Since 1970, marriage rates have been in continual decline across the United States. While some states have experienced different rates of change than others, all states and districts – with the exception of Hawaii – have seen a drop in yearly marriages per capita.
To examine the possible influence of recent cultural changes on marriage rates, we’ve segmented the data into two time periods: 1970-2003 and 2004-2011. We selected 2004 as a boundary because it was both the first year that gay marriage took effect in a U.S. state (Massachusetts), as well as the time period used in a study comparing relationships in contemporary “hookup culture” to earlier times.
Note: Nevada was excluded from the lists below because it’s marriage rate is drastically higher than the rest of the country.
Highest average marriage rates (per capita)
Lowest average marriage rates (per capita)
- Pennsylvania, 6.85
- New Jersey and District of Columbia, 6.89
- Connecticut, 7.16
- Delaware, 7.17
- Massachusetts, 7.19
Largest total decline in marriage rates (per capita)
Smallest total decline in marriage (per capita)
- Hawaii, +3.80
- District of Columbia, -0.90
- Oregon, Arkansas, -1.70
- Vermont, West Virginia, North Dakota, Rhode Island, -1.90
- Iowa, New York, -2.00
Biggest total decline, 2004-2011 (per capita)
- Hawaii, -5.00
- Arkansas, -3.00
- Tennessee, -2.40
- Idaho, -2.20
- Rhode Island, -1.70
Least total decline, 2004-2011 (per capita)
- District of Columbia, +3.50
- New Mexico, +0.60
- Oklahoma, +0.40
- Montana, +0.30
- New York, +0.10
Rate of change compared, 1970-2003 and 2004-2011
We computed the average yearly change in each state’s average marriage rates from 1970-2003, and then from 2004-2011. This allowed a comparison of the rates of change within each time period, showing where and whether the rates of change shifted significantly before and after 2004.
Most accelerated declines after 2004 (per capita)
- Hawaii, average yearly decline changed by -0.87
- Arkansas, by -0.41
- Tennessee, by -0.31
- Rhode Island, by -0.21
- Florida, by -0.16
Most slowed/reversed declines after 2004 (per capita)
- District of Columbia, average yearly decline changed by +0.57
- Oklahoma, by +0.50
- South Carolina, by +0.27
- New Mexico, by +0.23
- South Dakota, by +0.13
Overall, the shift in marriage rates among states after 2004 may actually even out.
- 24 states saw the decline in marriage rates become even faster after 2004
- 25 states plus Washington, DC, saw the decline in marriage rates slow down after 2004
While marriage rates are still declining as they have been since 1970, the overall speed of this decline does not seem to have been hastened, or slowed, by cultural changes around the time of 2004.
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