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Three Generations of Married Couples

Friday, November 30, 2018

It is difficult to grasp just how much living arrangements have changed in the United States unless you mine the Census Bureau's archives to uncover the nitty-gritty of the way we used to live. The most dramatic change over the decades is the decline in the share of households headed by married couples.

In three generations, the share of all households headed by married couples fell 26% – from 74% to just 48%. Among the youngest adults, the drop is a stunning 68%! Here is the married-couple share of households by age of householder today (2018), one generation ago (1990), and two generations ago (1960).

Percent of households headed by married couples

  2018 1990 1960
Total Households 48.0% 55.3% 74.2%
Under age 25 14.3 31.9 82.3
Aged 25 to 34 41.5 54.1 86.9
Aged 35 to 44 56.9 62.2 84.4
Aged 45 to 54 55.0 63.8 76.5
Aged 55 to 64 52.9 63.1 67.9
Aged 65 or older 44.2 44.0 51.1

What replaced all those married couples? Single-parent families, single-person households, and people living together outside of marriage. These once uncommon living arrangements were the consequence of rising educational attainment and women's growing economic independence. The steep decline in married couples reveals much of the social change of the past half century.

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