Table of Contents
- Government and Academic Reports
- Historical Trends in Family Formation
- Recent Statistics and Trends in Family Formation
- Data on Family Formation According to Race/Ethnicity
- Collection of Marriage and Divorce Data by Vital Statistics Systems and National Surveys
- State and County/Community Level Surveys on Marriage and Divorce
Statistics on marriage and divorce are of great interest to federal, state, and local public officials, researchers, the business sector, the media, and members of the general public. They want to know how many people are married or divorced, what the marriage and divorce rates are, and the trends over time. A major reason for this interest is that marriage and divorce numbers are considered to be key social indicators of personal, child and societal wellbeing. Also there are numerous benefits, rights and privileges contingent on marital status. While there is great interest in this information, the quality, availability, reliability, usability and completeness of marriage and divorce statistics has been lacking in a number of jurisdictions. At times, the limitations of the data have impacted stakeholders' ability to accurately examine marriage and divorce trends and appropriately shape programs and policies related to family formation.
The objective of this Collection is to provide an annotated listing of published resources that describe and assess the state of marriage and divorce- related information. Collectively these resources address why it is important to accurately count marriages and divorces, clarify some of the confusion about what the statistics mean, identify the different sources of this data and associated strengths and limitations, and provide recommendations on how to improve the data.
This is not meant to be a comprehensive collection, but rather a selection of publications, several of them quite current, that will be of general interest. Whenever possible, we have selected items and resources available online. Additional publications and resources will be posted periodically as they come to our attention.
The NHMRC would like to thank the following persons who contributed to the development of this collection: Paul Amato, PhD, Pennsylvania State University, Department of Sociology, and Wendy Manning, PhD, Bowling Green State University, Department of Sociology provided expert input and advice. The Collection was developed by Sharrie McIntosh, MHA, Jane Koppelman, Serena Retna, and Emily Rosenberg, with contributions from Karen Gardiner, MPP (The Lewin Group) and Theodora Ooms, MSW (NHMRC).
We also would like to thank the Administration for Children and Families, Office of Financial Assistance for their support in the preparation of this Collection by Topic. Any views expressed in the papers and resources presented in this Collection do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the NHMRC. The Collections will be added to periodically. Inclusion of a resource does not constitute an endorsement by the NHMRC.
TABLE OF DEFINITIONS
|Crude Marriage Rate||The number of marriages in a given year per 1,000 people in the population. This rate is reported annually by the U.S. Census Bureau.|
|Crude Divorce Rate||The number of divorces in a given year per 1,000 people in the population. This rate is published annually by the U.S. Census Bureau.|
|Refined Marriage Rate||The number of marriages in a given year per 1,000 single women age 15 or higher.|
|Refined Divorce Rate||The number of divorces per 1,000 married women.|
|Household||Includes all the persons who occupy a housing unit. The occupants may be a single family, one person living alone, two or more families living together, or any other group of related or unrelated persons who share living arrangements.|
|Nonmarital Cohabitation||Persons of the Opposite Sex Sharing Living Quarters (POSSLQ) – A household with only two members over age 15. They must be non-related, non-married, opposite-sex adults. There can be any number of household members under age 15.|
|Nonmarital Births||Births to unmarried women.|
|U.S Vital Statistics System||There are 57 vital registration jurisdictions in the United States: the 50 states, 5 territories, the District of Columbia, and New York City. Each reports their data to the National Center for Health Statistics. Some states have centralized vital records offices, but most have local registrars who receive, register, and issue certified copies of vital records. There are over 6,000 local vital registrars nationwide.1|
|Vital Statistics Data||Comprised of all births, deaths, terminations of pregnancy, marriages, and divorces recorded locally by third parties at the county/court level, and compiled and consolidated by state agencies and then the National Center for Health Statistics.|
|Survey Data||Data collected through the Census Bureau and other agencies that fund periodic population surveys that provide information about family status at a single point in time (i.e. self-reports).|
|Marriage Cohort||A group of men and women who were first married in a specified calendar period, regardless of any subsequent changes in marital status.|
|Retrospective Data||Data from surveys that require individuals to recall past events.|
|Longitudinal Data||The gathering of information from the same individuals or groups on two or more occasions.|
|U.S. Census Bureau||The government agency that is responsible for the United States Census. It also gathers other national demographic and economic data. As part of the United States Department of Commerce, the Census Bureau serves as a leading source of data about America's people and economy.|
|National Center for Health Statistics||A part of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, NCHS is the nation's principle health statistics agency. It collects information that: documents the health status of the population and of important subgroups; identifies disparities in health status and use of health care by race or ethnicity, socioeconomic status, region, and other characteristics; monitors trends in health status and health care delivery; and identifies health problems. Data are used to evaluate the impact of health policies and programs.|
|Decennial Census||Required by the U.S. Constitution, the decennial census counts the number of U.S. residents every ten years, to be used for apportionment of seats in the House of Representatives. Questions include number of members per household, and their sex, age, and ethnicity. Other important uses of Census data include the distribution of funds for government programs such as Medicaid; planning the right locations for schools, roads, and other public facilities; and identifying trends over time that can help predict future needs.|
