In a reversal of long-standing marital patterns, college-educated young adults are more likely than young adults lacking a bachelor’s degree to have married by the age of 30, according to new data from the Pew Research Center.
More 30-Year-Olds With College Degrees than Without Have Married
In 2008, 62% of college-educated 30-year-olds were married or had been married, compared with 60% of 30-year-olds who did not have a college degree. By comparison, 75% of all 30-year-olds who did not have a college degree were married or had been married in 1990, compared with just 69% of those with a college degree.
As those numbers attest, marriage rates among adults in their 20s have declined sharply since 1990 for both the college-educated and those without a college degree. But the decline has been much steeper for young adults without a college education.
28 Median Age for First Marriage
Young adults who do not have a college degree are delaying marriage to such an extent that the median age at first marriage in 2008 was, for the first time ever, the same for the college-educated and those who were not college-educated: 28. As recently as 2000, there had been a two-year gap, with the typical college-educated adult marrying for the first time at 28 and the typical adult lacking a college degree marrying for the first time at 26.
Divergent Earnings, More Cohabitation May Be Responsible
According to Pew analysis, among the possible explanations for this shift are the decreasing earnings of young men without a college degree and their increasing tendency to cohabit with a partner rather than marry. From 1990 to 2008, the inflation-adjusted median annual earnings of college-educated men ages 25 to 34 rose by 5% (to $55,000 in 2008 from $52,300 in 1990), while the median annual earnings of those with only a high school diploma declined by 12% (to $32,000 in 2008 from $36,300 in 1990).
During this same time period, the number of cohabitating households (that is, partners of the opposite sex living together without being married) more than doubled. Census Bureau data indicates about half of all cohabiters are under age 35, and more than 80% do not have a college degree.
Marriage Rates Also Shift for Older Adults
There have also been shifts since 1990 in later-in-life marriage rates among adults with differing levels of educational attainment. In 2008, 91% of both college-educated adults and adults without a college degree had ever married by ages 55 to 59. In 1990, more adults lacking a bachelor’s degree (96%) than college-educated adults (94%) had ever married by this stage of life.
Divorce Risk Highest at 25
The risk of divorce is highest for married 25-year-olds, according to previous analysis of US government data by the Pew Research Center. Pew statistics indicate more than half of married 25-year-olds will divorce at some point, while 45% of 50-year-old men and 46% of 50-year-old women will eventually divorce. Of 50-year-olds who divorce, 81% of men and 71% of women will eventually remarry.