LORAIN, Ohio — It used to be called illegitimacy. Now it is the new normal.
After steadily rising for five decades, the share of children born to unmarried
women has crossed a threshold: more than half of births to American women under
30 occur outside marriage.
Once largely limited to poor women and minorities, motherhood without marriage
has settled deeply into middle America. The fastest growth in the last two
decades has occurred among white women in their 20s who have some college
education but no four-year degree, according to Child Trends, a Washington
research group that analyzed government data.
Among mothers of all ages, a majority — 59 percent in 2009 — are married when
they have children. But the surge of births outside marriage among younger women
— nearly two-thirds of children in the United States are born to mothers under
30 — is both a symbol of the transforming family and a hint of coming
One group still largely resists the trend: college graduates, who overwhelmingly
marry before having children. That is turning family structure into a new class
divide, with the economic and social rewards of marriage increasingly reserved
for people with the most education.
“Marriage has become a luxury good,” said Frank Furstenberg, a sociologist at
the University of Pennsylvania.
The shift is affecting children’s lives. Researchers have consistently found
that children born outside marriage face elevated risks of falling into poverty,
failing in school or suffering emotional and behavioral problems.
The forces rearranging the family are as diverse as globalization and the pill.
Liberal analysts argue that shrinking paychecks have thinned the ranks of
marriageable men, while conservatives often say that the sexual revolution
reduced the incentive to wed and that safety net programs discourage marriage.
Here in Lorain, a blue-collar town west of Cleveland where the decline of the
married two-parent family has been especially steep, dozens of interviews with
young parents suggest that both sides have a point.
Over the past generation, Lorain lost most of two steel mills, a shipyard and a
Ford factory, diminishing the supply of jobs that let blue-collar workers raise
middle-class families. More women went to work, making marriage less of a
financial necessity for them. Living together became routine, and single
motherhood lost the stigma that once sent couples rushing to the altar. Women
here often describe marriage as a sign of having arrived rather than a way to
Meanwhile, children happen.
Amber Strader, 27, was in an on-and-off relationship with a clerk at Sears a few
years ago when she found herself pregnant. A former nursing student who now
tends bar, Ms. Strader said her boyfriend was so dependent that she had to buy
his cigarettes. Marrying him never entered her mind. “It was like living with
another kid,” she said.
When a second child, with a new boyfriend, followed three years later — her
birth control failed, she said — her boyfriend, a part-time house painter, was
reluctant to wed.
Ms. Strader likes the idea of marriage; she keeps her parents’ wedding photo on
her kitchen wall and says her boyfriend is a good father. But for now marriage
is beyond her reach.
“I’d like to do it, but I just don’t see it happening right now,” she said.
“Most of my friends say it’s just a piece of paper, and it doesn’t work out
The recent rise in single motherhood has set off few alarms, unlike in past
eras. When Daniel Patrick Moynihan, then a top Labor Department official and
later a United States senator from New York, reported in 1965 that a quarter of
black children were born outside marriage — and warned of a “tangle of
pathology”— he set off a bitter debate.
By the mid-1990s, such figures looked quaint: a third of Americans were born
outside marriage. Congress, largely blaming welfare, imposed tough restrictions.
Now the figure is 41 percent — and 53 percent for children born to women under
30, according to Child Trends, which analyzed 2009 data from the National Center
for Health Statistics.
Still, the issue received little attention until the publication last month of
“Coming Apart,” a book by Charles Murray, a longtime critic of non-marital
Large racial differences remain: 73 percent of black children are born outside
marriage, compared with 53 percent of Latinos and 29 percent of whites. And
educational differences are growing. About 92 percent of college-educated women
are married when they give birth, compared with 62 percent of women with some
post-secondary schooling and 43 percent of women with a high school diploma or
less, according to Child Trends.
Almost all of the rise in nonmarital births has occurred among couples living
together. While in some countries such relationships endure at rates that
resemble marriages, in the United States they are more than twice as likely to
dissolve than marriages. In a summary of research, Pamela Smock and Fiona Rose
Greenland, both of the University of Michigan, reported that two-thirds of
couples living together split up by the time their child turned 10.
In Lorain as elsewhere, explanations for marital decline start with home
economics: men are worth less they used to be. Among men with some college but
no degrees, earnings have fallen 8 percent in the past 30 years, according to
the Bureau of Labor Statistics, while the earnings of their female counterparts
have risen by 8 percent.
“Women used to rely on men, but we don’t need to anymore,” said Teresa Fragoso,
25, a single mother in Lorain. “We support ourselves. We support our kids.”
