From ‘I Do’ to ‘I Don’t’: Why There Is A Surging Wave of Unwed 40-Year-Olds

The landscape of marital status in the United States, particularly among 40-year-olds, has recently undergone a notable transformation. As of 2021, a striking 25% of 40-year-olds in the U.S. had never tied the knot, showcasing a significant surge from the 20% reported in 2010. This shift in marriage dynamics has piqued the interest of researchers and demographers alike, prompting a deeper dive into the underlying factors driving this trend.

Understanding the Data Sources

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To understand these changing marriage trends, we analyzed data from the Pew Research Center, which combines information from decennial censuses and the American Community Survey (ACS).

The ACS provides detailed data from over 3 million addresses, giving us a thorough look at the nation’s demographics. Additionally, we included data on cohabitation patterns from the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey (CPS) 2022 Annual Social and Economic Supplementenhanced by microdata files from the Integrated Public Use Microdata Series (IPUMS) at the University of Minnesota.

Tracing the Historical Trajectory

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Marriage has historically served as a cornerstone of American societal norms. However, a profound paradigm shift has unfolded since 1980, when a mere 6% of 40-year-olds remained unmarried. This trend of delaying or eschewing marriage altogether has been particularly pronounced among individuals born from the 1960s onwards. The data from 2021 heralds a new milestone in this ongoing trend.

Embracing Cohabitation as an Alternative

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While a considerable portion of unmarried 40-year-olds finds themselves in romantic relationships, the majority opt out of formal marital bonds. Notably, in 2022, 22% of never-married adults aged 40 to 44 chose cohabitation as a viable alternative. This underscores a paradigmatic shift wherein while marriage rates witness a decline, non-marital partnerships climb.

Exploring Demographic Variations

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The percentage of 40-year-olds who have never been married in 2021 exhibits considerable variance across various demographic dimensions.


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A higher proportion of unmarried men is observed compared to women.

Race and Ethnicity

40 year old Asian woman.
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Black individuals in the 40-year-old bracket demonstrate a higher likelihood of remaining unmarried compared to their Hispanic, White, and Asian counterparts.

Education Level

College graduates.
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Individuals lacking a four-year college degree exhibit a higher propensity for unmarried status than those with at least a bachelor’s degree. Notably, one-third of individuals with a high school diploma or less remain unmarried, in contrast to 26% with some college education and 18% with a bachelor’s degree or higher.

Pondering the Future Landscape

Older senior married couple.
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It’s imperative to acknowledge that not marrying by the age of 40 doesn’t eliminate the possibility of future nuptials. Data indicates that approximately one-in-four 40-year-olds who remained unmarried in 2001 eventually tied the knot by age 60. If this trend persists, a similar proportion of today’s never-married 40-year-olds might embark on marital journeys in the decades ahead.

The Takeaway

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The evolving dynamics of marriage among 40-year-olds in the United States constitute a multifaceted phenomenon shaped by an interplay of demographic and societal variables. The data reviewed sheds light on the intricate tapestry of relationships and family structures, offering valuable insights into the evolving fabric of American society.

The Beauty Of Second Marriages: Why Round Two Often Triumphs

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It turns out that second marriages often emerge as the true gems, exceeding the sense of fulfillment and contentment found in the initial journey down the aisle. But what makes these unions stand out? Let’s explore the compelling reasons why second marriages often feel like a breath of fresh air. READ: The Beauty Of Second Marriages: Why Round Two Often Triumphs

Unlocking The Secrets Of Longevity: Do We Stop Aging At A Certain Point?

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In the field of gerontology, a captivating phenomenon known as the Mortality Plateau has ignited a flurry of scientific inquiry. This intriguing occurrence suggests that beyond a certain age threshold, the rapid acceleration of aging appears to cease, leading to a leveling off of mortality rates. Research into this phenomenon unveils a wealth of insights into the intricacies of human longevity. READ: Unlocking The Secrets Of Longevity: Do We Stop Aging At A Certain Point?

Science Tells Us What To Expect As We Age: Strategies For Thriving In Later Life

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 Aging gradually alters people over decades, a long period shaped by individuals’ economic and social circumstances, their behaviors, their neighborhoods, and other factors. Also, while people experience common physiological issues in later life, they don’t follow a well-charted, developmentally predetermined path. Let’s take a look at what science has told us to expect. READ: Science Tells Us What To Expect As We Age: Strategies For Thriving In Later Life

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  • Dede Wilson

    Dédé Wilson is a journalist with over 17 cookbooks to her name and is the co-founder and managing partner of the digital media partnership Shift Works Partners LLC, currently publishing through two online media brands, FODMAP Everyday® and The Queen Zone.

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