The State of Marriage in the U.S.
With Valentine’s Day around the corner, we thought it’d be worthwhile to find out which states have the most successful long-term relationships. So we took a look at their divorce rates. (Yes, we know there are plenty of unhappy marriages that never end, but divorce is still an efficient metric.)
Late last year, the U.S. Census Bureau released divorce statistics for all 50 states from 2008. The results, which are based on the percent of residents in each state over the age of 15 who reported being divorced, are surprising and seem to defy an easy explanation.
The national average divorce rate was 10.7 percent, a slight increase from the previous year. Some have blamed this on the economy, while others have come up with more far-fetched explanations like the number of women currently in the work force. The truth is that every state, and every couple, probably has its own unique contributing factors.
We will start with the 10 states with the lowest divorce rates and then move on to the 10 states with the highest.
Photo Credit: marines.mil
10th Lowest Divorce Rate: Minnesota
Leading off the list is Minnesota where 9.7% of the people older than 15 have been divorced. In fact, Minnesota has wreaked the benefits of divorce before. Brett Favre famously split up with the Green Bay Packers and moved to the Minnesota Vikings. (Sorry, it still feels like football season to me.)
9th Lowest Divorce Rate: Virginia
Virginia may have one of the lowest divorce rates in the country, at just 9.6%, but parts of the state still battle the divorce epidemic. According to census figures, Roanoke has the fifth highest divorce rate of any county in the U.S., at 16.7%. This is nothing new though. For most of the decade, Roanoke has had an unusually high divorce rate, partly fueled by the fact that it has significantly lower income levels than the rest of the state.
8th Lowest Divorce Rate: Illinois
Some have tried to brainstorm possible explanations for Illinois’ low 9.5% divorce rate. According to one theory, Illinois benefits from having lenient marriage laws (for example, they don’t ban gay marriage). Therefore, people in this state have more freedom to marry the person they really want, and perhaps, less need to divorce.
Of course, when people do get divorced in this state, they do it in style. Recently, Scott Lee Cohen, who was running for Lieutenant Governor of Illinois, dropped out of the race after his divorce papers were made public, in which his ex-wife “accused him of abuse… [and] holding a knife to the throat of a former girlfriend.”
7th Lowest Divorce Rate: Utah
The divorce rate in Utah was 9.4% in 2008, which is particularly surprising. In past years, Utah’s divorce rate was almost always above the national average. The problem was bad enough that schools started offering ‘divorce education’ courses to students. But this year it dipped.
While marriage fared well in Utah on this survey, the state might find itself worse off on the list when data comes out for the 2009 calendar year. During the recession, much of the country refrained from pricey divorces, but according to some early estimates, Utah’s divorce rate remained the same.
6th Lowest Divorce Rate: Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania has one of the lowest divorce rates in the country at just 9.2%, but apparently one of the most famous couples in Pennsylvania didn’t get the memo. Jon & Kate Gosselin, of reality TV fame, just wrapped up their divorce.
4th Lowest Divorce Rate: Hawaii (Tie)
This state has consistently had a low divorce rate. Between 2005 and 2007, 9.4% of the people in Hawaii were divorced. And in 2008, the divorce rate in Hawaii was just 9.1%, making it one of the five lowest nationwide. As one publication speculated, maybe it’s just the weather.
Of course, even in paradise, some couples are bound to separate. Probably the most famous divorce now to have ever happened in Hawaii is the one between Barack Obama’s parents in the 1960s.
4th Lowest Divorce Rate: Massachusetts (Tie)
In a study by the CDC in 2007, this state had the lowest divorce rate, but according to the census report, Massachusetts had a divorce rate of 9.1% in 2008, tying Hawaii. Of course, this state is notable for being the first to legalize gay marriage... Many have argued that when people have more freedom to choose who to marry, their marriages may be less likely to end in divorce (although not always, as you can see in this story).
If you don’t buy that explanation though, one possible factor is that divorce can be particularly menacing in this state. Unlike most of the country, alimony is often permanent in Massachusetts, and completely at the discretion of the judge.
3rd Lowest Divorce Rate: New York
New York has an incredibly low divorce rate of 8.4%. In the big apple, the divorce rate is a bit higher, at 10%. All of this might sound surprising, except for two key factors. First, as the New York Post points out, there are less people getting married in New York to begin with, which obviously means there are less people getting divorced. The second thing to consider is that it’s harder to actually get a divorce in New York than in most states. New York is the only state in the country that does not allow “no fault” divorces. In other words, citing “irreconcilable differences” does not hold up in court. Instead, according to the New York Daily News, “the law… insists that one spouse put blame on the other – and prove it in court – before a divorce can be granted.”
2nd Lowest Divorce Rate: New Jersey
Say what? Apparently New Jersey is not as promiscuous as the Jersey Shore reality show might imply. The divorce rate here is a low 8.2%, and it will likely remain low in the next survey, as the economy drove down the number of divorces in Jersey in 2009. Some argued that this may have been a result of the recession, which deterred some from getting divorces.