Fifty years ago, researchers have found, as many as a third of American
marriages were precipitated by a pregnancy, with couples marrying to maintain
respectability. Ms. Strader’s mother was among them.
Today, neither of Ms. Strader’s pregnancies left her thinking she should marry
to avoid stigma. Like other women interviewed here, she described her children
as largely unplanned, a byproduct of uncommitted relationships.
Some unwed mothers cite the failures of their parents’ marriages as reasons to
wait. Brittany Kidd was 13 when her father ran off with one of her mother’s
friends, plunging her mother into depression and leaving the family financially
“Our family life was pretty perfect: a nice house, two cars, a dog and a cat,”
she said. “That stability just got knocked out like a window; it shattered.”
Ms. Kidd, 21, said she could not imagine marrying her son’s father, even though
she loves him. “I don’t want to wind up like my mom,” she said.
Others noted that if they married, their official household income would rise,
which could cost them government benefits like food stamps and child care. W.
Bradford Wilcox, a sociologist at the University of Virginia, said other
government policies, like no-fault divorce, signaled that “marriage is not as
fundamental to society” as it once was.
Even as many Americans withdraw from marriage, researchers say, they expect more
from it: emotional fulfillment as opposed merely to practical support. “Family
life is no longer about playing the social role of father or husband or wife,
it’s more about individual satisfaction and self-development,” said Andrew
Cherlin, a sociologist at Johns Hopkins University.
Money helps explain why well-educated Americans still marry at high rates: they
can offer each other more financial support, and hire others to do chores that
prompt conflict. But some researchers argue that educated men have also been
quicker than their blue-collar peers to give women equal authority. “They are
more willing to play the partner role,” said Sara McLanahan, a Princeton
Reviewing the academic literature, Susan L. Brown of Bowling Green State
University recently found that children born to married couples, on average,
“experience better education, social, cognitive and behavioral outcomes.”
Lisa Mercado, an unmarried mother in Lorain, would not be surprised by that.
Between nursing classes and an all-night job at a gas station, she rarely sees
her 6-year-old daughter, who is left with a rotating cast of relatives. The
girl’s father has other children and rarely lends a hand.
“I want to do things with her, but I end up falling asleep,”
Ms. Mercado said.
Clarence House statement reveals
engagement of second in line to throne
after weeks of speculation
Stephen Bates and James Meikle
Tuesday 16 November 2010
This article was published
on guardian.co.uk at 15.29 GMT
on Tuesday 16 November
It was last modified at 09.15 GMT
on Wednesday 17 November 2010.
It was first published at 11.31 GMT
on Tuesday 16 November 2010.
Kate Middleton today spoke of the "daunting prospect" of joining
the royal family as she and Prince William announced they would get married next
Wearing the blue sapphire and diamond engagement ring that the prince's father
gave to Princess Diana in 1981, Middleton said "hopefully, I will take it in my
stride", while adding that her future husband was "a great teacher".
Prince William said the ring "was very special to me" as was his bride-to-be.
Giving it to her was "my way of making sure my mother didn't miss out on today"
and the excitement that the couple were going spend their lives together.
The long-expected news that the second in line to the throne was to marry his
long-term girlfriend was announced by Clarence House earlier in the day .
The prince asked Middleton to marry him during a private holiday in Kenya last
month and has, the royal press office stressed, asked her father's permission.
Middleton said, during a brief press conference and photocall at St James's
Palace, London, that the prince had been "a true romantic", was "a loving
boyfriend" and "very supportive of me in good times and also through the bad
Prince William said of their engagement: "The timing is right now, we are both
very, very happy. We both have a very good sense of humour and we take the
mickey out of each other a lot."
He added that Middleton had "plenty of habits that make me laugh that I tease
The formal statement said William's father, Prince Charles, was "delighted".
Speaking at his Poundbury model village in Dorset, Charles said that he was
"thrilled, obviously", and joked: "They have been practising long enough ... it
makes me feel very old."
William's stepmother, the Duchess of Cornwall, on her way to an official
engagement at the Apollo Theatre in London, told a wellwisher: "It's brilliant,
isn't it? It's absolutely wonderful."
Middleton's parents, Michael and Carole, were "thrilled". Her father Michael,
reading a statement outside their home near the Berkshire village of Bucklebury,
said they had got to know the prince very well: "We all think he is wonderful
and we are extremely fond of him. They make a lovely couple, they are great fun
to be with, and we've had a lot of laughs together. We wish them every happiness
for the future."
Earl Spencer, the prince's uncle and brother of Princess Diana, said: "It's
wonderful news. Very exciting. My family are all thrilled for them both."
