The number of couples who are not married has risen in many places but is highest in areas that offer many people grim prospects for a better financial future: old industrial cities and the Mississippi Delta.
Unmarried couples made up 12% of U.S. couples in 2010, a 25% increase in 10 years, according to Census data.
Two-thirds of the cities with the largest shares of unmarried couples were in the Northeast and Midwest, up from about half a decade earlier.
In Camden, N.J., 35% of couples are not married, up from 28% in 2000 and the highest of any city with at least 50,000 people. Other cities where more couples are choosing not to marry: Rochester, N.Y., 33%, up from 26%; Flint, Mich., 29%, up from 21%; Cleveland, 27%, up from 20%.
“Couples whose employment opportunities are more precarious tend not to marry,” says Stephanie Coontz, sociologist with the Council on Contemporary Families. Many “are hedging their bets – waiting to see if they can improve their long-term odds by making sure they’re economically and emotionally secure with each other.”
The percentage of couples who are unmarried, but co-habitating, rose in 2010 to 12%, up from 9% in 2000.
Changing attitudes played a hand in boosting the rate in other areas: Northern California, South Florida and New England.
“These are places with flexibility about what constitutes a family so that even those with more prosperity may elect to have non-married families and lives,” says Virginia Rutter, sociology professor at Framingham State University in Massachusetts.
Couples at both ends of the economic spectrum are opting to live together rather than marry, largely because women increasingly rely less on men to take care of them financially.
Women who earn good incomes have more choices “about how they arrange their private lives,” Rutter says. “You will find more unmarried couples in larger cities, both because of heavier concentrations of poverty and because cities attract young, educated people who are not yet prepared to marry.”
The Census shows higher shares of married couples in middle-class and upscale suburban areas, the bastions of traditional American families with children. About 23% of Oakland couples are not married but only 12% in Burbank, a Los Angeles suburb. In Baltimore, the share is 27% compared with 9% in nearby Columbia, Md.
Unmarried couples include a householder – the person filling out the Census form – and someone who checks “unmarried partner.”
The bad economy may be contributing to the increase in unmarried couples. “Often, they live together not just for the companionship and to test their relationship but because it’s cheaper than maintaining two households,” Coontz says. “But unlike the past, they are unwilling to marry for economic security because they are well aware how precarious both jobs and relationships can be.
Using the recent Kim Kardashian situation as an example, how is it that we’re such a wedding obsessed society, yet uninterrested in marriage at the same time?