Call it the Midwestern marriage malaise.
Experts say fear of divorce, better education for women and greater acceptance of cohabitation are driving marriage rates in Kansas and Missouri to the lowest levels in years.
``There was a period when couples were getting married at a younger age. Now they're not getting married at all,'' said John Bagby, a physician and director of the Missouri Department of Health, which this month reported the state trend.
More people are opting to live together rather than marry. Others are postponing or forgoing marriage for careers, which limits their marital options as they age. Still others may be recoiling from a generation of failed marriages and a national divorce rate hovering near 50 percent.
``More people are seeing the consequences of divorce and are more worried about getting married,''said David Olson, family psychologist in the department of family and social sciences at the University of Minnesota.
OLSON SAID the trend is stronger on both coasts and is now moving into the Midwest.
Kansas has seen an almost steady decline in marriages from 10.5 per 1,000 population in 1980 to 9.2 in 1990, the most recent year calculated.
Douglas County has seen an even more dramatic drop, from 11.0 per 1,000 population in 1980 to 8.7 per 1,000 population in 1990, according to the Kansas Bureau of Vital Statistics.
Missouri's marriage rate last year was the lowest since 1964. There were 8.9 marriages per 1,000 population in 1991, down 20 percent from 1980, when the rate was 11.1
The Missouri numbers show men and women are marrying at older ages, both sexes are waiting longer between marriages and there are more third-time marriages than 10 years ago.
For example, Missouri women in 1980 married on average at age 23. Now it's about 26. For men, the numbers changed from 25 to 28.
The average age for first marriages for Missouri women in 1980 was 21. Now it's 23. The numbers jumped from 25 to about 28 for men.
Divorced Missouri women in 1980 remarried on average at age 30. Now it's 34. For men, the age increased from 33 to 37.
The percentage of Missouri brides married for at least the third time increased from about 8 percent in 1980 to 12.5 percent in 1991. The increase was similar for grooms.
``I THINK one of the things that might be happening is that as women are becoming more educated and able to support themselves there is no real rush to be married,'' said Linda Quinn, marriage counselor at Provident Counseling, a St. Louis-area mental health and family counseling organization.
Other experts caution that the downward marital trend need not necessarily continue.
A drop in marriage rates also happened at the turn of the century, said Darlaine Gardetto, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Missouri-Columbia. But the rates rebounded strongly in postwar years.
``You can't take these things seriously,'' Gardetto said. ``Marriage rates fluctuate.''