The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh were also "absolutely delighted", Buckingham
Palace said. During a reception this afternoon at Windsor Castle for leaders of
British overseas territories including Bermuda, Montserrat and the Falklands
Islands, the Queen told a guest who congratulated her: "It is brilliant news. It
has taken them a very long time."
Political leaders and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, echoed the
Full details of the wedding plans have yet to be announced. The statement said
only that the wedding would take place in London next spring or summer.
St Paul's Cathedral and Westminster Abbey are possible venues, although both
have painful resonances – St Paul's was where Charles's ill-fated wedding to
Princess Diana took place in 1981, while the abbey hosted Diana's funeral in
William and Kate have known each other for eight years, and met as students at
St Andrews University. They subsequently shared student accommodation for two
years and, apart from a brief separation in 2007, have been together ever since.
Middleton will be the first commoner to marry an expected future king for 350
years, since Anne Hyde married the future King James II in 1660.
Middleton is eldest of three children in a family whose fortune is based on a
mail-order children's party accessories business.
The prime minister, David Cameron, said the whole country would join him and his
wife, Samantha, in wishing the couple "great joy".
Later, he said that he had spoken to the prince to pass on his congratulations
and predicted "a great day of national celebration".
The prime minister told a press conference at Downing Street that it felt "great
to have a bit of unadulterated good news", and said a cheer had gone up when he
told ministerial colleagues at today's Cabinet meeting.
The Labour leader, Ed Miliband, said via the social network Twitter: "Delighted
for Prince William and Kate Middleton on their engagement. The whole country
will be wishing them every happiness."
Scotland's first minister, Alex Salmond, congratulated the couple and said: "Of
course, this was a match made in St Andrews, and everyone in Scotland will join
with me in wishing the prince and Ms Middleton every happiness as they look
forward to their wedding day and a long and fulfilling married life together."
The Welsh first minister, Carwyn Jones, said: "I'm very pleased to hear that
they plan to begin their married life in north Wales."
Graham Smith, spokesman for Republic, a group campaigning for an end to the
monarchy, said: "We mustn't see the government wasting limited resources paying
for a major set-piece event ... if people are being told to tighten their belts,
if the government is making thousands unemployed, if welfare payments are being
slashed, it would be sickening for the government to allow a single penny more
to be spent on the royals at this time."
Until Wednesday, the thousands of same-sex couples who have married did so
because a state judge or Legislature allowed them to. The nation’s most
fundamental guarantees of freedom, set out in the Constitution, were not part of
the equation. That has changed with the historic decision by a federal judge in
California, Vaughn Walker, that said his state’s ban on same-sex marriage
violated the 14th Amendment’s rights to equal protection and due process of law.
The decision, though an instant landmark in American legal history, is more than
that. It also is a stirring and eloquently reasoned denunciation of all forms of
irrational discrimination, the latest link in a chain of pathbreaking decisions
that permitted interracial marriages and decriminalized gay sex between
As the case heads toward appeals at the circuit level and probably the Supreme
Court, Judge Walker’s opinion will provide a firm legal foundation that will be
difficult for appellate judges to assail.
The case was brought by two gay couples who said California’s Proposition 8,
which passed in 2008 with 52 percent of the vote, discriminated against them by
prohibiting same-sex marriage and relegating them to domestic partnerships. The
judge easily dismissed the idea that discrimination is permissible if a majority
of voters approve it; the referendum’s outcome was “irrelevant,” he said,
quoting a 1943 case, because “fundamental rights may not be submitted to a
He then dismantled, brick by crumbling brick, the weak case made by supporters
of Proposition 8 and laid out the facts presented in testimony. The two
witnesses called by the supporters (the state having bowed out of the case) had
no credibility, he said, and presented no evidence that same-sex marriage harmed
society or the institution of marriage.
Same-sex couples are identical to opposite-sex couples in their ability to form
successful marital unions and raise children, he said. Though procreation is not
a necessary goal of marriage, children of same-sex couples will benefit from the
stability provided by marriage, as will the state and society. Domestic
partnerships confer a second-class status. The discrimination inherent in that
second-class status is harmful to gay men and lesbians. These findings of fact
will be highly significant as the case winds its way through years of appeals.
One of Judge Walker’s strongest points was that traditional notions of marriage
can no longer be used to justify discrimination, just as gender roles in
opposite-sex marriage have changed dramatically over the decades. All marriages
are now unions of equals, he wrote, and there is no reason to restrict that
equality to straight couples. The exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage
“exists as an artifact of a time when the genders were seen as having distinct
roles in society and in marriage,” he wrote. “That time has passed.”
