August 15, 2017
Women Spending Fewer Years in Marriage
It took months for one girlfriend’s suitor to persuade her to get married. Another of my friends skipped marriage entirely and had two children on her own. Others married, had kids, and divorced, a status that seems unlikely to change for some as they age. I married for the first time at 56.
These anecdotes, about a random group of baby boomer women in the Boston area, illustrate some of the ways that women over the past half century have dramatically reduced the time they spend as part of a married couple.
A new study being released today by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College finds that “middle boomer” women born in the late 1950s can expect to spend no more than half of their adult lives (starting at age 20) in marriage. That share was closer to three-fourths for the mothers of baby boomers.
The researchers measured this dramatic change and its underlying causes – namely delayed wedlock, permanent singlehood, and divorce – across four cohorts of women who participated in a survey of older Americans.
Between the oldest group (born in 1931-41) and the youngest group (born in 1954-59), the average age of first marriage has increased by nearly three years, while the share of women who have never married tripled to 12 percent. The share who’ve divorced also rose, from one-third to one half, according to the center, which sponsors this blog.
The change has been even starker for black women: the share of their adult lives spent in marriage declined from 54 percent of the oldest group to just 32 percent of middle boomers. Divorce is a contributing factor, but the primary reason is that black women are much more likely to fall into the “not married” category than in the past. In fact, the not married group is now larger than the married group.
This trend has many implications, not the least of which are financial.
Women used to be viewed, accurately, as part of a household, with women often benefitting from the contributions of a higher-earning husband.
These days, women increasingly find that they are on their own financially. Since women typically earn less than men, live longer, and are the primary caretakers of children and elderly parents, this is a difficult challenge.
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