As of 2021, 25% of 40-year-olds in the United States had never been married. This was a significant increase from 20% in 2010, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis of Census Bureau data.

How we did this

Pew Research Center conducted this analysis to look at changing marriage rates among 40-year-olds in the United States from 1850 to 2021. This analysis uses decennial census data and the American Community Survey (ACS). The ACS is the largest household survey in the U.S., with a sample of more than 3 million addresses. Collected by the Census Bureau since 2001, it covers the topics previously included in the long form of the decennial census. The ACS is designed to provide estimates of the size and characteristics of the nation’s resident population.

These large datasets allow for reliable estimates of outcomes for people at a given age.

The data on cohabitation comes from the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey (CPS) 2022 Annual Social and Economic Supplement.

The microdata files used for this analysis were provided by the Integrated Public Use Microdata Series (IPUMS) from the University of Minnesota. IPUMS standardizes variable names and coding across years as much as possible, making it easier to analyze the data over time. The first census after the American Revolution occurred in 1790. IPUMS has decennial census samples from 1850 on. The 1850 and 1860 census samples only include the free population.

A line chart showing the share of 40-year-olds who have never been married from 1900 to 2021 by decade. The highest level is 2021, when 25% were never married. The prior high point was 1910, when 16% of 40-year-olds had never married. The share never married declines through the 20th century and reaches its lowest point in 1980, when 6% of 40-year-olds had never been married.

Marriage has long been a central institution in the lives of Americans. In 1980, just 6% of 40-year-olds had never been married. But people born from the 1960s onward have been increasingly delaying marriage, and a growing share are forgoing it altogether.

The 2021 data marks a new milestone in that decadeslong trend.

While many unmarried 40-year-olds are living with a romantic partner, most are not. In 2022, 22% of never-married adults ages 40 to 44 were cohabiting.

The share of 40-year-olds in 2021 who had never married varied by the following demographic characteristics:

  • Gender: A higher share of men than women had never married.
  • Race and ethnicity: Black 40-year-olds were much more likely to have never married than Hispanic, White and Asian 40-year-olds.
A bar chart showing the likelihood of 40-year-olds never being married by gender, race and ethnicity, and education. The never-married rates are based on 2021 data. Men were more likely to have never been married than women. Black 40-year-olds were much more likely to have never married than 40-year-olds of other racial and ethnic identity. 40-year-olds who have completed at least a bachelor’s degree are less likely to have never married than their peers who completed less education.
  • Education level: 40-year-olds without a four-year college degree were more likely to have never married than those who had completed at least a bachelor’s degree. One-third of those with a high school diploma or less had never married, compared with 26% of those with some college education and 18% of those with a bachelor’s degree or more education.

The overall decrease in the share of 40-year-olds who have married is especially notable because the share of 40-year-olds who had completed at least a bachelor’s degree was much higher in 2021 than in 1980 (39% vs. 18%). More-highly educated 40-year-olds are more likely to have married, but the growth of this group has not reversed the overall trend of delaying or forgoing marriage.

To be sure, we can’t assume that if someone has not married by age 40, they never will. In fact, about one-in-four 40-year-olds who had not married in 2001 had done so by age 60. If that pattern holds, a similar share of today’s never-married 40-year-olds will marry in the coming decades.

Richard Fry  is a senior researcher focusing on economics and education at Pew Research Center.