To justify the proposition’s inherent discrimination on the basis of sex and
sexual orientation, he wrote, there would have to be a compelling state interest
in banning same-sex marriage. But no rational basis for discrimination was
presented at the two-and-a-half-week trial in January, he said. The real reason
for Proposition 8, he wrote, is a moral view “that there is something wrong with
same-sex couples,” and that is not a permissible reason for legislation.
“Moral disapproval alone,” he wrote, in words that could someday help change
history, “is an improper basis on which to deny rights to gay men and women.”
The ideological odd couple who led the case — Ted Olson and David Boies, who
fought against each other in the Supreme Court battle over the 2000 election —
were criticized by some supporters of same-sex marriage for moving too quickly
to the federal courts. Certainly, there is no guarantee that the current Supreme
Court would uphold Judge Walker’s ruling. But there are times when legal
opinions help lead public opinions.
Just as they did for racial equality in previous decades, the moment has arrived
for the federal courts to bestow full equality to millions of gay men and
October 12, 2010
The New York Times
By JUSTIN WOLFERS
THE recession has taken a toll on the institution of marriage, we keep hearing.
Last month, for instance, when it was reported that the proportion of Americans
aged 25 to 34 who are married fell below the proportion who have never married,
it was quickly attributed to the economic downturn. Young adults, according to
this narrative, have less money to spend on a wedding and are less eager to
enter into a lifetime commitment during times of uncertainty.
Again last week, when a report from the Pew Research Center noted that, for the
first time, college-educated 30-year-olds were more likely to have been married
than were people the same age without a college degree, the news was interpreted
as another side effect of the recent recession. After all, the downturn has been
especially hard on young men with no college degree.
But if you look at marriage in the United States over the past century, this
interpretation doesn’t stand up. Marriage and divorce rates have remained
remarkably immune to the ups and downs of the business cycle. Unfortunately, the
marriage statistics are easy to misread.
It’s misleading to count the wedding rings among people in their 20s and early
30s, because the median age at first marriage in the United States has risen to
28 for men (from 23 in 1970) and 26 for women (from 21 in 1970). The fact that
these folks aren’t married now doesn’t mean they won’t marry — many of them just
aren’t there yet.
Look instead at 40-year-olds, and you see that 81 percent have married at least
once. Yes, this number used to be higher — it peaked at 93 percent in 1980 —
but, clearly, marriage remains a part of most people’s lives. These statistics
are not a perfect barometer either, however, because they reflect weddings that
were celebrated years earlier.
To most accurately track marriage rates, you need to focus on the number of
wedding certificates issued. In 2009, the latest year for which we have data,
there were about 2.1 million marriages in the United States. That does represent
a slight decline since the recession began. But it’s the same rate of decline
that existed during the preceding economic boom, the previous bust and both the
boom and the bust before that.
Indeed, the recent modest decline in marriage continues a 30-year trend. And
even as the number of marriages falls, divorce is also becoming less prevalent.
So a greater proportion of today’s marriages will likely persist 30 years into
This is not to say that marriage looks the same today as it always did — over
the past several decades, there has been a tremendous shift in married life.
It used to be that a typical marriage involved specialized roles for the husband
and wife. Usually he was in the marketplace, and she was in the home, and this
arrangement led to maximum productivity.
But today, when families have easy access to prepared foods, inexpensive
off-the-rack clothing and labor-saving technology from the washing machine to
the robot vacuum cleaner, there’s much less benefit from either spouse
specializing in homemaking. Women, now better educated and with greater control
over their fertility, are in the marketplace, too, and married couples have more
money, more leisure time and longer lives to spend together. Modern marriages
are based not on the economic benefits of playing specialized roles but on
This new model of “hedonic marriage” has had an effect on who marries, and when
— as research I have conducted with my better half, the economist Betsey
Stevenson, has documented. In the old days, opposites attracted; an aspiring
executive groom would pair up with a less-educated bride. And they would wed
before the stork visited and before the couple made the costly investment of
putting the husband through business school.
But today, that same young executive would more likely be half of a power
couple, married to a college-educated woman who shares his taste in books,
hobbies, travel and so on. Indeed, marriage rates for college-educated women
rose sharply through the 1950s and ’60s, and have remained remarkably stable
since. These women tend to marry after they have finished college and started
The decline in marriage, it turns out, is concentrated entirely among women with
less education — those who likely have the least to gain from modern hedonic
This is not to say that the economic downturn has had no effect at all on
domestic life. Census data show that the number of unwed couples living together
rose sharply last year. With rents high and jobs hard to come by, it’s no
surprise that people are doubling up.
Still, given that the marriage rate remains on trend, the rise in cohabitation
isn’t coming at the expense of marriage. Instead, many young couples who might
otherwise merely be dating are moving in together. Some of them, no doubt, will
eventually marry. Truly, the recession has not torn young couples apart; it has
pushed them closer together.
