Cultural critics and numerous sociologists have bemoaned declining marriage rates, citing concern over the deterioration of the traditional family structure and what it could mean for raising children. A more holistic look suggests numerous factors for variations in marriage rates—from women gaining more equity in the workplace and on their paychecks to normal fluctuations occurring around major historical events, such as constricted rates during the Great Depression and a doubling of marriage rates in the U.S. by the end of World War II.
Southern states maintain higher marriage rates on average than states in the Northeast; while Montana is the only state that has seen an increase in marriage rates since 1990. Keep reading to find out why that might be the case, and discover more key insights about how marriage rates have changed over the last several decades.
West Virginia marriage rates
– 2020 marriage rate: 5.6 per 1,000
— #22 highest among all states
– Change in marriage rate since 1990: -1.6
There are no obvious common denominators between the states with the highest and lowest rates of marriage. States with the lowest marriage rates, such as California, have cities where the cost of living tends to run high, which may be a factor in declining marriage rates. Financial insecurity and lack of savings are often cited as reasons why couples hesitate to tie the knot. Yet Louisiana, also has a low marriage rate even though it is in a region that is more affordable and more generally known for more traditional views on marriage and family than in cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles.
Montana’s high marriage rate likely has little in common with Nevada’s, seeing as Nevada’s is likely in part because of its reputation as the capital of quickie marriages. Couples can walk into a chapel and get married in a 10-minute ceremony—or even via a drive-through tunnel. Of course, this may also be why Nevada also leads the nation in divorces.
States with the highest marriage rates (per 1,000)
#1. Nevada: 21.0
#2. Montana: 10.4
#3. Utah: 8.4
#4. Arkansas: 7.8
#5. Hawaii: 7.4
States with the lowest marriage rates (per 1,000)
#1. California: 3.2
#2. New Mexico: 3.4
#3. Louisiana: 3.4
#4. Illinois: 3.9
#5. Massachusetts: 4.0
There is no one reason that marriage rates in the United States are at their lowest levels since 1867, but history holds a clue to one reason this might be the case. Historically, times of economic crisis, such as the Great Depression in the 1930s, heralded lower rates of marriage. The cohort of millennials that might ordinarily be getting married now came of working age amid a major recession.
Coupled with historic levels of student debt and stagnating wages, many 20-somethings and 30-somethings today may simply not feel that they can afford to settle down just yet. A third of survey respondents in a December 2019 YouGov study commissioned by LendKey Technologies said they have or would consider waiting to get married until after they have paid off their student loans.
States where marriage rates fell the most from 1990 to 2020 (per 1,000)
#1. Nevada: -78.0
#2. South Carolina: -10.2
#3. Hawaii: -9.0
#4. Kentucky: -8.6
#5. Arkansas: -7.5
This story originally appeared on Giggster and was produced and distributed in partnership with Stacker Studio.