Millennials are poised to become the nation's largest living generation this year. As they grow as a percentage of the population, more of them will reach the age at which Americans historically have gotten married. And many baby-boomer parents are probably eagerly anticipating the big day when their son or daughter walks down the aisle (and the grandkids who will follow).
But, according to new research, millennials are not showing many signs of interest in getting hitched as they get older, and, as a result, the marriage rate is expected to fall by next year to its lowest level to date.
That is a finding by Demographic Intelligence, a forecasting firm with a strong track record. "Millennials are such a big generation, we're going to have more people of prime marriage age in the next five years than we've had at any time in U.S. history. For that alone, we'd expect an uptick in marriage rates," said Sam Sturgeon, president of Demographic Intelligence. "That's not happening."
In the firm's new U.S. Wedding Forecast, compiled from demographic data, Google searches and a host of other variables, Sturgeon projects that by 2016, the marriage rate will fall to 6.7 per 1,000 people, a historic low. That includes people getting married for the second or third time.
Demographers cite several reasons for the massive generational shift in marriage trends.
• Millennials continue to delay marriage because of economics, education and preference. University of Maryland sociologist Philip Cohen, who has tracked falling marriage rates around the world, has projected that, if the current pattern continues, the marriage rate will hit zero in 2042.
• The United States continues to become more secular and less religious. The Pew Research Center reported recently that the share of Americans who describe themselves as Christians dropped from 78 percent to 71 percent between 2007 and 2014, while the number of atheists, agnostics or those of no faith grew from 16 percent to 23 percent.
• Millennials have alternatives. Living together or having children "out of wedlock" was once met with severe social stigma, but no longer. Cohabitation rates are on the rise — 48 percent of women interviewed between 2006-10 for the National Survey of Family Growth cohabitated with a partner as a first union, compared with 34 percent in 1995.