Justin Wolfers, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution,
assistant professor of business and public policy
at the Wharton School at the
University of Pennsylvania.
Wednesday March 26 2008
This article was first published
on guardian.co.uk on Wednesday March 26 2008.
It was last updated at 15:08 on March 26 2008.
Marriage rates in England and Wales have fallen to the lowest
level on record, government figures published today have revealed.
The proportion of adults who chose to marry in 2006 fell to the lowest level
since marriage rates were first calculated in 1862, according to provisional
figures published by the Office for National Statistics.
In 2006, 22.8 men per 1,000 unmarried men aged 16 and over got married, down
from 24.5 in 2005.
The marriage rate for women in 2006 was 20.5 per 1,000 unmarried women aged 16
and over, down from 21.9 in 2005.
In 2006, the number of marriages fell by 4%, compared with the previous year, to
236,980. This is the lowest annual number of marriages since 1895, when there
More than three-fifths (61%) of all marriages in 2006 were the first for both
parties, while remarriages for both parties accounted for just under one fifth
First marriages have fallen by more than one third (37%) since 1981, while
remarriages have fallen by a quarter.
The figures show that people are also waiting longer until they marry. The
average age at which men married was 36.4 years in 2006, a rise of almost five
years since 1991.
The average age at which women married in 2006 was 33.7, an increase of just
over 4.5 years since 1991.
Final figures for 2005, published by the ONS today, show marriages fell by 9%
from the previous year.
The largest fall occurred in London (29%) and the smallest in the north-east of
Final figures for divorces in 2005 also showed a drop on the previous year.
Divorce rates in England and Wales fell by 8% between 2004 and 2005, declining
to 13.1 divorces per 1,000 married people.
Kathleen Kiernan, a professor of social policy and demography at the University
of York, said the figures reflected the rise in the number of couples opting for
Kiernan said marriage rates had declined across the developing world, with
people choosing to cohabit for longer before they married.
"It's not that people are not choosing to form partnerships," she said. "People
are spending longer cohabiting, but they do eventually marry.
"If you were to look at the proportion who do eventually marry, it's likely that
the decline would not be as striking."
Jill Kirby, the director of the centre-right Centre for Policy Studies
thinktank, blamed the declining marriage rate on the government, saying the
welfare system and tax breaks penalised married couples.
"It's obviously worrying that they [marriage numbers] have reached such a low
ebb, but perhaps not surprising in view of the lack of government policy over
the last 10 years encouraging marriage," she said.
She also voiced concerns about the detrimental impact if marriage was "lost as
the core institution of society".
"A clear reason for concern is that research demonstrates how important marriage
is to maintain stability for children," she added.
"The break-up of cohabiting couples is much higher than married couples.
Cohabitation is clearly not a satisfactory arrangement as far as children are
October 15, 2006
The New York Times
By SAM ROBERTS
Married couples, whose numbers have been
declining for decades as a proportion of American households, have finally
slipped into a minority, according to an analysis of new census figures by The
New York Times.
The American Community Survey, released this month by the Census Bureau, found
that 49.7 percent, or 55.2 million, of the nation’s 111.1 million households in
2005 were made up of married couples — with and without children — just shy of a
majority and down from more than 52 percent five years earlier.
The numbers by no means suggests marriage is dead or necessarily that a tipping
point has been reached. The total number of married couples is higher than ever,
and most Americans eventually marry. But marriage has been facing more
competition. A growing number of adults are spending more of their lives single
or living unmarried with partners, and the potential social and economic
implications are profound.
“It just changes the social weight of marriage in the economy, in the work
force, in sales of homes and rentals, and who manufacturers advertise to,” said
Stephanie Coontz, director of public education for the Council on Contemporary
Families, a nonprofit research group. “It certainly challenges the way we set up
our work policies.”
While the number of single young adults and elderly widows are both growing,
Professor Coontz said, “we have an anachronistic view as to what extent you can
use marriage to organize the distribution and redistribution of benefits.”
Couples decide to live together for many reasons, but real estate can be as
compelling as romance.
“Owning three toothbrushes and finding that they are always at the wrong house
when you are getting ready to go to bed wears on you,” said Amanda Hawn, a
28-year-old writer who set up housekeeping near San Francisco with her
boyfriend, Nate Larsen, a real estate analyst, after shuttling between his
apartment and one she shared with a friend. “Moving in together has simplified
life,” Ms. Hawn said.
