The Decline of Marriage in American Society

As an economist, I like to use numbers to tell a story.  Unfortunately, the story I have to tell today is a sad, and disturbing one–the decline of marriage in American society.

Using data from the Internal Revenue Service–hat tip to my husband for the pointer–we can look at how American’s file their tax returns and under what filing classifications:  Married Filing Jointly (a traditional family), Head of Household (a single parent with children), single (never-married or divorced) and other (widowers and married filing separately).

As you can see in the chart below, Married Filing Jointly is the only filing classification to have fallen as a percentage of all tax filers between 1996 (first year of available data) and 2008 (most recent year of available data).  In 1996, Married Filing Jointly made up 40.6 percent of all tax returns but by 2008 fell to 37.7 percent–a decline of 7.2 percent.

On the other hand, the fastest growing filing category was Head of Household up to 14.8 percent in 2008 from 13.8 percent in 1996–an increase of 7.7 percent.  This is not surprising since Head of Households are pulling from both Married Filing Jointly (through divorce for example) and Singles (through teenage pregnancies for example).  This filing group can also expand via another disturbing avenue–the sperm bank.

The next fastest growing (and largest overall) filing category is for Singles up to 45.6 percent in 2008 from 43.5 percent in 1996–an increase of 4.8 percent.  This is likely the result of younger generations delaying marriage until later in life.  This will have the result of increasing Single filers as a percentage of all tax filers.

This ongoing decline of marriage in American society is also a significant contributing factor in the falling number of children as well.  A single mom simply can not raise the number of children as could an intact family.  This is leading to a new phenomena being called Demographic Winter where there are too few children to support the current level of population.  Demographic Winter in the U.S. in most pronounced in Northern New England.

Interestingly, the IRS has more good data that I can plumb . . . stay tuned.

Chart Showing The Decline of Marriage in American Society