Newlyweds Old Hands at Marriage

Four of every 10 newlyweds have walked down the aisle before – either because they have been divorced or they are widowed, a new Pew Research Center report reveals. The Pew survey also showed that men are far more likely than women to marry someone who is at least 10 years younger, according to The Washington Post.

While most women think one marriage is enough, the Pew report says, most men want another walk to the altar after divorce or having become widowed.

“We’re not seeing an outbreak in remarriage fever,” Andrew Cherlin, a sociology professor at Johns Hopkins University, told the Post. “We’re seeing an increase in the number of people who are in a position to remarry.

“What’s happened is that the share of the population that’s divorced has risen greatly. In particular, the Baby Boomer generation – which experienced more divorce than any generation in history – is now in their 50s and 60s. They’ve lived long enough and there are now more of them to get remarried.”

Pew says 42 million adults married in 2013 – an increase of 22 million over 1980. More than one in five of those, 23 percent, had been married before, compared with 13 percent in 1960.

Remarriage has been on the rise for decades. Among all adults who are presently married, about one-fourth (23 percent) have been married before. This marks a dramatic increase from 1960, when only 13 percent of married adults had previously been married, and from 1980, when 17 percent had been. Among those married in the past 12 months, the share rises to 29 percent.

The trends in remarriage take place against a backdrop of striking changes in the prevalence and stability of marriage. The findings show how traditional marriage patterns have altered in recent decades, and reveal that these days, only 70 percent of adults will have married during their lives, compared with 85 percent in 1960.

Overall, marriage has been on the decline in the United States for several decades.  In 1960, 85 percent of adults had been married at some point in their lives. That share dropped to 80 percent in 1980 and to 70 percent in 2013. This so-called “retreat from marriage” has been driven largely by delays in marriage and unmarried cohabitation by couples living together without marriage. Over the same time period, there has been a rise in the share of marriages ending in divorce or widowhood, due in part to the aging of the population.  In 1960, 25 percent of ever-married adults had divorced or become widowed; by 2013 that share was 43 percent.

These dramatic changes in marriage and divorce increased the pool of adults who could remarry. In 1960, 21 percent of all adults had previously been married; by 1980, the share stood at 26 percent; and in 2013, 30 percent of adults had been married previously. Among this group, the share who has remarried has been quite stable for the past 50 years, in contrast to the declining share of adults who have ever married. In 2013, 57% of previously married adults had remarried, compared with 56% in 1960.

Despite the overall stability in the likelihood to remarry, there are notable differences by age, gender, race and other factors in the share of previously married adults who marry again.

According to the Pew findings center, 40 percent of marriages involve one spouse who’s been married before. In 20 percent of new marriages, both spouses have previously said “I do.”

“There’s so much dialogue right now about the retreat from marriage in general,” said Gretchen Livingston, a senior Pew Researcher and author of the study. “I was really curious to juxtapose that with what’s going on with remarriage.”

Livingston analyzed data from the 2013 American Community Survey as well as the 1960 and 1980 censuses and found that the number of remarried adults in the United States has hit 42 million, which is almost double the amount recorded in 1980 and triple the amount in 1960. But not everyone is jumping to remarry – after combining the hard data on remarriage patterns with the results of a recent Pew survey about marriage, Livingston found that specific demographics are actually less likely to remarry than others.

Among those who are divorced or widowed, age made a big difference in desire to remarry.

There are two demographic shifts that can account for this general surge in remarriage, according to Livingston. For one, the divorce rate is higher now than it was in 1960, so the number of people who are, as she put it, “eligible” to remarry has also risen. (But it’s worth noting that the divorce rate peaked in 1981 and has been slowly declining and leveling off ever since.)

The more influential factor in the high remarriage rate, however, is a longer life expectancy for partners, particularly among Baby Boomers. While only 34 percent of those who were 65 and older (and eligible to remarry) had remarried in 1960, 50 percent of that same demographic had remarried in 2013.

“The older you are, the more likely you are to have ever remarried, because you have more time in your life to have married once, gotten divorced or widowed and found someone else and remarried,” Livingston said.

Younger Americans went the opposite direction: 75 percent of people ages 25 to 34 and eligible to remarry were remarried in 1960, while only 43 percent of that same demographic were remarried in 2013. It’s very possible that this younger group of contemporary divorcees and widows hasn’t soured on the institution of marriage completely, however. Livingston pointed out that, since younger demographics have tended to delay marriage – the average age of first marriage is now about 27 for women and 29 for men, as opposed to 21 for women and 24 for men in 1960 – perhaps this group is content to cohabit with partners or advance the relationship in other ways, rather than jump into marriage number two.

Age wasn’t the only differentiating factor, though. When Pew polled participants for the aforementioned survey on marriage, they asked single men and women who had been married before if they would be willing to marry again. There was a clear gender divide: divorced or widowed men were more likely to want to remarry than women in the same position.

A majority of once-married, eligible men – 65 percent – either expressed a desire to remarry or were still considering it. In comparison, 43 percent of women said they’d be willing to remarry and 54 percent specifically didn’t want to ever marry again. Only 30 percent of men were completely against the idea of a second walk down the aisle.

Previous studies have suggested that men enjoy more health benefits, relationship satisfaction and economic perks from marriage than women do. Livingston said it’s quite possible that widowed or divorced men have more motivation to jump back into a new marriage and regain those aforementioned comforts.

Another interesting finding combined both age and gender: In remarriages, 16 percent of couples involve a husband who is at least 10 years older than his wife. This age gap falls to a mere 4 percent in first-time married couples. If you consider that 39 percent of first-time newlyweds (and 21 percent of remarried couples) are within a year of each other’s ages, this age gap among remarried couples becomes particularly noteworthy.

While today’s divorce rate might make newlyweds of the 1960s cringe, that doesn’t mean that today’s society has lost faith in marriage. In fact, according to Pew, previously married people these days are just as willing to remarry as they were back in 1960. Taken together, these findings can add more detail to an ever-shifting image of the American family.

“Maybe newlyweds don’t look quite as fresh-faced as they did in the late ’60s,” Livingston said, noting once again that 40 percent of today’s newlywed couples involve at least one person who’s been married before, “But I think it’s very striking and just another example of how the definitions of family and the norm are changing.”

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