|Current Population Survey||A monthly survey of about 50,000 households conducted by the Bureau of the Census, the CPS is the primary source of information on the labor force characteristics of the U.S. population. Estimates include employment, unemployment, earnings, hours of work, and other indicators. They are available by age, sex, race, marital status, and educational attainment.|
|American Community Survey||Conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, the ACS uses a series of monthly samples to produce annually updated data for the same small areas (census tracts and block groups) as the decennial census long-form sample formerly used. Initially, five years of samples are required to produce these small-area data. Once the Census Bureau has collected five years of data, new small-area data are produced annually. The Census Bureau will also produce three-year and single-year data products for larger geographic areas.|
|Survey of Income and Program Participation||Conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, SIPP provides information about the income and program participation of individuals and households in the United States, and about the principle determinants of income and program participation. SIPP offers detailed information on cash and noncash income, taxes, assets, liabilities, and participation in government transfer programs. SIPP data allow the government to evaluate the effectiveness of federal, state, and local programs.|
|National Survey of Family Growth||Sponsored by the National Center for Health Statistics, this survey gathers information on family life, marriage and divorce, pregnancy, infertility, use of contraception, and men's and women's health. The survey results are used by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and others to plan programming, and to study families, fertility, and health.|
1 Schwartz, Steven, “The U.S. Vital Statistics System: The Role of State and Local Health Departments,” National Academy Press, 2009
TABLE OF ACRONYMS
|ACS||American Community Survey|
|ASPE||Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation|
|CDC||Centers for Disease Control and Prevention|
|DHHS||U.S. Department of Health and Human Services|
|NCHS||National Center for Health Statistics|
|NSFG||National Survey of Family Growth|
|NVSS||National Vital Statistics System|
|SIPP||Survey of Income and Program Participation|
Since 1940 the federal government has collected marriage and divorce vital statistics from states, albeit with variation over the years in the completeness and quality of information collected. In addition, the Census Bureau and other agencies collect data about marriage and divorce using various national surveys. For the federal government, the need for this data has paralleled its growing involvement in family formation and social welfare policy.
Over the past 40 years a number of government and academic reports have called attention to the striking rise in divorce, cohabitation, and nonmarital birth rates, as well as their impact on the economic stability of families; government assistance programs; and the emotional, social, and academic wellbeing of children. The resources in this section chronicle historical family formation trends, attempt to explain them, and present information on their effects on child, adult and societal well-being. Some of these documents also make recommendations on steps that government, corporate, and nonprofit sectors have taken or should take to strengthen American families. Finally, included are several items that provide the most recent family formation statistics and trends.
Resources below include the work of prominent scholars and panels of government policymakers in documenting rising divorce, cohabitation and nonmarital childbearing and how it has contributed to growing poverty rates in the United States. A number of these resources include recommendations for government policies to strengthen families through actions that promote intact families as well as economic and other supports for single parent families.
Amato, P. R. and Booth, A. (1997). A Generation at Risk: Growing Up in an Era of Family Upheaval. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
This book offers a picture of how youth coming of age in the 1980s and 1990s have been affected and formed by the significant domestic changes of the last three decades. Based on a fifteen-year study begun in 1980, the book considers parents' socioeconomic resources, their gender roles and relations, and the quality and stability of their marriages. It then examines children's relationships with their parents, their intimate and broader social affiliations, and their psychological well-being.
Council on Families in America (March 1995). Marriage in America: A Report to the Nation. New York: Institute for American Values.
This document provides subjective commentary on the impact of the rise in divorce in the United States on child and adult well-being as well as our culture's value of marriage. It provides recommendations for lawmakers and the general public for strengthening American families.
Family Impact Seminar (1998). Strategies to Strengthen Marriage: What Do We Know? What Do We Need to Know? Washington DC: Family Impact Seminar.
This document includes a collection of papers presented at a roundtable meeting on marriage held in Washington D.C in June 1997. The papers address demographic and economic factors related to marriage, research on marriage education, legal regulation of marriage, effect of tax and welfare policies, and related developments in the United Kingdom and Australia. Available through library search at here.
General Accounting Office (1997). Defense of Marriage Act: Categories of Laws Involving Marital Status. Washington DC: General Accounting Office GAO/OGC-97-16.
The report identifies 1,049 federal statutory provisions classified to the United States Code in which benefits, rights, and privileges are contingent on marital status or in which marital status is a factor. Including, for example, social security and related programs, housing and food stamps, veteran's benefits, taxation, federal civilian and military service benefits, employment benefits, immigration and naturalization etc. In 2004, this report was updated to identify 120 additional statutory provisions involving marital status.
