Almost all teenage girls expect to get married. Only half will do so.

A couple of days ago, I asked one of my daughters in her late teens whether she knew that her chances of getting married were 50:50. Her immediate reaction was amazement.

“What”, she said, clearly shocked. “Every teenage girl expects to get married.”

I’ve just completed an analysis of marriage rates by age for Marriage Foundation. The results are striking. The Daily Mail covers the story.

Amongst all of today’s 60 year old women, 92% got married at some point. So those who were teenagers forty years ago achieved their dream, even if many of those dreams didn’t work out.

Amongst today’s 40 year old women, 68% will end up getting married at some stage. 62% already have so I can be pretty confident of this final estimate. The figure is still pretty high but it gives the first indication of the trickle down effect of falling marriage rates.

But it’s once you start applying the latest rates in order to predict what today’s 20 year olds are likely to do that you see the full impact of this decline.

By adding up all the little bits – the proportion of each year group who married in 2010, the latest year for which we have full data – I can predict that only 53% of women (and 52% of men) will marry.

Of course it might not work out like this. Trends change. But this prediction is an accurate reflection on what’s actually happening today.

Apart from the shock value of telling half of all teens who expect to marry that they won’t, there are a whole load of consequences of this new finding.

First of all, most of those who marry tend to stay together whereas the vast majority of those who don’t marry tend to split up. So this prediction has big ramifications for future levels of family breakdown. At the moment, we also still have a healthy stock of older couples who have made their marriages work. So the trickle down effect also means that fewer people will have experience of positive relational role models. I’ll be looking at these issues in a future report.

Secondly, fewer marriages are going to affect important social characteristics of the nation as a whole. For example, more family breakdown means more singles and therefore ever more demand for housing, a hot topic at the moment that is destined to become even hotter. It also affects the supply of families who can look after the older generation. I wrote about this recently from my own experience. Most single parents have enough on their plate as it is. Fewer couples, who might have that extra capacity, mean less capacity to care for others.

It’ll be tempting to see this new finding as overwhelmingly negative and a counsel of despair. But oddly enough, if my daughter’s shocked reaction is anything to go by, I’m optimistic that it might get teens thinking about why marriage matters and what they can do to make sure they achieve their aspiration.

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One thought on “Almost all teenage girls expect to get married. Only half will do so.

  1. Pingback: The case for marriage – the basics |

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