Americans in No Rush to Marry: More Couples Opting for Cohabitation, Census Bureau Figures Show

Article excerpt

Americans like marriage. After all, most eventually wed. But increasingly they'd just as soon "live in sin," academicians assert and new Census Bureau figures confirm.

In 1998, 56 percent of U.S. adults - some 111 million people - were married and living with their spouses, the bureau reports. That's 2.5 percent fewer marriages than in 1990 and 12 percent less than 20 years ago.

Meanwhile, the number of "unmarried-couple households," as the bureau puts it, has increased eightfold since 1970 - from 523,000 in 1970 to 4,236,000 in 1998.

"This is an established trend, and it reflects dramatic and important changes in the significance of marriage," says University of Wisconsin sociologist Larry Bumpass.

He explains that marriage once was considered "a critical part of the normal process of becoming an adult and achieving special status, but that's no longer so."

"Marriage is still thought important," he says. "Most people who cohabit eventually marry someone.

"But they're not making their lives contingent on getting married. They're sexually active and having children outside marriage. All this portends further change. We're going in the direction of Scandinavia."

Professor Roger Rubin, a specialist in family studies at the University of Maryland, agrees but adds: "We have to put these figures on marriage, cohabitation, and divorce in a global context.

"The same trends are occurring in Europe and Asia. It's a common byproduct in the development of highly technological industrialized societies. A major component has to do with the fact women are becoming more educated and more economically independent.

"The divorce rate in China is so high the government is considering anti-divorce laws," he notes. "In Taiwan there has been a 600 percent increase in divorce since 1970. …