A new study released by the Pew Research Center on Wednesday shows that the percentage of married adults has fallen to a record low. According to the report, just 51 percent of Americans are currently married, compared to more than 70 percent of adults 50 years ago. This continued decline of marriage in America, especially among the middle class, signals troublesome news for the health of civil society.

As shown on newly updated charts on Heritage’s FamilyFacts.org, marriage rates in the U.S. have fallen precipitously over the past six decades. The decline of marriage is especially prominent among America’s young adults. Today, only about one-third of men and less than one-half of women marry before their 25th birthday. A generation ago, roughly two-thirds of men and three-fourths of women had married by the same age. As a just-updated FamilyFacts.org chart demonstrates, the median age at first marriage has hit record highs. For women in the U.S., it is nearly 27, and for men it’s almost 29.

Unfortunately, the increasing number of Americans exchanging the commitment of marriage for the loose bonds of cohabitation or abandoning matrimony altogether means fewer men and women enjoy the institution’s many economic and social benefits. As research demonstrates, married men and women experience greater financial health, increased savings, and greater social mobility than their unmarried peers. Marriage is even related to better psychological and physical health.

Men and women who forgo marital vows aren’t the only ones missing out on the security and benefits of marriage. Children raised in married-parent families have a greater chance of experiencing economic stability, high academic performance, and emotional maturity. Likewise, children living under the promise of marital commitment are six times less likely to experience poverty and can display the positive social effects of having both parents in the home, potentially avoiding the many hindrances to social mobility that tend to plague children raised in single-parent households.

America’s collective move away from marriage could also signal trouble for civil society. With more than 40 percent of children now born outside of marriage, millions of children are at risk of experiencing the financial and social challenges facing single-parent households. The unmarried birth rate is high among young, undereducated women, and single-mother households now comprise more than half of all families living in poverty. Without the relative economic stability marriage can provide, single parents and their children are at greater risk of government dependence. In 2010 alone, federal and state spending on means-tested welfare for single-parent families totaled $300 billion.

Given the profound impact of married families on adult and child well-being, efforts to encourage and strengthen marriage are urgently needed. Fortunately, there are ways that national leaders and policymakers can promote the benefits of matrimony and help restore a culture of marriage in America. By ending marriage penalties and supporting community initiatives that promote the benefits of lifelong married love, national leaders can help stem the decline of marriage in the United States.