McLanahan, S. and Sandefur, G. (1994). Growing Up with a Single Parent: What Hurts, What Helps. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
This book presents research on the connections between family structure and a child's life outcomes. The book's findings are based on several national surveys. Authors used statistical methods to control for variations in background among children such as race and income.
Moynihan Report (1965). The Negro Family: The Case for National Action
Written by the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan in 1965 on the family structure of African-Americans, the report hypothesized that the non-marital birthrate and decline in the portion of two-parent Black families would result in continued economic and political marginalization.
National Commission on Children and Families Report (1991). Beyond Rhetoric: A New American Agenda for Children and Families, Washington DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.
The National Commission on Children and Families, established by Congress in 1987, was created to assess the status of children and families in the United States and propose new directions for policies and programs. The final report is divided into three main sections: (1) Findings and conclusions related to the changing American family and principles for action; (2) a proposed agenda for the 1990s on issues such as improving children's health and increasing educational achievement; and (3) a plan for building the necessary commitment for the future of America's children.
Ooms, T. (1998). Toward More Perfect Unions: Putting Marriage on the Public Agenda. Washington DC: Family Impact Seminar.
This summary report was based on the commissioned papers and conference discussions of a national policy conference on marriage. The report reviews the data and research on the decline in marriage and the reasons why marriage should be on the public agenda. It develops a series of goals and principles to guide a marriage agenda, identifies nine strategies for strengthening marriage and proposes action steps to be taken at the federal, state and community levels.
Pew Research Center (2010). At Long Last, Divorce. Wasington, DC. This article looks at the longevity of marriage and the likelihood that a long duration marriage would end in divorce. It also examines Census data.
U.S. Government Printing Office (1973). American Families: Trends and Pressures. Washington, DC.
This document summarizes hearings before the Subcommittee on Children and Youth of the Senate Committee on Labor and Public Welfare. The hearings included testimony by prominent scholars on topics such as trends in family composition, the status of children of working mothers, and the impact of taxation and other government policies on the family.
White House Conference on Families (1980).
At this conference numerous scholars presented wide ranging research on the status of children and families. The summary report provides information on recommendations made in the four main areas discussed in the conference: (1) families and economic well-being; (2) confronting specific problems of families; (3) meeting the needs of families; and (4) determining the role of major institutions that influence family life.
Documents in this section offer thorough data analyses explaining the growth in divorce, cohabitation, and nonmarital childbearing. Some offer hypotheses for the increase in the divorce rate and for the leveling of the divorce rate increase that occurred two decades ago. Others use statistical analyses to project that the divorce rate will remain level in the foreseeable future. Historical changes in children's living arrangements are also described.
Bumpass, L. L., and Lu, H.-H. (2000). Trends in Cohabitation and Implications for Children Family Contexts in the United States. Population Studies, 54(1), 29-41.
This study documents the increasing prevalence of cohabitation in America and the implications of this trend for children and families. The study found that the proportion of births to unmarried women born into cohabiting families increased from 29 to 39 percent between 1980-1984 and 1990-1994, and that about two-fifths of all children spend a period of time in a cohabiting family. The report also includes estimates from multi-state life tables that further explain the trend towards cohabitation in families.
Cherlin, A. (1992) Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
This book provides a demographic history of marriage since World War II. It then discusses cohort-based and period-based explanations for these trends, as well as the trends' consequences for society. Lastly, the book provides a description of racial differences in marriage patterns.
Goldstein, J.R. (August, 1999). The Leveling of Divorce in the United States. Demography, Vol. 36, No.3, pp. 404-414.
The author uses statistical analyses to determine the factors behind the plateau in crude divorce rates that has occurred since 1980. The author examines whether compositional changes – including the aging of baby boomers, the increase in the age of first marriage, and the increase in cohabitation – are responsible for the leveling divorce rate and concludes that they are not. The author also predicted that the current rate of divorce will remain steady for the foreseeable future.
Kennedy, S. and Bumpass, L. (2008). Cohabitation and Children's Living Arrangements: New Estimates from the United States. Demographic Research, 19(47), 1663-1692.
This study uses the 1995 and 2002 National Survey of Family Growth to examine recent trends in cohabitation in the United States. Overall results of the study found that cohabitation is steadily growing among American families.
Kreider, R.M., Fields, J.M. (2002) Number, Timing and Duration of Marriage and Divorces: 1996. U.S, Census Bureau: Current Population Reports (P70-80) February.
This report details marital patterns for adults in the United States born since the 1920s. It also highlights differences in marital patterns of various racial and ethnic groups. Importantly, using life table estimates based on the longitudinal Census Bureau SIPP survey it projects that if current trends continue, the percentage of first marriages ending in divorce may be as high as 50%.
