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A record-high number of 40-year-olds in the US have never been married, study finds

<i>Oliver Rossi/Stone RF/Getty Images</i><br/>In 1980
Oliver Rossi/Stone RF/Getty Images
In 1980

By Ashley R. Williams, CNN

(CNN) — If you’ve made it to your 40th birthday without tying the knot, you’re not alone, according to a recent report from the Pew Research Center.

A look at 2021 US Census Bureau data found a quarter of 40-year-olds in the United States had never been married, the research center announced Wednesday.

The findings were a “significant increase” from the 20% of unmarried 40-year-olds in 2010, according to the study.

The Pew report found that 40-year-old men were more likely not to have been married than women and Black 40-year-olds were “much more likely” to have never wed than their peers of different races.

It also showed people of that age with at least a bachelor’s degree were less likely to have never walked down the aisle than 40-year-olds who had reached fewer educational milestones.

“One-third of those with a high school diploma or less had never married, compared with 26% of those with some college education and 18% of those with a bachelor’s degree or more education,” according to Pew.

The findings, which suggest a shift in Americans’ views of the importance of getting hitched, differed widely to the statistics reported decades ago in 1980, when just 6% of 40-year-olds had never married, Pew reported.

The research center conducted the analysis to look at how marriage rates have changed among 40-year-olds in the US from 1850 to 2021.

Its findings revealed a downward trend of delaying marriage or foregoing it altogether among people born during or after the 1960s, according to the report.

“In all prior generations of American adults, less than 1 in 5 adults had not tried marriage by age 40,” said Pew senior researcher Richard Fry in an email to CNN.

The new report focused on 40-year-olds to reflect the fact that adults tend to “take stock of their lives at the start of a new decade of life,” Fry said.

“This is somewhat outdated and changing, but fertility and marriage are somewhat related,” he said. “Some women may want to have children in the context of marriage. Since fertility wanes after the age of 40, 40 is an appropriate age to document marriage outcomes.”

About 1 in 4 of the 40-year-olds who were not yet married in 2001 had tied the knot by the time they turned 60, Pew reported.

If the pattern continues, the research center anticipated that “a similar share” of never-married 40-year-olds would also get married in the coming years.

“We are in new territory, so to speak, and we are monitoring how today’s 40-year-olds are faring going forward as they explore new ways to committed relationships,” Fry said.

A 2022 report from the University of Virginia’s National Marriage Project found the median age of a first marriage has increased over the last 50 years, “from 23 in 1970 to about 30 in 2021 for men, and from 21 in 1970 to 28 in 2021 for women.”

But a later marriage may not necessarily mean a better one: 81% of husbands who married earlier said they were satisfied in their marriages, compared to 71% of those who married later, the report found. There were similar results among women, though with a smaller difference – 73% of earlier-married women were satisfied, compared to 70% of later-married women, the report said.

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