Bad for housing: young people not starting households

The tossing of the bouquet, the tying of the knot, the cutting of the cake and the filing of the joint tax return – they are happening less and less.

And most strikingly, the enthusiasm for traditional marriage is ebbing among the age group that used to lead the charge into romance, according to the most recent government figures.

A look at the Census Bureau’s 2014 Current Population Survey shows few trends, wrote demographer Cheryl Russell this week on her blog, Demo Memo: “But one thing stood out: the decline in households headed by 25-to-34-year-olds.”

Sure, the number didn't fall much – just 8,994 fewer since last year. But that happened as the 25-to-34-year-old population surged by more than a half-million, she said. "And households headed by the age group had been growing by more than 100,000 a year—until now."

And make no mistake: The decline may be small, but the change in direction is large.

A year ago, the number of heads of households in the group increased 171,000. Two years ago, it was up 274,000. And three years ago, it ballooned by 315,000.

In contrast, the group in the past year showed a drop in married couples, women living alone and men living alone.

Is this a sign that texting has destroyed the ability to court a potential spouse? Doesn’t anyone read Harlequin romance these days?

No, Russell writes: “These declines are a sign of economic distress.”

The cause, she says, citing a report by the Pew Research Center, is that many young people are looking in vain for a partner who has a job and a decent income. That search is harder than it’s been before because the unemployment rate in their age cohort is significantly above average.

So while the jobless rate stays high, the rate of marriage has dropped.

Pew says the trend cuts across all major racial and ethnic groups, although it has been more pronounced among African-Americans. And that trend connects to the work of sociologist William Julius Wilson, who argued long ago that the elimination of manufacturing and other high-income, lower-skill jobs had made black, urban women see many of their male peers as poor breadwinners.

But if the cause is economic, so is the result.

Of course, there is an impact on demand for wedding bands, caterers and function halls. But it is also a large drag on the housing market – which depends on a continual injection of first-time homebuyers to help current homeowners move up the ladder.

Housing has been a crucial part of the economy – especially in metro Atlanta, where an anemic recovery has been partly pegged to housing’s slow rebound.

And a surge in housing is not likely when fewer and fewer young people are entering the market. One sign of that: The overall homeownership rate in metro Atlanta has dropped since 2005 by more than 15 percent.