Thursday, October 13, 2005

Statistics: Marriage, Fertility, and other SES Characteristics

The Census Bureau has a new report out, "Indicators of Marriage and Fertility in the United States From the American Community Survey, 2000 to 2003." You can read their press summary here. There's nothing particularly new or interesting to me, but I study this kind of stuff for a living.

The report isn't scholarly - rather, its a series of charts updated with some new data and put into PowerPoint. I hate PowerPoint. But no doubt I'll be stealing some of their slides for a presentation one of my bosses wants me to do eventually, so I thought it best to post it.

Some pseudo interesting findings...

  • There is currently no reliable government data on marriage or cohabitation - only sporadic studies/reports, like this one.

  • The median age of first marriage continues its slow rise - to age 27 for men and age 25 for women.

  • Men and women in the Northeast marry later, on average, than their counterparts in the rest of the United States.

  • The likelihood of cohabitation has increased, most likely due to the increased delay in marriage.

  • 50.6% of the households in the United States are composed of married couples. 5% of the households are unmarried cohabitating couples.

  • There are no questions about cohabitation on birth certificates or marriage certificates. So its extremely difficult to reliably track the number of children being born to cohabitating parents, or the number of married couples who cohabitate before marriage.

So roughly half of the country physically lives outside of the traditional nuclear family. And the extended family - once common - where grandparents and unmarried relatives all lived in the same household, pooled resources, and helped in child rearing, is all but extinct outside of immigrant communities.

This report reinforces a lot of the stereotypical views. Marriage is declining, the family is declining, blah blah blah. Where are we going and why do I have this hand basket?

But as I've written before, there are a great number of myths and misconceptions about marriage, divorce, and cohabitation. There are mountains of books on relationships, psychology, counseling, communication, child-rearing, etc. But all of the sociological, statistical, political, and cultural writing on the subjects are based on very, very spotty and misunderstood data. This report is just a tiny point in a constellation of data.
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