CADILLAC — Across the U.S., cultural and economic factors are prompting more people to decide against getting married.
According to information provided by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, since 1900, the marriage rate in Michigan has declined steadily, decade after decade.
Statistics indicate that in 1900, there were 19.2 marriages per year for every 1,000 people. In 2017, that rate had been nearly cut in half, at 11.7 marriages per year for every 1,000 people.
The U.S. rate is similar, going from 18.6 in 1900 to 14.3 in 2017.
While 1900 to 2017 is a long-term picture, the short-term trends indicate the decline in marriage hasn’t slowed down since the beginning of the 21st Century.
In Wexford County, the number of marriages has dropped from an average of 260 per year during 2000-2008 to 215 per year during 2009-2017, which is a rate change from 16.8 to 14.5.
Lake County’s marriage rate has seen an even more drastic decline, from an average of 12.5 marriages per year for every 1,000 people during 2000-2008 to only 8.9 during 2009-2017.
Missaukee County’s marriage rates have remained relatively stable over the last 18 years and Osceola County has seen a slight increase in marriages since 2000, although the divorce rates in Osceola and Missaukee also have increased while divorce rates in Wexford and Lake have dropped slightly.
University of Michigan Sociology Professor Pamela Smock said the trend toward fewer marriages is the result of a combination of factors, all of which apply to Northern Michigan.
For one thing, it is much more socially acceptable today for partners to live together and have sex before they get married; an activity that used to have a sizeable taboo associated with it.
The Cadillac News conducted an unscientific online readers poll and found that 84.2% of respondents had no problem with the idea of partners living together outside marriage.
Smock said National polls show that around 70% of recently married couples lived together before marriage.
With the disappearance of this social taboo beginning in the 1970s, much of the motivation for people to get married before living together also disappeared, Smock said.
Some places in the U.S., such as Utah, haven’t experienced the marriage decline as much as others because of religious influences but those places are the exception, rather than the rule, Smock said.
Underlying the shift toward cohabitation before marriage, as well as other trends related to the decline in marriage, is the economic climate.
Smock said studies have found that people, both male and female, are much less likely to get married if they feel like their financial situation isn’t stable.
Around 40% of the respondents in the Cadillac News survey cited lack of money as the primary reason they wouldn’t get married. About 50% said not finding a suitable mate was the No. 1 reason.
Based on interviews with subjects, Smock speculates that one of the big things that keeps couples from getting married is the perception that the man in the relationship should have the capacity to be the primary breadwinner, despite changing economic realities that oftentimes require dual earners to support a family.
Lake County is the most impoverished county in this area, so Smock said it’s no surprise marriage rates were lower there than in Wexford, Missaukee and Osceola counties.
As a result of uncertain financial conditions, more people are focusing on getting their careers on track before thinking about marriage.
This and other factors have increased the average age of marriage in Michigan and the U.S.
Today, the average age of first marriage is 30 for men and 28 for women, according to MDHHS; the average age of marriage used to be the mid-20s.
Smock said the largest decline in marriage is among young people.
According to MDHHS, marriage among 20-24-year-old men dropped from a rate of 43 in 1997 to 20.9 in 2017. Among woman, the rate dropped from 57.8 to 32.2.
During that time, the number of marriages in the 25-34 age category stayed the same or slightly increased, and marriage in the 35 or older category slightly increased.
Smock said one of the most significant indicators as to whether or not a marriage will be successful is the age at which the people wed. She said the longest-lasting marriages tend to be among those who wait until their late 20s or early 30s, rather than those who marry as teenagers or in their early 20s.
Divorce rates have stayed relatively consistent over the years, especially among Baby Boomers, who have higher divorce rates than other generations, including the Greatest Generation.
One tentative finding that is interesting to researchers is that divorce rates appear to be declining among younger generations, presumably as a result of them getting married later in life or not getting married in the first place.
One of the potential ramifications of fewer people getting married is fewer children being born — a trend that has been noted by researchers, who found that fertility rates in the U.S. dropped from 69.3 in 2007 to 59 in 2018, Smock said.
Although the changes researchers are seeing in the institution of marriage are significant, Smock said she doesn’t think they are necessarily negative.
“I do not believe we’re ever going to go back to how it was in the 1950s,‘ Smock said. “I think the trend will continue to be that marriage is less of a foundation for family life. It used to be, there was only one script to follow. Today, people are writing their own scripts.‘