Ruggles, S. (November, 1997). The Rise of Divorce and Separation in the United States. Demography, Vol. 34, No.4, pp. 455-466.
The study found that the rise in female labor force participation and the increase in nonfarm employment are closely associated with the growth of divorce and separation. Moreover, higher female labor force participation among Black women in comparison to Black men may account for race differences in marital instability before 1940, and for most of such differences in subsequent years.
Teachman, J.D. (May, 2002). Stability Across Cohorts in Divorce Risk Factors. Demography, Vol. 39 No. 2., pp. 331-351.
The author examines how stable a number of predictors of divorce have been between 1950 and 1984. Findings concluded that, with the exception of race, the effects of major socio-demographic predictors of divorce largely do not vary by historical period.
US Department of Health and Human Services, Center for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics (1995). Report to Congress on Out-of-Wedlock Childbearing. DHHS Pub. No (PHS) 95-1257.
This comprehensive report presents demographic tables related to trends in non-marital childbearing and marriage, and includes international comparisons. It also includes eight expert papers related to research and policies affecting nonmarital childbearing.
Resources below provide current descriptive data on marriage, divorce and cohabitation rates in the United States, including average duration of selected living arrangements, age at first marriage (which has been on the increase for men and women), and estimates of the probability of marriage and divorce over a lifetime. Information is also provided on current rates and trends of marriage, divorce, cohabitation, and nonmarital childbearing at the state and national levels.
Bramlett, N., and Mosher, W. (2001). First Marriage Dissolution, Divorce and Remarriage: United States, Advance Data From Vital and Health Statistics; No 323. Hyattsville MD: National Center for Health Statistics.
Based on data from the 1995 National Survey of Family Growth of women age 15-44 years, this report shows that one in three first marriages end within 10 years, and one in five within 5 years. It also showed that the older a woman is at first marriage the longer that marriage is likely to last.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (July 2002). Cohabitation, Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage in the United States. Vital and Health Statistics, Series 23, Number 22. Department of Health and Human Services.
This report presents national estimates of the probabilities of marital and cohabitation outcomes for women in the United States based on the National Survey of Family Growth. The estimates are presented on a wide variety of individual- and community-level characteristics.
Kreider, R. M. and Elliott, D.B. (2009). America's Families and Living Arrangements: 2007. Current Population Reports, P20-561. U.S. Census Bureau, Washington, DC.
This report includes recent information from the March Current Population Survey and the American Community Survey. It contains detailed information on children's living arrangements in the United States, including the percentage of children living with two married parents, two unmarried parents, single mothers, and single fathers.
Mathematica Policy Research, Inc. (March 2008). The Marriage Measures Guide of State-level Statistics. Authors: Goesling, B., Wood, R., Razafindrakato, and C., Henderson, J.
This guide is a collection of stand-alone five-page reports for each of the 50 states. Each report contains a summary of the size and racial/ethnic makeup of the state's population and includes detailed statistical tables on marriage, divorce, cohabitation, and childbearing based on analyses of 2004 data from the National Center of Health Statistics.
The National Center for Family and Marriage Research,County-Level Marriage & Divorce Data 2000.
These maps present geographic variation in the adjusted marriage and divorce rates for over 3,000 counties in the United States. The estimates are from county court record data of numbers of marriages and divorces and U.S. Census data from 2000. The adjusted marriage rates represent the number of marriages per 1,000 single population, and on average, there are 24 marriages per 1,000 single people.
The National Center for Family and Marriage Research, Data Points, 2008 – 2010.
Tables and figures integrating statistics and demographic perspectives designed to investigate the links between marriage and family well-being at all stages of the life course. Topics include: Marital Duration and Divorce and Marital Status.
National Center on Health Statistics (2009). CDC Faststats on Marriage and Divorce.
This report provides recent statistics on the total number of marriages as well as marriage and divorce rates per 1,000 individuals in the population.
National Center on Health Statistics (February 2010). Marriage and Cohabitation in the United States: A Statistical Portrait Based on Cycle 6 (2002) of the National Survey of Family Growth. Vital and Health Statistics, Series 23, Volume 28.
The report examines marriage and cohabitation trends in the United States and is the largest statistical portrait in recent years. It contains a variety of useful descriptive statistics from the National Survey of Family Growth examining marriage (e.g., duration of 1st marriages by race, duration of 1st marriage for couples with and without children), cohabitation (e.g., duration that remain intact and likelihood of transitioning to marriage), and divorce.
National Center on Health Statistics (2009). National Vital Statistics System. Marriage and Divorces.
The National Vital Statistics System within the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention has two main datasets on marriage and divorce statistics: (1) NCHS' National Vital Statistics Reports contains information on the total numbers and (crude) rates of marriages and divorces at the national and state levels; (2) Detailed state tables of marriage and divorce levels are included in the monthly reports of provisional data published in the NCHS National Vital Statistics Reports.
