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Last updated on April 24, 2014 at 13:35 EDT

Fewer in U.S. Marry as More Live Together

July 18, 2005

NEW YORK — Both the U.S. marriage and divorce rates are dropping while the number of unwed couples living together is rising, according to an annual study of marriage released on Monday.

The numbers show a gradual trend in the United States toward the lifestyles in Scandinavia, particularly Sweden, where unmarried cohabitation with children is far more common, said David Popenoe, co-author of “The State of Our Unions” study.

The number of unmarried couples living together in the United States grew to more than 5 million last year, according to the study by the National Marriage Project at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, in Piscataway.

More than half of all first U.S. marriages are preceded by living together, it said. The study did not specify whether it meant first marriage for both men and women.

Meanwhile, the U.S. marriage rate fell to 39.9 per 1,000 unmarried women in 2004 from 46.5 in 2000 and 76.5 in 1970, the study said. The ratio of married U.S. adults has fallen to its lowest since 1960, to about 55 percent from 69 percent, it said.

The divorce rate dropped to 17.7 per 1,000 married women in 2004 from 18.8 in 2000 and a high of 22.6 in 1980, the study said.

Eleven percent of adult U.S. women and 8 percent of adult men are divorced, the study said. In 1960, fewer than 3 percent of women and fewer than 2 percent of men were divorced, it said.

“Put all those together, and it means that those people who marry might have a little stronger marriages than they once did, but fewer people are marrying and more people are living together outside of marriage,” Popenoe said.

By comparison, the marriage rate in Sweden is one of the lowest in the world, while the divorce rate is rising, he said.

“We’re still a marrying nation, but we’re, I would say, gradually drifting in the European direction, if these trends are going to prevail,” Popenoe said.

The study showed the number of U.S. children born to unwed mothers and the percentage of children living with a single parent increased to record highs.

Almost 35 percent of last year’s babies were born to unmarried women. Of those, 40 percent were born to unmarried couples living together, Popenoe said. Some 40 percent of such couples have children, he noted.

Overall, the ratio of U.S. households with children has been dropping since 1960, when it was almost half. The figure dropped to about 33 percent in 2003 and is expected to fall to 28 percent in 2010, the study said.

The report, written by Popenoe, a social and behavioral sciences professor, and Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, an author of books on marriage and family, is the seventh annual report by the National Marriage Project.