A surge of holiday engagements for happy couples in New York and elsewhere throughout the country is a common trend during the month of December. However, it was recently reported that 6 percent fewer American adults are married today than were married in 2000. A Pew Research Center report states 51 percent of adults are married compared to 57 percent just over a decade ago. Whether the numbers spell eventual doom for the institution of marriage or reflect a societal blip are subjects of speculation among societal observers.

Some analysts think today’s couples have not abandoned marriage, but are deferring plans to commit after witnessing the divorces of their own parents. Some experts say couples want to take extra time to be certain they have chosen the right partner to avoid divorce difficulties like asset division, alimony and child custody battles.

Other trend-watchers say the recent recession caused couples to rearrange priorities. Securing careers and wealth building became a higher priority for individuals, who felt marriage could wait.

The average woman today marries for the first time at 26, the average man at almost 29. The numbers are significantly different than marriage ages 50 years ago, when couples first tied the knot in their late teens or early 20s.

In fact, a Pew study last year found that more than 25 percent of American below the age of 30 felt marriage was outdated.

Marriages may be suffering, but live-in relationships are more popular than ever. In 2010, 7.5 million couples shunned marriage chose to live together. Just one year earlier, 13 percent fewer couples cohabited.

College graduates are more likely than high school grads to tie the knot. Two-thirds with college educations are married compared to about half of those without degrees. Experts say the difference may be in how each group is faring in the post-recession economy. Those with a strong educational background are likely to find the best jobs and accumulate wealth. Those with limited educations find fewer career opportunities, making marriage less affordable and more risky.

Source: The Washington Post, “Married couples at a record low,” Carol Morello, Dec. 14, 2011