(ABC4) – As Valentine’s Day approaches, thoughts of roses, candies, hearts, and rings are certainly not far from many minds. Those celebrating across the country are sure to be starry-eyed come February 14, whether they’re planning a romantic dinner, a weekend getaway, or just a casual night in. But — even with Valentine’s love in the air — marriage rates in Utah are following the nation’s general downward trend.
Between 1990 and 2019, marriages in Utah have decreased from 11.2 nuptials per 1,000 residents to just eight, according to data compiled by the Utah Office of Vital Records. During the same time frame, marriages in the U.S. as a whole have declined from 9.8 per 1,000 people to 6.1. One study suggests that marriage rates have declined 60% in Utah between 2009 and 2019.
So, why are fewer people getting married in the U.S. and in Utah?
According to Nick Wolfinger, a professor of Family and Consumer Studies at the University of Utah, a large reason behind the decline is a general trend of Americans getting married later in life.
“If you look at any estimate about what percentage of the population is married, less will appear to be married, just because people are waiting longer,” he explains.
According to Brian Willoughby, a professor at Brigham Young University’s School of Family Life, there are several reasons behind this wait, and many of them come from larger societal shifts in values. One of the biggest cultural changes influencing marriage rate is the growing acceptance of couples cohabiting before tying the knot, in addition to a general feeling that marriage isn’t necessarily imperative to have a healthy, happy partnered relationship.
“Whereas marriage used to be kind of the de facto choice, now marriage is viewed less as the required endpoint of a relationship,” Willoughby explains. “You have a lot of couples that will cohabit and just live together, and you’ll have a lot of other situations where [a couple] might be in a committed relationship, but not necessarily feel the need to transition to marriage.”
In addition, Willoughby says that — as societal norms ebb and flow with the times — the choice to pursue things like careers and other personal values above marriage has grown increasingly common. And these changes have therefore made the choice to remain single into adulthood more accepted — and respected.
“An increasing proportion of individuals, both young adults and adults, are really just opting out of relationships in general and feeling like they don’t have to get married to be part of the adult world,” he says.
So, how does this all apply to Utah?
According to Willoughby, the state’s changing demographics are likely playing a role in the declining marriage rate. Our state is commonly known for being home to a large population of followers of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and individuals with religious ties have been shown to be more likely to be married, according to data from Pew Research Center. But, because in recent years Utah has become an attractive destination for in-migrants moving from other states, our demographics are shifting.
“As you look at the Salt Lake area in particular, the demographics of that area — whether you’re talking diversity in race, diversity in sexual orientation, diversity in religious orientation — that state demographic looks very different,” Willoughby explains. “Really what that means in Utah is a smaller proportion of the state being the kind of stereotypical religious-oriented person.”
And aside from marriage, Willoughby and Wolfinger agree that young people are showing less interest in relationships overall, beginning as young as high school.
There are several factors contributing to this piece of the puzzle. First, according to Willoughby, is the increasing societal focus on individualism and developing the self before pursuing romance. And second, on a much less positive note, he credits the increasing cases of anxiety and depression among young people.
“There’s more and more pressure placed on kids. Relationships bring more stress,” Willoughby explains. “There’s ways that they can figure out to reduce stress in their lives, and one of those is just to avoid relationships.”
But, though declining marriage rates — and less focus on relationships overall — may be bad news for those hoping to put a ring on it this Valentine’s Day, the good news is that divorce rates are also declining in Utah and across the country. According to the Utah Office of Vital Records, divorces in Utah have dropped from 5.2 per 1,000 people to just 3.5 in 2019. For the U.S., the numbers dropped from 4.7 in 1990 to 2.7 in 2019.
“The divorce rate in America peaked in about 1980, and since then, it’s declined significantly,” Wolfinger says, adding that now — as opposed to 40 years ago when if you got married, you were equally likely to get divorced — there are telling factors that suggest whether or not divorce is in your future.
For example, Wolfinger says that those with a four year college degree are more likely to get married and stay married. In addition, if you know a lot of people who are divorced, the likelihood of your own marriage ending increases, too.
But, despite the general downward trend, Utah’s marriage rate is still higher than that of the U.S. as a whole. In 2019, Utah had on average two more marriages per 1,000 people than the country as a whole.
And according to Wolfinger, most people still hope to tie the knot during their lifetimes.
“Definitely, the marriage rate has declined, but still, the majority of Americans will marry in their lifetimes,” he says. “The overwhelming majority aspire to marriage.”