Pew Research Center. (2009). Marriage and Divorce: A 50-state Tour T. Washington, DC.
This interactive map, published by the Social and Demographic Trends division of the Pew Research Center, uses data from the 2008 American Community Survey. The map includes statistics on both men and women for the following categories: currently married, currently divorced, median age at first marriage, and married three or more times. Each category includes statistics by state in comparison with the national level.
Popenoe D. and Whitehead, B. (1999 – 2009) State of Our Unions. The National Marriage Project, University of Virginia. (formerly at Rutgers University).
The first report of this annual series titled, Social Health of Marriage in America, presents a summary of trends in marriage, divorce, unmarried childbearing, cohabitation, fragile families with children and teen attitudes about marriage and family. This report is published each year with an update of the indices and includes a report of a new study on a related topic.
Documents in this section discuss racial and ethnic differences in marriage, divorce, cohabitation, and overall living arrangements, as well as family dynamics. A number of these resources discuss the disproportionate rates of single-parents families among African Americans, and the reasons for the slower increase in divorce rates among African Americans than among Whites.
Blackman, L., Clayton, O., Glenn, N, Malone-Colon, L. and Roberts, A. (2005). The Consequences of Marriage for African Americans: A Comprehensive Literature Review. Institute for American Values.
Based on reviews of 125 social science articles and a statistical analysis of national survey data, this study suggests that marriage conveys a range of benefits to African American men, women, and children. On average, married African Americans are wealthier, happier, and choose healthier behaviors than their unmarried peers, and their children typically fare better in life. The study did find, however, that African American women benefit less from marriage than African American men, and report poorer health than do unmarried African American women.
Cherlin, A. (1992). Race and Poverty. In Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage. (pp. 91-123). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
This chapter examines racial differences in marriage patterns, including the connections between race, poverty, and the family. Among the various statistics and trends examined are the differences in the proportions of men and women ever marrying and the age at which women bear children. Also discussed are the societal consequences of the rise of female-headed households.
Goodwin, P.Y., Moser, W.D., and Chandra, A. (2010). Marriage and Cohabitation in the United States: A Statistical Portrait Based on Cycle 6 (2002) of the National Survey of Family Growth. Vital and Health Statistics, 23 (28).
Using data from the 2002 National Survey of Family Growth, this report examines occurrences and stability of marriage and cohabitation among men and women between the ages of 15 to 44. The report analyzes the data along age groups, race and ethnicity, educational attainment, and religiosity. In addition, the report examines the partners' parental living arrangements, history of cohabitation, among other variables.
McLoyd, V.M., Cauce, A.M., Takeuchi, D., and Wilson, L. (2000). Marital Processes and Parental Socialization in Families of Color: A Decade Review of Research. Journal of Marriage & the Family, 62, 4.
This article examines changes in family structure among African-, Latino-, and Asian-American families from 1990- 2000. In addition, the piece analyzes ethnic differences in household labor, marital relations, and children's adjustment to conflict. The article highlights differences in parental involvement, parenting behavior, and other characteristics across races and ethnicities.
Pew Research Center (2010). Marrying Out. Washington, DC. This report shows that one in seven new U.S. marriages is interracial or interethnic. It is based primarily on two data sources: the Pew Research Center's analysis of demographic data about new marriages in 2008 from the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey (ACS) and the Pew Research Center's analysis of its own data from a nationwide telephone survey. There is also an interactive map available.
There are two ways that the nation counts marriages and divorces, and these different types of data come from different sources. 1. Vital statistics data are records of actual legal events (marriage and divorce) recorded by third parties at the county/court level, and compiled and consolidated by state agencies and then the National Center for Health Statistics. Vital statistics aim to capture all the events that occur. 2. Survey data are collected through the Census Bureau and other agencies that fund periodic surveys of the population. These surveys provide information about marital status at a single point in time (i.e. self-reports). With the exception of the decennial census, surveys are administered to representative samples of the population. In recent years there have been a handful of state surveys of marriage and divorce.
Each type of data – vital statistics and surveys – has its strengths and limitations. There have been concerns about the quality, accuracy, and completeness of marriage and divorce vital statistics (both at the national and state levels). Concerns about surveys focus on how representative they are, their ability to generate calculations of marriage and divorce rates (which requires information on marital status over time), and their inability, until recently, to provide information for small subareas such as counties or cities. In 1996, NCHS discontinued funding to states for the collection of detailed marriage and divorce statistics. Today, NCHS reports only simple counts of marriages and divorces.
In recent years, the federal government has explored the viability of national surveys for providing reliable marriage and divorce data. Specifically, the American Community Survey, the National Survey of Family Growth, and the Survey of Income and Program Participation.
