Marriage? Maybe later.

Last week, I made a simple chart and a big explainer about the difference between mean and median income, so this week, we’ll keep it short. It’s our 10th Weekly Chart (🎉)! And it’s about a topic that would have been of more relevant for most of us fifty years ago: Marriage.

We see that with each older age group, the line goes down more moderately. People marry less these days than 50 years ago, but what they do even less than marrying in general is marrying early. In the Fifties and Sixties, everyone got married before they were 30 years old. (Correction: “Everyone” is four in five.) These days, only a third of the US population gets married before they turn 30. But a far bigger share than sixty years ago gets married in their 30s and 40s. When it comes to taking vows, 30 is the new 20.

Chart choices

It’s the beauty of charts that they aggregate numbers so much, but it’s also their danger. So I wanted to bring some nuance to the chart. If and when people marry depends on a lot of factors, e.g. their religion or when they finish their education. A big factor is their gender. As most of us will assume right and as we can see, men marry later in their lives than women. But the nice thing about that exercise of splitting up the average ("% of 20-24-year-olds") into some sub-averages (gender) is that we get another insight out of here. The chart shows nicely that the gender gap has narrowed over the decades. The difference between married 20-24-year-old men and women of the same age becomes smaller the more we get into our current time.

So why did I only show the age groups up to 34-year-olds? Why not show how many of the 40- or 60-year-olds are married? That’s because the share of the people who are married actually goes down, the older they become. People divorce or their spouses die. I counted them as “not married” in this chart.

But what’s up with these big bumps in the lines, you ask? Unfortunately, I have no idea. I assume that this is more a flaw in the data than a flaw in…life. I took the data from UNData, who collected 20 percent samples of census returns of the last decades for us. If you know a better source than this, please let me know!


If you liked these charts, definitely visit Nathan Yau’s more personal data-experiences “Percentage of People Who Married, Given Your Age” and “Marrying Age”. I see you next week!