Nadine Heidrich/flickr

Everyone knows marriage is declining in the U.S.ā€”but it's not only because more people are staying single.

Data from University of Maryland sociologist Philip Cohen shows the rate of couplesĀ aged 20-34 who are living together but not married is higher than it's ever been.

ā€œIf you just focus on marriages, you miss the trend toward higher rates of cohabitation among unmarried people,ā€ Cohen writes.

Here's the chart. Even though the data shown below only goes back to 2007, Cohen told Fusion that the combined cohabitation share for the three age groups shown has never been this high.

Of note:Ā there is now a greater share of 20-24 year-olds who are cohabiting than areĀ married, and nearly one in five 25-29 year-olds are cohabiting.

Advertisement

Philip Cohen/University of Maryland

So, are these young people breaking free from the institutional bonds of marriage?

It's probably too early to say, Cohen told Fusion. While there is some increase in the proportion of the population who will never get married,Ā most of theĀ decline in marriage is almost certainly from marriage delay, he said.

Advertisement

"Because cohabitation has become socially acceptable, people in romantic relationships, or having children together, choose to live together even if they do not feel ready to get married," he says.

That feeling of readiness is most highly correlatedĀ to both partners' educational attainment and career success, Cohen said.

"As the sociologist Andrew Cherlin has put it, they view marriage as a 'capstone,' marking having arrived at successful adulthood rather than starting off toward successful adulthood," he said.

Advertisement

Rob covers business, economics and the environment for Fusion. He previously worked at Business Insider. He grew up in Chicago.