ACF and OASPE within DHHS contracted with The Lewin Group and the Urban Institute to explore options for collecting marriage and divorce statistics at national, state and local levels. This comprehensive study resulted in several reports that are listed and described briefly in the next section. The reports examine the quality and completeness of marriage and divorce data collected at the state and local levels, and provide an overview of the three national surveys in more detail, describing their strengths and weaknesses in providing meaningful information on marriage and divorce rates. Finally, the section also describes surveys that are being conducted by several states.
For decades the federal government, via the National Center for Health Statistics, helped states collect detailed marriage and divorce data by providing funding, technical assistance and forms and templates for reporting quality and consistent data. However, in 1996 NCHS eliminated support to states for the collection of detailed marriage and divorce data. The reasons included resource constraints faced by NCHS and states; variation in the detail, completeness, and accuracy of the data reported by states; NCHS' primary interest in collecting birth and death records; and the Center's belief that comparable information could be collected via national surveys.
Today, while NCHS still provides states with technical assistance, it no longer provides the same level of financial support to report marriage and divorce data. As a result, states no longer provide NCHS with detailed information – such as annual rates of legal marriage and divorce by marriage order and age – and instead only report monthly on simple counts of marriages and divorces. Today, states vary in the level of investment devoted to collecting marriage and divorce data. States and localities vary in the amount of detailed data they collect, how much information is stored, whether the information is stored in a usable format, and the extent to which external stakeholders can access the data for analysis.
Resources below provide a detailed discussion of how family formation data is collected at the local, state and national levels as well as the quality and completeness of this data. It describes the unevenness of descriptive data concerning the incidence of marriage and divorce across the states and the progress of states in modernizing their data collection systems. It also describes the strengths and weaknesses of national surveys in providing comprehensive information on marriage and divorce rates in the United States.
The Lewin Group, (August 2008). Collection of Marriage and Divorce Statistics by State. Prepared for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families and the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Evaluation and Planning.
This report describes findings from surveys of state and local-level vital registrars to provide the first national-level picture of how the vital statistics system collects marriage and divorce information. The report illustrates the variation in marriage and divorce information that is collected by states and localities, as well as how data are stored and used. It also discusses challenges states and localities face in collecting and storing marriage and divorce information and strategies used to overcome them.
The Lewin Group (2008). State Marriage and Divorce Vital Statistics Web Tool. Prepared for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Evaluation and Planning.
This website tool describes marriage and divorce information that is collected by each state. The information was gathered from states through a survey administered in 2005-2006. The web tool does not include marriage and divorce statistics. Instead, it indicates what states collect, how the information is collected, how it is stored, and what information is available to data users and other interested parties.
The Urban Institute (September 2008). Assessment of Survey Data for the Analysis of Marriage and Divorce at the National, State, and Local Levels. Prepared for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families and the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Evaluation and Planning.
This report examined a total of 20 datasets and identified the following three datasets as having the greatest potential for collecting marriage and divorce statistics: The American Community Survey (ACS), The National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG), and The Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP).The report concludes with a detailed description of the strengths and weaknesses of each survey as it relates to providing information on marriage and divorce related statistics and trends.
Thornton, A. and Binstock, G. (2001). The Reliability of Measurement and the Cross-time Stability of Individual and Family Variables. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 63(3), 881-894.
This piece evaluates the reliability and stability over time of measurements for three main variables: family attitudes, relationships, and self-concepts. The study found that these variables can be measured reliably, and that they often have high levels of stability across significant periods of time.
Resources below describe survey findings from 7 states and one county that examined attitudes and beliefs about marriage and divorce as well as factors that affect marital satisfaction. The surveys reveal that most respondents view marriage positively.
Broman, C. (2000). State of the State Survey: Marriage in Michigan: Factors that Affect Satisfaction. Institute for Public Policy and Social Research, Michigan State University
This report uses data from the State of the State survey conducted by the Institute in 1999, which interviewed nearly 1,500 residents on their volunteer activities, mental health, families, and marriage. The report examines factors that contribute to happy marriages in Michigan, and the extent to which marital happiness differs across social and economic status.
First Things First. The State of the Family 2006, Hamilton County, Tennessee.
Developed by the nonprofit organization First Things First in Chattanooga, Tennessee, this report offers demographic data and attitudes regarding marriage, divorce, and family formation for residents of Hamilton County, Tennessee.
Gomez, S. (October, 2008). The State of California's Unions: Marriage and Divorce in the Golden State. Editors: Krafsky, K.J., Stoica,D., Howell, P. Prepared by The California Healthy Marriages Coalition.
This survey was commissioned by the California Healthy Marriages Coalition, funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The survey sought to (1) determine how California residents view marriage, divorce and marriage education; (2) understand residents' marriages and relationships–past and present–including relationship quality and family support; and (3) examine findings according to gender, age, income, ethnicity, political affiliation, and religious involvement.
