Marriage Rates Down, Cohabitating Rates Up: It's Not Just Student Debt to Blame


Young adults delay marriage longer than ever. Student debt is a key reason.

A St. Louis Fed study shows As Fewer Young Adults Wed, Married Couples’ Wealth Surpasses Others’.

Since the 1960s, the median age at first marriage has steadily increased for both women and men. The last three decades were no different for young adults: The age at first marriage went from 26.2 for men and 23.8 for women in 1989 to 29.5 and 27.4, respectively, in 2016. As marriage rates decline in young adulthood, more young adults are choosing to cohabitate (reside with an unmarried partner) and are doing so at earlier ages. The increase in unmarried partnered young adult couples is evident. The share of married households dropped steadily from around 57 percent in 1989 to 37 percent by 2016, while partnered households grew from about 7 percent to 21 percent.

Wealth Effect

As the share of married young adult households declines, their median net worth (both total and when omitting housing-related assets and debts) has remained consistently higher than that of single households. From 1989 to 2016, the typical married household had around three times as much wealth as a partnered or single household.

Student Loan Debt Is Widespread across Young Households’ Balance Sheets

The shifting share of married versus unmarried young adult households is also associated with changes in the composition of debt. This shift is most pronounced when examining the rise of student loan debt. Recent research suggests that growth in student debt levels is associated with marriage delays or avoidance. This suggests that young adults increasingly feel that their debt is an economic barrier to transitioning to adulthood and forming a family.

In 2013, the share of young adult households with student loan debt, 42.1 percent, surpassed the credit card debt rate, 40.1 percent, for the first time. By 2016, 46 percent of young adult households had student loan debt, triple the 1989 percentage.

Heavy Student Loan Debt Forces Many Millennials To Delay Buying Homes

NPR reports Heavy Student Loan Debt Forces Many Millennials To Delay Buying Homes

Homeownership rates for people ages 24 to 32 dropped nearly 9 percentage points between 2005 and 2014 — effectively driving down homeownership rates overall. In January, the Fed estimated 20 percent of that decline is attributable to student loan debt.

"It's not that they're not going to buy homes. It's just that they'll purchase these homes later in life," says Odeta Kushi, deputy chief economist at real estate research firm First American.

Baby boomers were 25, on average, when they purchased their first homes; millennials, by comparison, are waiting almost a decade longer, Kushi says.

"Approximately 40 percent of those who start college do not finish within six years. ... That's a huge number," says Laurie Goodman, co-director of the Housing Finance Policy Center at the Urban Institute.

For those people, it is the worst of all worlds — they have the school debt without the higher wages to show for it.

Attitudes, Attitudes, Attitudes

Homeownership rates may rise, but not to the same rate as boomers. Student debt is only one pf the reasons. Attitudes about marriage, having kids, mobility, and debt have all changed.

This is not 1960 or 1971.

To top it off, houses simply are not affordable. That's what the cohabitation rate shows. Wages have not kept up with home prices even without the burden of student debt.

Mike "Mish" Shedlock

Comments (19)
No. 1-13

The trend towards not getting married in perfectly understandable from a men's point of view.

Divorce courts and divorce laws are stacked against the man. it is near financial suicide to get married for the man if something goes wrong.

Additionally, you actually pay more in taxes if you are married (with both spouses making near the same salaries).


Aligned with the fact that a majority of millenials have seen their parents or friend's parents not make it through 25 years of marriage and to have to start over there is another reason. Young women's potential for financial self-support by now graduating college at higher rates than men and being more opinionated than ever (Think Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus) don't support long term relationship development. Cohabitation makes sense when the pressure of modern society doesn't have one person or the other dependent financially on the other and allows for more frequent breakups. This more tenuous beginning to a relationship, fragile bond and ability to call it quits quickly along with religion becoming a smaller piece of every generations' life, will push marriage rates down further.


The marriage tax penalty just keeps getting more and more pronounced. The new tax law has a maximum SALT deduction of $10,000 whether you are single or married. That's a $2,500+ tax penalty right there.


Speaking for myself, the marriage penalty returned when I retired (at 59) but my wife continued to work in a high-paying job (pharmacist). Whenever I took money out of my IRAs, the tax rate was the same as my wife's.

Moreover, our house was paid off so not enough itemized deductions to exceed the standard. Now, that we're divorced, the rate has diminished.

Now I have to convince my daughter to let us pay for her fifth year in college which she will need to take the CPA test. An BS accounting degree by itself isn't worth much and you need 5 years to be eligible to take the CPA. So she has applied for her Masters - and needs $30k for it. She doesn't want to take money from us; wants to take out a student loan which will mean $350/mo for 10 years (at least).


Once feudal states get oppressive enough, men simply cannot afford families of their own. After all, if they could, that would mean some money is still left on the table after they have paid what they "owe" the privileged castes in taxes and rents. Instead, men need to offer their daughters up as concubines for their overlords. While working doubly hard to support them in their haremhood. Since, after all, the concubines can reliably be counted on to vote in favor of being supported, rather than not being supported. Duh! And well indoctrinated idiots can, equally reliably, be counted on to fall for the scam that demoooooocraciii is some sort of excuse for any old idiocy their feudal lord gets on teevee to promote.