The census survey estimated that 5.2 million couples, a little more than 5
percent of households, were unmarried opposite-sex partners. An additional
413,000 households were male couples, and 363,000 were female couples. In all,
nearly one in 10 couples were unmarried. (One in 20 households consisted of
people living alone).
And the numbers of unmarried couples are growing. Since 2000, those identifying
themselves as unmarried opposite-sex couples rose by about 14 percent, male
couples by 24 percent and female couples by 12 percent.
Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force,
said gay couples were undercounted because many gay people were reluctant to
disclose their sexual orientation. But he said that inhibition seemed to be
“I would say the increase is due to people feeling more comfortable disclosing
that they are gay or lesbian and living with a partner,” he said.
The survey did not ask about sexual orientation, but its questionnaire was
designed to distinguish partners from roommates. A partner was defined as “an
adult who is unrelated to the householder, but shares living quarters and has a
close personal relationship with the householder.”
Some of the biggest gains in unmarried couples were recorded in unexpected
places. In the rural Midwest, the number of households made up of male partners
rose 77 percent since 2000.
The survey revealed wide disparities in household composition by place. The
proportion of married couples ranged from more than 69 percent in Utah County,
Utah, which includes Provo, to 26 percent in Manhattan, which has a smaller
share of married couples than almost anyplace in the country. But Manhattan
registered a 1.2 percent increase in married couples since 2000, in contrast to
the rest of New York City and many other places.
Among counties, the highest proportion of unmarried opposite-sex partners was in
Mendocino, Calif., where they made up nearly 11 percent of all households.
The highest share of male couples was in San Francisco, where, according to the
census, they accounted for nearly 2 percent of all households. In Manhattan,
they made up 1 percent of households. Hampshire County, Mass., home to
Northampton, had the highest proportion of female couples, at 1.7 percent. Some
of the highest numbers of unmarried couples were recorded in the South, which as
defined by the census, has the largest population of any region.
David Blankenhorn, president of the marriage advocacy group the Institute for
American Values, said married couples had become a minority largely because of
the growing number of households made up of people who planned to marry or who
used to be married.
Steve Watters, the director of young adults for Focus on the Family, a
conservative Christian group, said that the trend of fewer married couples was
more a reflection of delaying marriage than rejection of it.
“It does show that a lot of people are experimenting with alternatives before
they get there,” Mr. Watters said. “The biggest concern is that those who still
aspire to marriage are going to find fewer models. They’re also finding they’ve
gotten so good at being single it’s hard to be at one with another person.”
But Pamela J. Smock, a researcher at the University of Michigan Population
Studies Center, said her research — unaffiliated with the Census Bureau — found
that the desire for strong family bonds, and especially marriage, was constant.
“Even cohabiting young adults tell us that they are doing so because it would be
unwise to marry without first living together in a society marked by high levels
of divorce,” Ms. Smock said.
A number of couples interviewed agreed that cohabiting was akin to taking a test
drive and, given the scarcity of affordable apartments and homes, also a matter
of convenience. Some said that pregnancy was the only thing that would prompt
them to make a legal commitment soon. Others said they never intended to marry.
A few of those couples said they were inspired by solidarity with gay and
lesbian couples who cannot legally marry in most states.
Jennifer Lynch, a 28-year-old stage manager in New York, said she had lived on
the Lower East Side with her boyfriend, who is 37 and divorced, for most of the
five years they have been a couple.
“Cohabitating is our choice, and we have no intention to be married,” Ms. Lynch
said. “There is little difference between what we do and what married people do.
We love each other, exist together, all of our decisions are based upon each
other. Everyone we care about knows this.”
If anything, she added, “not having the false security of wedding rings makes us
work even a little harder.”
With more competition from other ways of living, the proportion of married
couples has been shrinking for decades. In 1930, they accounted for about 84
percent of households. By 1990 the proportion of married couples had declined to
about 56 percent.
Married couples have not been a majority of households headed by adults younger
than 25 since the 1970’s, but among those aged 25 to 34 the proportion slipped
below 50 percent for the first time within the past five years. (Among Americans
aged 35 to 64, married couples still make up a majority of all households.)
“It’s partially fueled by women in the work force; they don’t necessarily have
to marry to be economically secure,” said Andrew A. Beveridge, a demographer at
Queens College of the City University of New York, who conducted the census
analysis for The New York Times. “You used to get married to have sex. Now one
of the major reasons to get married is to have children, and the attractiveness
of having children has declined for many people because of the cost.”
William H. Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution, attributed the
accelerated trend to the lifestyles of baby boomers.
“It’s the legacy of the boomers that have finally caused this tipping point,”
Dr. Frey said. “Certainly later generations have followed in boomer footsteps,
with high levels of living together before marriage, and more flexible
lifestyles. But the boomers were the trailblazers, once again, rebelling against
a norm their parents epitomized.
