Marriage Rates in the United States, 1900–2018

April 29, 2020

Questions for Sally Curtin, Health Statistician and Lead Author of “Marriage Rates in the United States, 1900–2018.”

Q: Why did you decide to do a report on marriages?

SC: NCHS computes and publishes marriage rates every year, in total and by State.  As we were working on the 2018 rates, we noticed that the rate had declined yet again, to an all-time low.  This prompted us to write a report looking at the trend over the long term, to help put the 2018 rate in perspective.

Q: Was there a specific finding in the data that surprised you from this report?

SC: The marriage rate had been declining since the early 1980s and by 2003 the rate had dropped below the previous low of 7.9 during the heart of the Great Depression (1932).  The rate had leveled off from 2009 to 2017 but then dropped again by 6% from 2017 to 2018.   This most recent drop after leveling off at a relatively low level does make you wonder how low it will go.

Q: Do you have any data on U.S. marriage rates before 1900?

SC: Yes, federal data on marriage go back to 1867 and are published in a previous report which also includes a detailed history of the marriage and divorce reporting.  However, the data from 1867-1899 were less reliable and often not national so we focused on 1900-2018 in this report.  Nonetheless, the 2018 marriage rate of 6.5 per 1,000 is lower than any of the rates from 1867-1899, which ranged between 8.6 and 9.6 per 1,000.

Q: What is the take home message for this report?

SC: The message is that a declining trend in the marriage rate which began in the early 1980s has continued into the 21st century and now the rate is at an all-time low, even lower than in the heart of the Great Depression.

Q: Do you have demographic breakdowns of U.S. marriage rates?

SC: NCHS collects counts of marriages but no longer collects detailed information on marriages—the characteristics of brides and groom from marriage certificates.  This collection ceased in the mid-1990s due to budgetary and priority considerations. But we do know from other data sources, namely data from the Current Population Survey from the Census Bureau, that the average age at first marriage has continued to increase and is about age 30 for males now and age 28 for females.

Fact or Fiction: Is the marriage rate in America at the lowest it’s been in over a century?

April 29, 2020

Source: National Vital Statistics System, 1910-2018

State by State Health Data Source Updated on NCHS Web Site

April 19, 2017

CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics has updated its Stats of the States feature on the NCHS web site.  This resource features the latest state-by-state comparisons on key health indicators ranging from birth topics such as teen births and cesarean deliveries to leading causes of death and health insurance coverage.

Tabs have been added to the color-coded maps to compare trends on these topics between the most recent years (2015 and 2014) and going back a decade (2005) and in some cases further back.

To access the main “Stats of the States” page, use the following link:

Fact or Fiction: Is Nevada the Marriage Capital of the U.S.?

December 23, 2013

Las Vegas has earned – for better or worse – a reputation for quick weddings. The city came to be known as the Marriage Capital of the World as a result of the ease of acquiring a marriage license and the minimal costs involved. Las Vegas comprises a large part of Clark County, where the County’s website features a prominent page for marriage licenses.

So, has “the Vegas factor” been enough to position – and keep — Nevada in the U.S. lead for marriage?

According to NCHS data from the National Vital Statistics System, the Vegas factor certainly looks like it’s had major influence on the overall marriage rate in Nevada. While the state’s marriage rate has declined significantly since 1990, Nevada is still number one! The most recent marriage rate of 36.9 (provisional rate of marriages per 1,000 people performed in Nevada during 2011) shows that so many couples tie the knot in the Silver State that it ranked number one nationally in marriage rates – by a long shot. Hawaii ranked second with a marriage rate of 17.6 (due, presumably, to “the weather factor”).

New marriage and cohabitation data available

March 3, 2010

The latest in-depth data on marriage and cohabition (2002) is available here. This report features the probability that a first marriage will remain intact by sex, race, ethnicity, education, and family structure.

Marriage and Cohabitation Quick Look

How’s your state doing?

December 16, 2009

NCHS now has an easy way for you to check out where your state stands on a variety of health measures compared with the nation as a whole and other states, including the following:

  • Mortality from leading causes of death
  • Birth data, including births to unmarried mothers, teen births, cesarean deliveries, low birthweight births, prenatal care, and preterm births
  • Households using only wireless phones
  • Infant mortality rates
  • Marriage and divorce rates
  • Percentage of people under 65 without health insurance

To use this tool, click on the image below.

New Marriage and Divorce Data

September 5, 2007

Provisional marriage and divorce data for 2006 are available at the NCHS website.

Do 50% of marriages end in divorce?

July 6, 2007

We get this question all the time and the best we can say is that we don’t know. Based on data produced by the National Survey of Family Growth, 43% of first marriages by women aged 15-44 will end in a “disruption” within 15 years. Disruption is defined as either separation or divorce. As not all separations end in divorce (see Table 33 at the link) is would seem that the 50% figure is an overstatement.

The inestimable Cecil Adams of The Straight Dope takes a look at this “fact” and its probable genesis. While not endorsing this view, anyone writing about marriage and divorce should certainly consider the references he provides.


More on Marriage and Divorce Data

July 6, 2007

We posted below on the lack of detailed information on marriage and divorce. There are alternative resources available at the National Center for Health Statistics that enable one to draw inferences as to the marriage and divorce patterns of Americans.

In July 2002, we published Cohabitation, Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage in the United States. From our press release at the time:

Among the findings in the report: unmarried cohabitations overall are less stable than marriages.  The probability of a first marriage ending in separation or divorce within 5 years is 20 percent, but the probability of a premarital cohabitation breaking up within 5 years is 49 percent.  After 10 years, the probability of a first marriage ending is 33 percent, compared with 62 percent for cohabitations.

The study suggests that both cohabitations and marriages tend to last longer under certain conditions, such as:  a woman’s age at the time cohabitation or marriage began; whether she was raised throughout childhood in an intact 2-parent family; whether religion plays an important role in her life; and whether she had a higher family income or lived in a community with high median family income, low male unemployment, and low poverty.

The tabular data provides a wealth of information cross tabbed by age, education, income, etc. It is a must-read for anyone writing on this subject. If you have questions give us a call at 301.458.4800.

Marriage and Divorce Statistics

July 6, 2007

We get a lot of questions on marriages and divorces. Unfortunately we are unable to answer very many of them.

 On December 15, 1995 the National Center for Health Statistics filed a notice in the Federal Register of its intent to stop collecting detailed information on marriages and divorces from state governments through the Vital Statistics Cooperative Program.

As a result, the last comprehensive data on marriages and divorces covers the period 1989-1990 (downloads available at links).

Currently data are available on the total number of marriages performed in the United States and each state. We provide a divorce rate for the nation and the number of divorces and annulments recorded in those states which report their data to us. California, Georgia, Hawaii, Indiana, Louisiana, and Minnesota do not report divorce data.

At these links are marriage and divorce data from 1920 through November 2006. Newer data are reported in publications of our National Vital Statistics Reports and can be found here.