The Lowest Divorce Rate: North Dakota
Of all the states in the nation, North Dakota had the lowest divorce rate, at just 8.1%. Yet, this seems to defy explanation. The state has strict marriage rules and for years was one of the only states to forbid couples from living together out of marriage.
It probably doesn’t hurt that North Dakota is one of the ten happiest states of in the country financially, according to a MainStreet study, which means couples may be less stressed.
6th Highest Divorce Rate: Washington State (Tie)
There is a four-way tie leading off the list of the states with the most divorces. We'll start with Washington State, which has a divorce rate of 12.5%. If that’s not high enough, several counties in the state actually have an even greater divorce rate. In Cowlitz, Washington, 14.9% of residents over 15 reported being divorced and in Lewis, Washington, 15.1% did. The prevalence of divorces caused some dubious Web sites to pop up, advertising quick and easy legal guidance. Washington’s Attorney General later had to step in to urge people to be cautious as they seek guidance for getting divorced.
6th Highest Divorce Rate: Tennessee (Tie)
Tennessee’s divorce rate is also 12.5%, tying Washington State, as well as the next two states on our list. USA Today notes that in addition to having one of the highest divorce rates in the country, Tennessee is also among the poorest states in the country, which could potentially be adding stress to the residents’ marriages. In fact, Tennessee ranked in the bottom 10 of our Happiness Index.
6th Highest Divorce Rate: Kentucky (Tie)
Daviess, Kentucky has the third highest divorce rate of any county in the country, at 17%. But the rest of the state isn’t much better. Kentucky’s divorce rate is 12.5%.
6th Highest Divorce Rate: Arkansas (Tie)
Arkansas has a divorce rate of 12.5%, according to the census report. When a similar study was released by another group in 2008 highlighting the state’s high divorce rate, some blamed it on “grueling” work lives of residents, many of whom work long hours for low pay, taxing their relationships. Some groups have tried to curb the divorce epidemic in this state, but so far nothing seems to work. This all the more stunning considering that Arkansas is one of three states in the country to have a strict covenant marriage law, which mandates marriage counseling and makes it more difficult to get a divorce. Yet the divorces keep coming.
It is perhaps worth mentioning the fact that it’s most famous resident is a certain president who is believed to have had several affairs, yet remains married.
5th Highest Divorce Rate: Wyoming (Tie)
Wyoming has a divorce rate of 12.6%. It was one of the ten drunkest states in the country, according to our list. We’re not saying this is the reason why people in Wyoming are jumping ship, but it is safe to say that excessive booze intake rarely helps a relationship. On a more serious note, the median age women in Wyoming marry at is 25, which is among the lowest in the country. Some have argued that marrying too young increases the likelihood that the marriage won’t end well.
5th Highest Divorce Rate: Vermont (Tie)
Vermont defies the trend. In case you haven’t noticed, the majority of states with high divorce rates are red states, mostly in the south, while it’s mostly blue states with few divorces. But Vermont had a divorce rate of 12.6%, tying Wyoming. Some have argued that having less marriage restrictions means you’ll have fewer divorces, but clearly it hasn’t worked out that way in Vermont, which is one of the few states in the nation that has legalized gay marriage.
4th Highest Divorce Rate: Oregon
Oregon has a divorce rate of 12.8%, and several counties in the state actually have even higher divorce rates than that. More than 15% of those surveyed in Umatilla, Oregon reported being divorced.
In 2007, Oregon’s legislature passed a bill allowing for domestic partnerships between gay and lesbian couples. As was true with Vermont though, this hasn’t helped to curb the divorce rate any. Then again, it probably doesn’t help that the state’s capital was declared the unhappiest city in America. Not exactly a great place for a honeymoon, or a marriage.
3rd Highest Divorce Rate: Oklahoma
In Oklahoma, the divorce rate is 12.9%. But that’s only part of the story. There are more residents in Oklahoma who have been married three times than anywhere else in the country. On top of that, the median age of women when they first marry here is 24, which ties for the lowest in the country.
In an attempt to reduce the number of divorces, the Oklahoma state legislature is currently trying to pass a bill that would allow covenant marriages. But if they find out about Arkansas, they might have to think twice about this plan.
2nd Highest Divorce Rate: Maine
Maine has a divorce rate of 13.6%, pretty high, but still significantly short of the final state on our list. According to the Maine Public Broadcasting Network, there are a couple big factors that may cause all these divorces. “Mainers make less money than people living elsewhere in the Northeast. In addition, the percentage of Mainers with college degrees is less than the national average,” they write.
The Highest Divorce Rate: Nevada
That’s right, Nevada, also known as America’s divorce capital, is the place where marriages go to die. It has a 14.2% divorce rate. Besides the obvious reasons – gambling, prostitution and general sinfulness that are associated with the state – there are a couple factors at play. For one, couples in Nevada only need to live there for six weeks before they can get divorced, which is much less than other states. Also, Nevada has been wrecked by the recession, with incredible amounts of foreclosures, which undoubtedly puts a stress on relationships.
This isn’t the first time Nevada has topped our list; it was also ranked the dumbest state in America. And there’s a decent chance the two are related.
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