“This would seem to close the book on the Ozzie and Harriet era that
characterized much of the last century,” he said.
LAS VEGAS, Sept. 2 — Jogging up the stairs of
the courthouse, clutching hands and looking tense, Holly Otero and Blain Moos
became the last couple to secure a wedding license at midnight on Friday,
rushing from the airport to the clerk’s office before the door slammed shut.
Josh Harris was not so lucky. His flight from Arkansas was delayed in Dallas,
felling his chances to surprise his girlfriend with a late-night trip to the
court and a witching-hour wedding at the Little White Chapel, which he called
after midnight, nearly starting to cry when he realized he would be too late.
There are things people like to do here at 2 a.m. that they cannot do anywhere
else, like pulling on a slot machine while their clothes run through the spin
cycle, discussing sumo wrestling with a topless circus performer and getting
married on an indoor gondola.
But anyone who wants to say “I do” in the middle of the night will now be
required to use a bit of forethought.
On Friday, the marriage license bureau here ended its tradition of staying open
24 hours a day on Fridays, Saturdays and holidays, limiting licensure to what
only here could be considered the outrageously unfair hours of 8 a.m. to
midnight, 365 days a year.
Of course, ending middle-of-the-night marriages in Las Vegas would be akin to
shutting down bikini mud wrestling at Gilley’s, or forcing Celine Dion to wear
Ann Taylor. “People can still get married,” sighed Stacey Welling, a spokeswoman
for Clark County, which includes Las Vegas. “As long as they can find a chapel.
They just have to plan to get a license earlier.”
The bureau, which began operating a weekend and holiday graveyard shift in 1979,
will save $200,000 in the county’s $1.4 billion budget by ending the shift,
during which Ms. Welling said about 5,000 of the 122,000 marriage licenses the
county issues each year are acquired.
Charlotte Richards, who owns the Little White Chapel on the Las Vegas Strip,
said the loss was going to come right out of her coffers. “I am really upset
about it,” Ms. Richards said. She said she conducted 10 to 20 weddings each
weekend night, with at least three of those couples needing the marriage license
bureau in the middle of the night.
Further, she said, celebrities who want to wed in Las Vegas do not want to have
to stand in line for a license with the rest of the honoring-and-cherishing
world, and like the discretion of midnight hours.
She should know, because she said she had married plenty of them, though she
would not name any — except for Joan Collins, Demi Moore and Bruce Willis,
Michael Jordan, and Britney Spears and “her first love.” Ms. Spears took
advantage of the graveyard shift to get her marriage license. The chapel’s
late-night weddings will continue, Ms. Richards said, “I just have to work
through this with a lot of hurt.”
Shirley B. Parraguirre, the county clerk, is not particularly tickled to hear
about Ms. Richards’s displeasure. The roughly 80 wedding chapels around the city
were sent notices of the change and asked for feedback, Ms. Parraguirre said,
but she had heard zip. “We had an open public hearing, and no one showed up,”
she said. “It is really puzzling to me.”
On Friday, the city’s marriage industry was bustling. There were brides in
silky, flowing gowns, some beaming, others looking slightly terrified. One
couple — he with a cigar clenched between his teeth, she unsmiling — were wed
under a tree at the Little White Chapel. When it was over, the bride gave her
groom a pat on the back.
Friday night, outside the wedding license bureau in the courthouse, marked in
pink neon lettering above the door, the “chapel rats,” so called by the security
guards for their forceful hustling of chapel services to slightly bewildered
couples, hawked. Some couples were giddy. Others seemed long schooled in the
ways of marital bickering.
Michael Williams, the affable guard who keeps careful watch over the bureau,
said that scores more couples than normal showed up Friday, anticipating the
closing hour. “The new deadline won’t stop drunk people from getting married in
the middle of night,” Mr. Williams said. “They show up drunk all day long. I
keep them from getting married.”
Ms. Parraguirre said the majority of people who showed up for a wedding license
during the graveyard shift had no intention of racing off to get married anyway.
“We think there is a misconception here,” she said. “The people coming in during
those hours are normally not planning impulse overnight weddings, they fly in or
drive in. They think, ‘Well, we need to do this, there are no lines, let’s just
do it now.’ ”
Weddings have been a mainstay of the Las Vegas experience since the 1920’s,
taking off with the widespread use of the automobile in the 1940’s, when the
Hitching Post and the Wee Kirk o’ the Heather opened their doors. Inspired by
the lax licensing laws — no blood test, no waiting — couples flocked from around
the region, and eventually the country, to wed.
