Just a few hours ago, the Census Bureau released a report called "Marital Events of Americans: 2009." Included were data on rates of marriage, divorce, and widowhood, and current and historical data on the age at which people first marry (among those who do marry).
The media got their hands on the report a few days ago, so their stories are already beginning to appear. See if you can guess how the report has been framed by the Census Bureau and how it has been described in the media so far. Three of the following five quotes are actual published quotes in the opening paragraphs of the relevant reports. Can you identify them? (Of the other two, I made up one of them and the other is a title of a blog post from last fall that I wrote about a previous Census Bureau report.)
1. "Singles, take note: With marriages at an all-time low, states in the South and West rank among the highest for couples hearing wedding bells."
2. "Women, take note: Women who divorced in the past year are especially likely to have low incomes and even be living in poverty, despite the fact that they are also especially likely to be working; the best predictor of getting divorced is getting married."
3. "Marital events often signal important transitions into adulthood..."
4. "Americans just want to be single?"
5. "Nationally the most striking finding is a continued clear pattern toward later ages at first marriage."
The real quotes are numbers 1, 3, and 5. I made up #2 (though the information in the quote is an accurate representation of what is in the Census Bureau report). "Americans just want to be single?" is the title of a previous post here at Living Single.
That first quote, sadly, was the opening line from the Associated Press report. AP stories are reprinted far and wide. In an article on the serious topic of how marriage rates are at an all-time low, and how the ages at which people first marriage are continuing to rise, the reporter begins with a cutesy note to single people telling them where to find the wedding bells. Reporter, take note: You are embarrassing yourself.
The second quote is my parody of the first. The Census Bureau did find that women who divorced in the past year were especially likely to have low incomes and even be living in poverty, despite the fact that they were also especially likely to be working. Of course, no one really did quip that the best predictor of divorce is marriage.
The third quote is in the opening paragraph of the Census Bureau report. A document reporting the most up-to-date data on trends in marriage begins with an outdated conceptualization of what marriage means in contemporary American society. It is not the marker of a transition into adulthood.
I used the question, "Americans just want to be single?," to headline my previous post in order to underscore the explanation that is always missing from these stories. Nearly a year later, writers are offering all sorts of speculations for the low rate of marriage except for the one that says that more and more people like their single lives and are not straining to hear the sounds of wedding bells. Here's how that AP story with the awful opening line put it: "Marriages have been declining for years due to rising divorce, more unmarried couples living together and increased job prospects for women." All valid points but let's think beyond the usual storyline.
Quote #5 is the caption of the photo in Sharon Jayson's story in USA Today, and the same point is also repeated in the text. I liked that. As I documented in a previous post, the age of first marriage is rising not just in the U.S., but in many places around the globe.
Here are a few other interesting points: