Who’s getting married? Who’s getting divorced? Census numbers tell the tale

The U.S. Census Bureau has gone back through its data from the 1940s to the present, and has compiled a new report analyzing marriage and divorce in America. Who’s getting married? Who’s getting divorced? And how are the answers changing over time?

One of the most interesting findings is that the divorce rate has started to level off and decline. But that’s not necessarily because couples are more likely to stay together for life. Rather, a lot of couples are simply not getting married in the first place, so that when they split up, it doesn’t result in a divorce.

Here’s a closer look at some of the findings:

People are waiting longer to get married. Back in the 1950s, the median age for a first marriage was 23 for men and 20 for women. By 2009, though, the median age had risen to 28 for men and 26 for women.

More people are not getting married at all. As recently as 1986, 73% of women had gotten married before they were 30. By 2009, that figure had fallen to only 53%. Similar declines were registered for other age groups. For instance, in 1986, only about 3% of women reached age 55 without having gotten married. By 2009, that figure had tripled to more than 10%.

The figures are similar for men. Among men born in the early 1940s, two-thirds had gotten married by age 25, and 87% had gotten married by 35. But among men born in the early 1970s, only 36% had married by 25, and only 70% had married by 35.

The well-off are getting married. According to the study, marriage increasingly correlates with having more education and a higher socioeconomic status.

Divorce rates are leveling off. It appears the divorce rate in the U.S. peaked in the early 1980s. This was shortly after most states loosened their laws to make divorce easier, by no longer requiring people to prove in court that the other spouse had committed adultery or cruelty or was otherwise at fault.

Since then, there has been a slow decline in the divorce rate. For instance, in 1996, among women ages 25-29 who had ever been married, some 19% had been divorced. But by 2009, the number had fallen to 14%. Among women ages 30-34, the number dropped from 26% to 21%.

Among men born in the early 1940s, less than 12% had been divorced by age 30. Among men born in the early 1950s, the figure shot up to about 15%. But among men born in the early 1970s, the figure declined to about 10% – meaning that men born in this era were less likely to divorce than their fathers.

More than one in five Americans is divorced. Overall, including all American adults and not just those who have been married, some 21% of men and 22% of women have been through a divorce.

The median age for divorce is 32 for men and 30 for women.

Twelve percent of American adults have been married twice, and 3% have been married more than twice. The median age for remarriage is 36 for men and 33 for women.

There really is a ‘seven-year itch.’ Among marriages that end in divorce, the median time period between marriage and separation is seven years. Interestingly, among second marriages that end in divorce, the median time period from marriage to separation is once again about seven years.

Interracial marriages have increased. Some 23% of American women of Asian descent are married to someone from a different ethnic group, according to the study. The figures are 11% for Hispanic women, 7% for black women and 5% for white women.

Interracial couples have a higher divorce rate than other couples, the study noted.

American divorce rates are still higher than most European divorce rates, according to the study.