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Census Bureau gets specific on nuptials

Men marry more in Arkansas, West

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The marriage market for men was bullish in Arkansas and several Western states in 2009, while divorce rates on the two coasts were lower than they were in the Old South, the U.S. Census Bureau reported Thursday in a first-of-its-kind survey of American mating and splitting patterns in the states.

For women, much of middle America and Texas were high-marriage zones, while East Coast and Great Lakes states were lower-than-average areas for divorce.

It's been years since America had such a detailed "snapshot" about these vital statistics, said Diana B. Elliott, a family demographer at the Census Bureau and co-author of "Marital Events of Americans: 2009," released Thursday.

The year 1991 was the last time the National Center for Health Statistics published a full report on marital events, said Ms. Elliott.

In the late 1990s, the bureau developed the American Community Survey to replace the long-form questionnaire of the decennial census, and the ACS asked a basic question about marital status, she said. But that would not provide government agencies with enough information about marital formations and transitions - especially after the Bush administration created the Healthy Marriage Initiative to examine such issues.

In 2008, the ACS started asking its 2 million households about their total number of marriages; date of last marriage; and marriages, divorces and widowhood events in the last 12 months.

These answers - when examined with other ACS data on education, race, income, housing and geography - provide a rich stream of data for researchers and policymakers, said Ms. Elliott.

For instance, for the first time, the bureau offers strong evidence of regional differences in marriage and divorce rates.

"Divorce rates tend to be higher in the South because marriage rates are also higher in the South," Ms. Elliott explained.

In contrast, she said, people in the Northeast tend to marry at older ages, which leads to lower marriage rates and lower divorce rates.

Overall, in 2009, for every 1,000 men, there were 19.1 marriages, 9.2 divorces and 3.5 instances of widowhood. For every 1,000 women, there were 17.6 marriages, 9.7 divorces and 7.8 instances of widowhood that year.

Gender differences appear because women tend to live longer than men and marry older men, resulting in higher rates of widowhood. Men tend to remarry more than women, so their marriage rates are slightly higher, the report noted.

The new data supports other research that finds:

• Americans are marrying later in life. For men, the median age of marriage has risen from 22.5 years in 1970 to 28.4 in 2009; for women, it has risen from 20.6 years to 26.5.

• College and marriage seem to go hand in hand. Men and women who married in the last 12 months "generally had higher levels of education than the overall population."

• After divorce, children tend to live with their mothers. Among adults who divorced in the last 12 months, 18 percent of men lived with their own children, while 44 percent of women lived with their own children.

• Recently divorced persons are likely to take a live-in lover. Among those who divorced in the last year, 16 percent of men and 15 percent of women were cohabiting with an unmarried partner, compared with 6 percent of the general population.

• Divorce increased poverty in women more than in men. Among recently divorced persons, 23 percent of women were on public assistance and 22 percent lived in poverty, compared with 15 percent and 11 percent of men, respectively.

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About the Author
Cheryl Wetzstein

Cheryl Wetzstein

Cheryl Wetzstein covers family and social issues as a national reporter for The Washington Times. She has been a reporter for three decades, working in New York City and Washington, D.C. Since joining The Washington Times in 1985, she has been a features writer, environmental and consumer affairs reporter, and assistant business editor.

Beginning in 1994, Mrs. Wetzstein worked exclusively ...

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