Infographic of the Day: Marriage Is (Still) a Dying Institution

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Infographic of the Day: Marriage Is (Still) a Dying Institution

Valentine’s Day is the perfect time to ask: What’s love for? The age-old answer, of course, has been marriage. (And the purpose of marriage, of course, is to produce kids.)


This infographic from GOOD and the Pew Research Center blows that truism to bits. Simply put, marriage is increasingly irrelevant to the choices that people make with their partners, whether that’s living together, raising kids, or generally living happily ever after.

It’s no surprise that there are a growing number of single-parent families, and that people are getting and staying married at lower and lower rates. But you might be surprised at how vertiginous the trend is. For example, the number of households composed of a spouse and children has cratered: In 1960 it was 47% and now it’s just 27%; in that same period, the number of people over 18 who are married has gone from 72% to 52%:


[Click to view full-sized]

Notice that little yellow bar chart at the bottom: The number of children living with an unmarried parent has risen from 3.8 million to 4.5 million in just eight years.

But what continues to surprise is just who exactly is getting married. Once upon a time, in the 1960s, marriage was seen as a way for working-class couples to bootstrap themselves into the middle-class, thanks to the cost-savings associated with sharing a house. And among the educated, marriage was seen as a gilded cage for bourgeois women.


Today, curiously, the educated are the ones who seem to cling most dearly to marriage, while the less educated appear to be abandoning the institution post haste. Among those with a high-school diploma or less, marriage rates have fallen from 69% to 48% in the last 50 years, as the line chart to the bottom left shows. Meanwhile, the chart in the upper right shows that cohabiting (i.e., unmarried) couples have doubled in just 18 years, to 6.2 million.


Now, you might adduce that the trend against marriage is associated with some kind of social breakdown–that we’re all pining for traditional family values. Certainly, this is what much conservative rhetoric has been dedicated to in the past, especially in regards to the gay-marriage debate.

But the fact is that only 29% of people think that the profusion of modern living arrangements is a bad thing–a whopping 66% think it’s either a good thing, or that it makes no difference. Which is probably the most telling stat of all: Marriage isn’t just dying away because of the pressures of modern life and the inability of people to commit. It’s dying because people fail to see its importance.

[View the entire graphic here]

About the author

Cliff is director of product innovation at Fast Company, founding editor of Co.Design, and former design editor at both Fast Company and Wired.