Harris, S.M., Glenn, N.D, Rappleyea, D.L., Diaz-Loving, R., Hawkins, A.J., Daire, A. P., Osborne, C., and Huston, T.L. (2008). Twogether in Texas: Baseline Report on Marriage in the Lone Star State. Austin: Health and Human Services Commission.
The report measures and analyzes attitudes and beliefs related to healthy marriage. Researchers conducted over 2,500 phone interviews with Texans, asking them questions on marriage, divorce, cohabitation and family roles.
Heath, C., Bradford, K., Whiting, J., Brock, G., and Foster, S. (2004). The Kentucky Marriage Attitudes Study, 2004 Baseline Survey. Research Center for Families and Children. University of Kentucky.
This study was designed to provide insight and direction for potential interventions and to provide benchmark data to evaluate outcomes of potential future relationship education /marriage initiatives.
Johnson, C.A., Stanley, S.M., Glenn, N.D., Amato, P.R., Nock, S.L., Markman, H.J., and Dion, M.R. (2002). Marriage in Oklahoma: A Statewide Baseline Survey on Marriage and Divorce, 2001-2002. Oklahoma Marriage Initiative.
To develop programs to promote healthy relationships and strengthen marriage for Oklahoma residents, the Oklahoma Marriage Initiative (OMI) commissioned a survey to understand marriage and divorce rates in the state, as well as Oklahomans' attitudes towards marriage. It is the first comprehensive statewide survey on marriage in the United States. The survey included questions on attitudes about relationships; demographic data on marriage, divorce, remarriage and patterns of cohabitation; intent to marry/remarry; relationship quality; and views toward marriage education.
Karney, B.R., Garvan, C.W., and Thomas, M.S. (2003). Family Formation in Florida: 2003 Baseline Survey of Attitudes, Beliefs, and Demographics Relating to Marriage and Family Formation. University of Florida.
Funded by the Florida Department of Children and Families and conducted by researchers at the University of Florida, this survey sought to describe the range of family structures in Florida; the attitudes of Floridians towards marriage, family formation, and marriage education; and the characteristics associated with healthy intimate relationships. More than 4,500 adult residents in Florida were interviewed over the phone regarding these and related topics.
Pew Research Center. (2009). Marriage and Divorce: A 50-state tour. Washington, DC.
An interactive map, published by the Social and Demographic Trends division of the Pew Research Center, provides data from the 2008 American Community Survey. The map includes statistics on both men and women for the following categories: currently married, currently divorced, median age at first marriage, and married three or more times. Each category includes statistics by state in comparison with the national level.
Schramm, D., Marshall, J., Harris, V., and George, A. (2003). Marriage in Utah: 2003 Utah Baseline Statewide Survey on Marriage and Divorce. Salt Lake City: Utah State University Extension.
This report provides the highlights of the 2003 Utah Baseline Statewide Survey on Marriage and Divorce prepared by researchers at Utah State University, in conjunction with Oklahoma State University's Bureau for Social Research. The survey includes demographic data on marriage, divorce, remarriage, and patterns of cohabitation among Utah residents. It also explores Utahans' perspective on the quality of their marriages, as well as overall attitudes towards marriage and divorce, with particular attention to the thoughts of young adults and low-income residents.
Marriage and divorce data can be difficult to understand and interpret. An often-cited statistic is that 50% of marriages will end in divorce. But what does this statistic mean, and where is it derived from? Often times, marriage and divorce data are incorrectly interpreted and based on calculations that have significant limitations.
There are three approaches that are typically used for calculating marriage and divorce rates: 1) crude rate, 2) refined rate, and 3) cohort approach. Although the refined rate and cohort approach are preferable to using crude rates, they are not typically discussed in the media because their calculations are complicated to explain.
One approach for calculating marriage and divorce rates is to use a crude rate calculation-that is, the number of marriages or divorces per 1,000 individuals in the population. The crude rate is mainly used to provide a sense of how common marriage and divorce is over time. A limitation of the crude rate is that the denominator includes children and currently married individuals-populations that are not "at risk" of marriage. Similarly, the crude divorce rate includes children and single individuals in the denominator-populations that are not "at risk" of divorce.
Preferable to using crude rates are the refined marriage and divorce rate and cohort based projections of marriage and divorce. The refined marriage rate reflects the number of marriages per 1,000 unmarried women, and the refined divorce rate reflects the number of divorces per 1,000 married women. These statistics answer the question "how common is marriage and divorce in a given year?" Unlike the crude rate, the refined rate's denominator only includes individuals "at risk" for marriage or divorce.
The cohort approach uses data from interviews of individuals on their marital and divorce histories and compares cohorts over time. A marriage cohort consists of all individuals married in a given year. The cohort approach answers the questions "How many single individuals in a given year eventually will marry?" and "How many marriages initiated in a given year will eventually end in divorce?"
