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Marriage Isn't What It Used To Be

Politicians and clergymen often lament the demise of the institution of marriage, pointing to single-parent families and high divorce rates as symptoms of society's decline. But a brief look back reveals that marriage in America always had its ups and downs. Saturday Early Show Co-Anchor Thalia Assuras reports.

Even our founding fathers - and mothers - didn't always take the traditional route.

Look at the history books.

Around the time of the American Revolution, a third of all children in Concord, Massachusetts were born out of wedlock, and about a third of brides in rural areas were pregnant at their weddings.

Single-parent families were equally common in colonial times, but that was largely because of the high mortality rate. Divorce was almost unknown.

In the 1800s, people began marrying later in life, and by 1870, the average groom was 25, compared with 26 today.

After the Civil War, the divorce rate began to climb steadily. By 1889, the U.S. had the highest divorce rate in the world, and by 1924, one out of seven American marriages ended in divorce.

That trend continued until the 1940s, when forces like the Depression and World War II encouraged couples to stay together.

That set the stage for the 1950s, the "golden age" of marriage in America.

Marriages begun in the 1950s lasted an average of 31 years, which is longer than at any time in American or European history.

By contrast, the typical marriage in 1900 lasted an average 11 years. And today, that number is just seven years.

Today's rising life-expectancy rates, after all, make "until death do us part" a much bigger promise than it was a century ago. In 1900, life expectancy was 42 years, and by 1950, it was 66. Now, the average American can expect to reach 75. Yet 50-year marriages are still rarities.

Finally, there's good news and bad news for proponents of marriage. The good news is, divorce rates have been steadily going down for the last 20 years. The bad news: fewer people are getting married at all.

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