Who Marries and When

Most Americans Get Married by Age 35, but Odds Are Stacked Against Some Groups

From the WebMD Archives

June 30, 2009 -- Only 17% of American women haven’t married by age 35, compared to 25% of men, new research indicates.

But many people marry a lot younger, the study indicates.

There’s a 50% probability that women will marry for the first time by age 25, researchers say; the probability of marriage for men doesn’t hit 50% until age 27.

The report, published today as the National Center for Health Statistics Data Brief No. 19, is part of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Healthy Marriage Initiative, which is investigating matrimonial trends because, the authors say, marriage has “potential benefits.”

Results are based on the 2002 National Survey of Family Growth, which involved 12,571 people -- 4,928 males and 7,643 females between 15 and 44 years old.

The report “Who Marries and When? Age at First Marriage in the United States: 2002,” also shows that:

  • The probability of first marriage by the age of 30 is 74% for women and 61% for men.
  • By age 40, the probability is 86% for women and 81% for men.
  • However, the probability of marriage by age 18 among all race and Hispanic origin groups is very low -- 6% for women and 2% for men. Broken down further, the probability of marriage by 18 is 10% for Hispanic women, 6% for non-Hispanic white women, and 3% for non-Hispanic black women.
  • Between 25 and 44 years of age, 79% of women and 71% of men have ever been married.

The researchers are studying marriage trends because wedded people, they write, "tend to exhibit greater physical, emotional, and economic well-being" than their unmarried counterparts. "And children in households with two married parents differ from those in other types of households on measures such as child achievement," they write.

The researchers also found striking differences among racial and ethnic groups. For example:

  • By age 40, there’s a 90% probability that non-Hispanic white women will have married, compared with 63% for non-Hispanic black women.
  • 84% of non-Hispanic white women between 25 and 44 have married, vs. 56% of non-Hispanic black women.
  • Hispanic and non-Hispanic white women have a higher probability than males of marrying for the first time between the ages of 18 and 30.
  • Non-Hispanic black women have a higher probability than non-Hispanic black men of marrying for the first time by age 18. After age 30, non-Hispanic black men have higher probabilities of getting married than non-Hispanic black women.


Other intriguing findings:

  • 17% of Hispanic and 12% of non-Hispanic white women have not married by age 35, compared to 42% of non-Hispanic black women still unmarried at that age.
  • 32% of non-Hispanic black men have not married by age 35, compared with 24% of non-Hispanic white men and 25% of Hispanic men. Looking below the poverty level, they found that 53% of poor non-Hispanic black women had not married before 35, compared with 19% of poor Hispanic and non-Hispanic white women in the same age group.
  • The majority of American men and women will marry at some point, and the probability that men and women will marry by age 40 is 81% for men and 86% for women.

The authors are Paula Goodwin, PhD, Brittany McGill, MPP, and Anjani Chandra, PhD. Goodwin is at the National Institutes of Health’s National Center for Minority Health and Health Disparities, and McGill is a doctoral student at the University of Maryland. Both are formerly with the National Center for Health Statistics of the CDC, where Chandra works.

WebMD Health News Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on June 30, 2009



Goodwin, P. NCHS Data Brief, no. 19, June 2009.

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