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Most in U.S. Want Marriage, but Its Importance Has Dropped

Most in U.S. Want Marriage, but Its Importance Has Dropped

Young adults more likely not to want to get married

by Frank Newport and Joy Wilke

PRINCETON, NJ -- The majority of Americans are married (54%) or have never married but would like to someday (21%). That leaves 5% of Americans who have never married and say they don't want to do so, along with 20% who have been previously married or did not classify their marital status.

Marital Status and Desire to Get Married in the U.S., June 2013

These results are based on a June 20-24 Gallup poll. There are no Gallup trend data on this measure of desire to be married, so it is not known whether the percentage who don't want to marry was lower in previous years or decades. But 5% is a low absolute percentage, regardless of what it was in the past.

Attitudes about marriage are important in the context of a declining marriage rate in the U.S. The Census Bureau reports that the rate of marriage is down, from 9.9 marriages per 1,000 Americans in 1987 to 6.8 in 2011. In addition, researchers at the University of Maryland found that the marriage rate per 1,000 unmarried women fell from 90 in 1950, at the height of the baby boom, to just 31 in 2011.

Young Americans Are the Most Likely Not to Want to Marry

There is significant variation across age groups in the four marriage categories, mainly driven by the increase in the "married" or "previously married" percentage as age increases. Nine percent of Americans aged 18 to 34 are unmarried and express no interest in marrying, but 56% of this group is unmarried and does want to get married. This high level of interest in marriage suggests there is little widespread attitudinal aversion to first-time marriage among the nation's younger unmarried residents.

Marital Status and Interest, by Age, June 2013

Nonwhites, Young Adults Less Likely to Be Married, but Would Like to Be

Nonwhites in the 18- to 34-year-old age group are significantly less likely than whites of the same age to be married. But 61% of the never-married younger nonwhites want to get married, meaning that 81% of this group is married or wants to be, only slightly lower than the 87% of young whites who are in these two categories.

Marital Status and Interest in Marriage, by Key Demographics, Among 18- to 34-Year-Olds, June 2013

Young Americans who don't have a college degree and those with lower incomes are less likely to be married than those with college degrees and higher incomes. Some of this is age-related, because some of those without a college degree are in the lower end of the age segment and are still in college. Even so, these unmarried young Americans with lower levels of education and income are highly likely to say they want to be married.

Importance Americans Place on Marriage Is Down From Past

Although most Americans are married or would like to get married, less than two-thirds consider it very or somewhat important for a couple to marry if the two want to spend the rest of their lives together or when they want to have a child together. This is down from 2006, the last time Gallup asked about the importance of marriage in this way.

Fewer than six in 10 Americans who have never been married but want to be say it is important that a couple get married in these circumstances. This suggests that a sizable percentage of Americans who would like to get married still don't think it is important that they do so.

Importance of Marrying, by Marital Status and Interest in Marriage, June 2013

Additionally, younger Americans are significantly less likely than older groups to believe people should marry when making a lifetime commitment or having a child.

Unmarried Americans Still Looking for the Right Person

Americans who have never married but would like to were asked to explain why they were still single. The reasons given are straightforward, including the fact that they have not found the right person or because they are too young, or not ready to get married.

Finances are the third-most-frequently mentioned reason, followed by having no time, career considerations, attending school, not trusting people, and the fact that gay marriage is illegal where they live.

Top Reasons Americans Are Not Married, June 2013


Regardless of age, Americans are much more positive about marriage than not, as the majority of all age groups are married or want to get married someday. Fewer than one in 10 young Americans have never married and say they do not want to get married. These findings indicate that there is a significant desire for marriage even as the overall marriage rate has dropped in recent years.

On the other hand, Americans' views of the importance of being married when two people want to spend their lives together or have a child has declined in recent years. Thus, while most younger Americans who have never married express an attitudinal interest in eventually doing so, fewer hold the underlying attitude that such an action is important.

The reasons Americans who have never married yet want to be married give for why they have not yet married support the idea that getting married is to some degree a matter of timing and convenience rather than necessity, as most reasons have to do with waiting for the right partner or the right time.

All in all, the data suggest that marriage holds its traditional status as the expected route for young couples, but the perceived importance of adhering to that tradition may be weakening. Thus, the overall marriage rate may be dropping partly because younger Americans feel more comfortable in waiting to be married, even if they do get married eventually.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted June 20-24, 2013, on the Gallup Daily tracking survey, with a random sample of 2,048 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.

For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 50% cellphone respondents and 50% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by region. Landline and cell telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.

Samples are weighted to correct for unequal selection probability, nonresponse, and double coverage of landline and cell users in the two sampling frames. They are also weighted to match the national demographics of gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, population density, and phone status (cellphone only/landline only/both, and cellphone mostly). Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2012 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older U.S. population. Phone status targets are based on the July-December 2011 National Health Interview Survey. Population density targets are based on the 2010 census. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting.

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

View methodology, full question results, and trend data.

For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit

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