2011-09-01 / Local & State

Census Report Says Pa. Marriages Work Better

By Gary Rotstein

PITTSBURGH (AP) – Pennsylvanians are both marrying and divorcing at a lower rate than the rest of the country, a quality they share with many men and women of the Northeast, a new U.S. Census Bureau report says.

Later marriages have traditionally been viewed as more likely to last longer. That’s a link making itself known more favorably in states like Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York than places such as Arkansas, Georgia and West Virginia, where divorce rates are well above the norm, according to the data released today from the 2009 American Community Survey.

Sociologists have found that factors such as age, income, religion and education can all play key roles in timing and success of marriage.

Diana Elliott, a Census Bureau family demographer, said the relatively high percentage of people who pursue degrees in the Northeast is presumably a primary reason for lower marriage and divorce rates.

“Part of what’s going on is that people don’t get married until their education is complete’’ and they’ve started getting a footing in their careers, said Elliott, who worked on the report, “Marital Events of Americans: 2009.’’

“In the Northeast, first marriages tend to be delayed and the marriage rates are lower, meaning there are also fewer divorces,’’ she said.

For every 1,000 Pennsylvanians in 2009, 15.5 men and 14.3 women reported getting married in the prior 12 months. The marriage rate (per 1,000) nationwide was 19.1 among men and 17.6 among women, the report said.

In addition, 7.7 of every 1,000 men and 7.4 women were within their first year of divorce. Nationally, the divorce rate was 9.2 among men and 9.7 among women.

Pennsylvania’s rates of both marriage and divorce were among the five lowest for men and women among the 50 states. New Jersey was the only state with a lower rate for both genders and for marriage and divorce.

George Worgul Jr., chairman of the Duquesne University theology department and a professor who teaches marriage courses there, said the relatively older age of Pennsylvania’s population could be a factor but that marital stability may come even more from entrenched cultural supports.

“You tend to see the presence of more extended families, more of the permanent social networking and support and those things that have a tendency to sustain marriage,’’ he said. “There’s continuity of families.’’

The federal government and other sources have published occasional reports on marriage and divorce – another from the Census Bureau just three months ago detailed how marriages are generally lasting longer and the divorce rate is continuing a steady decline.

The ACS study covered nearly 40 times as many households, thorough enough to offer the first chance in many years to examine state differences reliably.

Elliott said efforts were once made to compile national reports through the states’ own marriage and divorce records, but she said that’s no longer reliable as some states found it costly and time-consuming to participate.

Comparing the new national data to prior reports, the median age for first marriages by men has grown from 22.5 in 1970 to 25.5 in 1988 and 28.4 in 2009.

Women have always gotten married younger than men, and their median age at marriage climbed from 20.6 in 1970 to 23.7 in 1988 and 26.5 in 2009.

The report noted only 7 percent of the women getting married for the first time in 2009 were teenagers, whereas 42 percent of the females doing so in 1970 were teens. In 1970, 88 percent of women had gotten married by age 24, compared to 38 percent in 2009.

Worgul said it has been shown previously that when both members of a couple are younger than 22 when they marry, they wind up in divorce nine out of 10 times.

“It’s not that they don’t have good intentions,’’ he said, “but they may not be making a good choice, and they don’t have the tools yet to understand how to resolve conflicts.’’

At the same time that marriages have been postponed, the nation has seen a surge in cohabitation among unmarried couples. The new census report does not address those relationships and their outcomes.

Among other findings in the report:

The rate of past-year widowhood in relatively aged Pennsylvania was 4.2 per 1,000 for men and 8.8 for women, compared nationally to 3.5 for men and 7.8 for women.

Recently divorced women are about twice as likely to be living in poverty as recently divorced men.

The children of couples that divorced in the past year are three times as likely to be living with their mother as their father.

Men have higher marriage rates across the board than women, which is explained by the greater likelihood that they will remarry.

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