirable mates with good jobs whose value as men on the dating market has dropped precipitously. They’re no longer as valued; so if they get married, they’re not going to be the “king of the castle” they would have been 50 years ago. Moreover, divorce is now very common and the system is heavily slanted against men. The woman is much more likely to get custody of the kids, while the father is also likely to be hit with punitive child support payments, even if his former wife is doing better financially. While improved economic status has made a potential divorce much more attractive for women in bad marriages, it has paradoxically made marriage a much less attractive option for men overall.
Given all of that, are these numbers a surprise?
Barely half of all adults in the United States—a record low—are currently married, and the median age at first marriage has never been higher for brides (26.5 years) and grooms (28.7), according to a new Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Census data.
In 1960, 72% of all adults ages 18 and older were married; today just 51% are. If current trends continue, the share of adults who are currently married will drop to below half within a few years.