Among the earliest celebrity clients were the actors Clara Bow and Rex Bell, who
tied the knot here in 1931, said Guy Rocha, the state archivist.
Just like its casinos, restaurants, hotels and adult entertainers, Las Vegas
wedding chapels cater to all tastes. Couples can combine a wedding with a day
package to the most expensive spa in town or drive through a chapel in a limo
for a five-minute ceremony. For $365, you can get in the spirit of Lancelot, or
step out of a coffin and bare fangs at your betrothed during a gothic ceremony.
Several chapel owners said they were indifferent to the change. “They probably
were losing money, and there is no point in it,” said the Rev. David Nye, who is
a co-owner of A Las Vegas Wedding Chapel.
“Who would this affect? Britney Spears, that’s all,’’ Mr. Nye said. “I am not
sure why there is a controversy. Most people are shocked to death that it was
open in the middle of the night to begin with. If 8 to midnight isn’t enough, I
don’t know what is.”
ONLY two guests — both strangers —were in
attendance on May 18, when Dawn Westman and Einar Ollander of Tarpon Springs,
Fla., were married in the chapel of the Grand Princess, a cruise ship sailing
the Mediterranean. But dozens were watching from home.
The audience included the bride's father and stepmother, who witnessed the event
from their home in Worcester, Mass.; the bridegroom's mother in Tarpon Springs;
and the bridegroom's brother in Gainesville, Fla. All awakened around 4 a.m. and
flicked on their home computers so they could view the wedding couple walking
down the aisle, live over the Internet.
"None of our friends or family were there in person," said the new Mrs.
Ollander, 39, who, like her husband, had been married once before. "But they
were able to watch it on the Webcam."
This Webcast concept perfectly melds America's couch-potato culture and its
obsession with weddings. Now there is no need to rise, dress up and go.
Observers can quickly take in a niece's ceremony and openly engage in catty
commentary, all from the privacy of home. For the couples it offers a high-tech,
low-cost way to have their "destination wedding" and connect with friends and
"I think big weddings are overblown and expensive," said Carol Angell Beauvais,
who watched her cousin's Caribbean wedding last year from her den in Westport,
N.Y. "You should save your money for a down payment on a house."
It would surprise few to learn that Nevada, land of drive-through weddings and
Elvis impersonators, has rapidly embraced online ceremonies.
About 5,000 couples have made use of Webcams perched in the chapels at the
Treasure Island and MGM Grand hotels in Las Vegas. "One of the reasons we chose
Treasure Island was because of the Webcast," said Shauntea Tolliver, 29, of
Beach Park, Ill., who married Ransley Denton, 33, on May 2. Only 10 people
witnessed the wedding in person, but a gaggle of relatives in five states tuned
How do people let guests know of their Webcasting plans? Via electronic
Marc Finkel, the chief operating officer of Cashman Enterprises (
www.cashmanpro.com ), a Las Vegas
photography and video service which began offering Webcasting three years ago,
asks the bride and bridegroom to provide the names and the e-mail addresses of
all guests. Mr. Finkel then sends digital invitations.
Two years ago, Larry Fair began noticing how few guests were present at
ceremonies he witnessed on Honolulu's beaches. "Obviously not everybody could
come," Mr. Fair said. So he and a partner established a business there called
Live Internet Weddings that charges $400 over the cost of producing the wedding
video itself to stream it live on the Internet. His company (
keeps it online for two weeks, in case people miss it live.
Stephanie Coontz, the author of "Marriage, a History: How Love Conquered
Marriage" (Penguin), has considered this phenomenon and declared it a mixed bag.
"We no longer have cookie-cutter marriages, and people are very interested in
using their wedding ceremony to indicate how unique their marriage is going to
be," she said.
Some tech-savvy suitors are even getting engaged via the Web. On May 20, James
Lee, 27, a Yale medical student, proposed to Uschi Lang, 26, a student at Mount
Sinai School of Medicine, by Internet. Knowing that a round-the-clock Webcam had
been set up in the new Apple Store on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, Mr. Lee stood
outside it at 5 a.m. and held up three signs that read: "Uschi Lang. I love you.
Will you marry me?"
Ms. Lang watched his proposal and "started crying," she recalled. "And of course
She was not the only one watching. They sent the link to their relatives in
Seattle, China, Hawaii, Germany and Peru. And then, of course, there were the
thousands of bloggers who mentioned the event on their Web sites. "I started
realizing the implications," said Mr. Lee, who is undecided about doing a repeat
performance when they marry. "In retrospect, it was a crazy thing."
For those who view a friend's wedding on the Web and wonder if they need to send
a gift, Ms. Coontz has an answer: "My gift is watching it."