The State Of The American Marriage In 2009

The US Census released a report today on “marital events” (meaning marriages, divorces and deaths of spouses) for 2009 — apparently it takes them a couple of years to analyze all the data. The short of it is that the modern marriage starts at 28 for guys and 26 for girls, lasts about 20 years and there are about half as many divorces as marriages going on.

One thing worth mentioning is that that last statistic is usually taken to mean that “half of all marriages end in divorce”, which is not true: they don’t actually know how many marriages end in divorce, since it would take some really complicated calculations to track all marriages individually. What the statistic is actually saying is that if we suppose 2 million people got married in 2009, then about 1 million also got divorced that year. But they’re not the same people: the ones getting divorced in 2009 probably got married sometime in the 1990s. So it’s hard to say what percent of marriages actually end in divorce, and it’s likely somewhere in the ballpark of 50%, but it could be 40% or 60% too.

Photo by Carlos Mendoza Lima


The report breaks things down by geography and gender too. The statistics for men and women are surprisingly similar, but geographically they are very different. For example, the religious people in the South and West tend to get married and divorced more often than their heathen counterparts in the Northeast (and to a certain extent the Midwest), who probably avoid the marriage/divorce statistic by living in sin. And in the South, where the sanctity of marriage is supposedly rivaled only by the right to bear arms, the divorce rate is the highest in the nation. The West leads in marriage rates, and is in the middle with the Midwest in divorce.

Highest marriage rates: Wyoming, Utah, North Dakota, Alaska, Arkansas, Idaho, Hawaii — basically the states that are also leading the nation in having nothing to do but throw weddings.

Highest divorce rates: Arkansas, Maine, Oklahoma, Alabama, Kentucky, Alaska, Nevada — God’s country, Sin City… and Maine

Lowest marriage rates: Maine (they almost have more divorces than weddings), New Jersey, Rhode Island, Minnesota, Pennsylvania — the Northeast… and Minnesota

Lowest divorce rates: DC, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Idaho — places where they don’t get married… and Idaho

Where you’re most likely to stay married: Idaho, North Dakota, Hawaii, Wyoming, Utah, Delaware — the wedding states, minus Alaska and Arkansas, plus Delaware

Where you’re most likely to get divorced: Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Tennessee, Rhode Island, Mississippi — the only thing New England and the Deep South have in common

Other interesting facts:

  • Over the past 40 years, every 7 years, people enter their first marriage a year later in age than they used to — it’s 28 in 2009 for guys, but it was 22 in 1970
  • The length of marriage tends to go down for people that get married multiple times; the first marriage is by far the longest. This may have a lot to do with death though.
  • The middle of the country has the longest-lasting marriages, while the coasts tend to have the shortest; maybe that’s why they call it the heartland
  • Divorced women are much more likely to have a college degree than divorced men: 68% vs 57%
  • The couples that got married in 2009 are better educated than those that got divorced or widowed

From US Census Bureau, via NPR


  1. Interesting Divorce Statistics | Apt46 - pingback on April 9, 2012 at 7:55 am

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