Resources in this section describe how different marriage and divorce rates are typically calculated, corresponding limitations, and the best approach for appropriately interpreting the data.
Amato, P. (2010). Interpreting Divorce Rates, Marriage Rates and the Percentage of Children Living with Single Parents. National Healthy Marriage Resource Center. Research Brief.
This research brief details how marriage and divorce rates are typically calculated using 3 approaches: (1) crude rate, (2) refined rate, and (3) cohort-based, life tables approach. The document describes the advantages and disadvantages posed by each approach and provides guidance on how to interpret the rates generated from each approach. Additionally, a discussion is included on how the percentage of children living with single parents is typically calculated and the limitations to interpreting the data given changing definitions of a "single parent."
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (July, 2002). Cohabitation, Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage in the United States. Vital and Health Statistics, Series 23, Number 22. Department of Health and Human Services.
This report contains an introductory section that describes how probabilities of marriage disruption and remarriage are calculated.
States and localities vary significantly in the amount of marriage-and divorce-related information they collect and store as part of their Vital Records System-as well as in how they actually collect and store their data. In light of the incompleteness and inconsistent quality of the data, there is mounting interest in expanding the type of data that is collected and in improving the collection process so that information can be more current, reliable, and comprehensive.
At the state level, while some states have modernized their data collection strategies, the compilation of marriage and divorce data remains largely paper-based (especially for divorce data), with various challenges to modernization efforts. However, a subset of states and localities has made significant strides towards improving their data collection through a variety of electronic strategies: adopting electronic data collection systems that are web accessible for on-line local data entry; developing state-wide integrated vital records web-based systems; using electronic marriage licenses that capture data electronically; and setting up electronic or web-based data storage systems. Specifically, South Dakota and New Hampshire have made inroads into improving their infrastructure and capacity to collect marriage and divorce data.
In addition to efforts by states, the federal government has taken steps to improve the availability of marriage and divorce information. The Census Bureau's American Community Survey (ACS), the largest annual survey in the United States, in 2008 added three questions that will capture data on changes in marital status in the past year, number of times ever married, and year of last marriage. Researchers, policymakers and others view this additional data as critical for calculating accurate marriage and divorce rates and analyzing marital transitions at the national, state and local levels.
This section contains reports on what select states are doing to improve the collection and storage of marriage and divorce data, highlighting key strategies and promising practices. It also includes descriptions of national efforts (e.g., national surveys) to improve the availability and completeness of the data, with particular emphasis on the improvements made to the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey. Recommendations are also provided for data improvement at the state and federal levels, including the standardization of survey questions and the collection of full marital and cohabitation histories.
Hofferth, S.L., and Casper, L.M. (Eds.) (2006). Handbook of Measurement Issues in Family Research. Philadelphia: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
This document discusses methods for addressing measurement issues in family research and potential pitfalls for researchers and students who may not be familiar with data quality issues. The handbook discusses measurement issues within five main topic areas: (1) marriage and cohabitation, (2) separation and divorce, (3) household composition and family relationships, (4) becoming a father, and (5) fathering.
The Lewin Group. (October, 2008). American Community Survey: New Survey Questions Enable Measurement of Marital Transitions. Prepared for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families and Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation.
This brief describes three new questions that were added to the American Community Survey to allow for the calculation of marriage and divorce rates at the national, state and local levels. The additional questions focus on marital events that occurred within the previous year, the number of times a person has been married, and the year the most recent marriage occurred. The brief also explains how these data can be used by analysts, program managers, policymakers, researchers, and other interested parties.
The Lewin Group (August 2008). Electronic Collection of Marriage and Divorce Statistics: Findings from Seven States. Prepared for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families and Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation.
This report explores the collection of marriage and divorce statistics in seven states. The study examined issues such as: the impetus behind states developing electronic systems to collect and store data; how states finance their data collection efforts; the extent to which states use electronic, web-accessible and/or paper-based systems to collection information; the extent to which the data is stored in electronic databases; and the origin of automation efforts (i.e., state or local level). The report found that the types of system upgrades varied considerably by state, with some states developing sophisticated web-based systems for collecting and storing information while others are still relying on paper-based records that are then entered into databases.
National Institutes of Health (2001). Counting Couples: Improving Federal Statistics on Marriage, Divorce, Remarriage, and Cohabitation. Highlights from a National Workshop on December 13-14 2001. Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics.
The workshop was conducted by the Data Collection Committee of the Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics. The report summarizes the highlights of the workshop, and offers 14 recommendations for improving the accuracy and richness of family formation data at the federal and state levels. The forum is a working group of 22 federal agencies that collect, analyze and report data on issues related to children and families. It publishes an annual update of indicators of child and family wellbeing, America's Children: Key National Indicators of Well-Being.