Data Tracker

Marriage? "No thanks" or "Not yet" say nearly half of California adults

By Phillip Reese - preese@sacbee.com

California is on the verge of becoming a state where most adults are single, a sea change that has accelerated in the last 15 years, the latest census figures show.

About 51 percent of Californians over 18 are currently married, down from about 74 percent in 1960. Over the same period, the proportion of California adults who have never married has more than doubled, rising from 13 percent in 1960 to about 34 percent today.

Count the 700,000 or so Californians who are separated and California already is a majority-single state.

A few factors help explain the trend. First, Californians are increasingly waiting longer to get married. In the 1950s and 1960s, the median age at first marriage for women nationwide was about 20; today it is close to 27. Second, California legalized "no fault" divorce around 1970. Since then, the proportion of adults currently divorced has doubled from 5 percent to 10 percent. Third, more Californians today choose to live together and raise families outside marriage.

A corresponding pattern has become more pronounced: More married couples choose to live in far-flung suburbs, leaving core urban areas primarily with unmarried adults.

In the city of Sacramento, for example, about 45 percent of adults are married. In the nearby suburbs of Roseville and Elk Grove, about 60 percent of adults are married.

These maps show the percentage of adults who are married in cities and suburbs along four major California metro areas. Cities in red=most adults aren't married. Cities in blue= most adults are married.

Percentage of adults married in Bay Area cities and suburbs

Percentage of adults married in Sacramento Area cities and suburbs
Percentage of adults married in Los Angeles Area cities and suburbs

Percentage of adults married in San Diego area cities and suburbs

Arguments over whether these trends represent a problem often split along political lines and often focus on the impacts to rearing children. Matthew Yglesias, a progressive blogger at Vox.com, notes that declining marriage rates have occurred as crime rates have decreased and high school graduation rates have risen. Conservative blogger Bradford Wilcox argues at Federalist.com that declining marriage rates have led to corresponding decreases in "the emotional well-being, social ties, and health of children."

Source: All data in maps and charts from U.S. Census Bureau, either via census.gov or via the Minnesota Population Center.

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