by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Marriage, once a staple of American life, is now increasingly a luxury, according to a new report.
About 48 percent of the adult population is married, while about 11 percent report cohabiting and 7 percent are “in a relationship,” according to the American Family Survey (AFS), in line with previous findings. The remainder, 34 percent, report “no relationship” at the time of their interview.
Each year researchers from Utah’s Deseret News and Brigham Young University ask more than 3,000 Americans about their family lives, their views of family issues in the United States, and what concerns they have about the future of their and other families.
One of the benefits of the AFS, which began in 2015, is that, unlike many major surveys, it asks not only about marital status, but also about whether or not a respondent is cohabiting or dating. It captures the full range of what most people think about as being in a “relationship.” What the survey reveals is that, in spite of a fixation on dating in popular media, a surprisingly small proportion of the population—18 percent—is paired but unmarried. Even among 18- to 29 year-olds, just 30 percent are “dating.”
Surprisingly, 18- to 29-year-olds are most likely to self-identify as not being in any type of relationship. This finding goes hand-in-hand with the “sex drop,” the steady increase in past-year celibacy among American women and, in particular, men in their 20s. While Americans have grown increasingly permissive toward moral choices such as premarital sex, actual steady, unpaired monogamy remains far less common—and therefore less of a route to sex — than marriage. For most people, the choices are still marriage or singlehood.