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Americans waiting longer to get married

Americans are waiting longer and longer to get married, the Census Bureau said Thursday. In fact, the average first-time bride is older than at any time in the last century. Postponing nuptials is one way to cope with the increasing complexity of American life.

Men typically were just over 26 years old when they first married and women were nearly 24, the bureau found in a survey last year. Twenty years ago, men on average were a little over 23 when they tied the knot for the first time; women were nudging 21.

The survey also found the proportion of women in their early 30s who had never married nearly tripled, from 6 percent in 1970 to 16 percent in 1990.

People are delaying marriage in part because their lives have become more entangled with school, career and other things, said Martha Farnsworth Riche, a sociologist with the Population Reference Bureau, a Washington research group.

"All the job growth in well-paying jobs is in jobs that require more education," she said. "Right now, roughly one in two high school graduates goes on to college."

People also put off marriage because nowadays men and women are both planning careers, and those plans sometimes conflict. "It's just harder to schedule a getting together," Riche said.

The Census Bureau started compiling statistics on the average age of first marriage in 1890, when men wed at age 26 and women at 22.

In those days, when most people farmed, a couple didn't get married until they could afford to buy a house.

But as people moved from farms into cities, they shrugged off that custom and began marrying younger and younger.

The marrying age declined until 1956, when grooms were six months over 22 and brides were barely 20. Since then, the marriage age has risen steadily as America's factory economy has given way to today's more complex enterprises.

Besides deferring marriage, young adults were also putting off the day when they left their parents' homes. One-third of people in their late 20s who had never married still lived with their parents in 1990.

Some other survey findings:

In 1990, 73 percent of the nation's children lived with two parents. Twenty years earlier, 85 percent lived with both parents.

There were 2.9-million unmarried couples living together, up 80 percent from 10 years ago.

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