Data released last week by the U.S. Census Bureau shows married couples have found themselves in a new position: They’re no longer the majority. It’s a trend that’s been creeping along for decades, but in the 2010 Census, married couples represent 48 percent of all households. That’s down from 52 percent in the last Census and less than the majority for the first time in U.S. history.
The flip in the 2010 Census happened in 32 states, Michigan being one. In fact, Michigan almost mirrored the national average as married couples dropped from 51.4 percent of all households in 2000 to 48.0 percent in 2010. In another seven states, less than 51 percent of households were comprised of married couples.
The reason for this change, according to Portland State University demographer Charles Rynerson, is twofold: The fast-growing older population is more likely to be divorced or widowed later in life, resulting in more single person households (persons 65 years and over living alone represented 10.2% of Michigan households in 2010, up from 9.4% ten years earlier), and 20-somethings are putting off their nuptials for longer stretches. In fact, studies show that the age of first marriage is at record highs, increasing to 28.2 for men and 26.1 for women in 2010. Fears of not being able to hang onto a job, a widening labor market for women and a shift away from having kids at a young age have all proved to be a disincentive for people in their 20s and early 30s to join the ranks of the married.
To reflect the changing attitudes on marriage, the Census Bureau has broadened the definition of family this year to include unmarried couples, such as same-sex partners, as well as foster children who are not related by blood or adoption. And attitudes on marriage are changing, too. About 39 percent of Americans say marriage is becoming obsolete, according to a Pew Research Center study published in November, up from 28 percent in 1978.
While each of our Southeast Michigan counties experienced a decrease in the married-couple share of households, great variations exist. The most married county is Livingston (also most suburban/rural), with a 63 percent share (down from 68.5 percent), while the least married is Wayne (the most urban) at 37.4 percent (down from 40.7%). While the share in all counties declined, only Macomb experienced the change from a majority (54.3% in 2000) to a minority (49.7% in 2000). Oakland County married couples barely held on to their majority, falling from 54.2 to 50.7 percent, while Washtenaw County, heavily influenced by its large student population, showed the smallest change, dropping from 46.4 to 44.3 percent.
While we can expect this trend to continue when the results of the 2020 Census are released, the Metzger family will continue to try and keep Oakland County’s numbers up by staying married in one case and moving both children from single to married status over the summer.