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CB11-144

Contact:  Robert Bernstein/Neil Tillman
Public Information Office
301-763-3030/763-3762 (fax)

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:  THURSDAY, AUG. 25, 2011

Divorce Rates Highest in the South, Lowest in the Northeast, Census Bureau Reports

Men and women in the South had higher rates of divorce in 2009 than in other regions of the country, 10.2 per 1,000 for men and 11.1 per 1,000 for women, according to a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau. The national divorce rate was 9.2 for men and 9.7 for women.

By contrast, men and women in the Northeast had the lowest rates of divorce, 7.2 and 7.5 (see table [PDF]).

These new statistics come from the report Marital Events of Americans: 2009 [PDF], which examines marriage, divorce and widowhood in America as well as selected characteristics for those experiencing a marital event in the past year. The report is the first of its kind to describe the detailed characteristics of marital events among Americans ages 15 and older using data from the 2009 American Community Survey (ACS).

"Divorce rates tend to be higher in the South because marriage rates are also higher in the South," said Diana Elliott, a family demographer at the Census Bureau. "In contrast, in the Northeast, first marriages tend to be delayed and the marriage rates are lower, meaning there are also fewer divorces."

In 2009, 14 states had divorce rates for men that were significantly above the U.S. average, ranging from 10.0 to 13.5 per 1,000 (see figure [PDF]). Higher than average divorce rates for men occurred mostly in Southern states, including Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas.

In contrast, nine states had divorce rates for men significantly below the U.S. average, ranging from 6.1 to 8.5. Of these states five were in the Northeast: Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania.

Fourteen states had divorce rates for women above the U.S. average, ranging from 10.7 to 16.2 (see figure [PDF]). Nine of the 14 states were in the South, including Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas and West Virginia. Meanwhile,
10 states had divorce rates for women below the U.S. average, ranging from 6.0 to 8.9. Four states with below-average divorce rates for women were in the Northeast: Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania.

Findings also show:

  • National rates of marriage in the past 12 months were 19.1 for men and 17.6 for women. There were 3.5 instances of widowhood for men and 7.8 for women, per every 1,000 people.
  • Children living with a parent who divorced in 2009 were more likely to live in a household headed by their mother (75 percent) than in a household headed by their father (25 percent). Additionally, children living with a parent who divorced in 2009 were more likely to be in a household below the poverty level (28 percent) compared with other children (19 percent), and they were more likely to live in a rented home (53 percent) compared with other children (36 percent).
  • The economic well-being of those who experienced a recent marital event differed.
  • Women who divorced in the past 12 months were more likely to receive public assistance than recently divorced men (23 percent and 15 percent).
  • Women who divorced in the past 12 months reported less household income than recently divorced men. For example, 27 percent of women who divorced in the past

12 months had less than $25,000 in annual household income compared with 17 percent of recently divorced men.

  • Similarly, women who divorced in the past 12 months were more likely than recently divorced men to be in poverty (22 percent compared with 11 percent).
  • Women who divorced in the past 12 months were more likely to be living in a multigenerational household -- 11 percent of such women, compared with 5 percent of men.
  • Thirteen states had median durations for second marriages for women below the U.S. median of 14.5 years. This included six states in the Northeast (Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont) ranging from 13.1 to 13.6 years.
  • Among those widowed in the last year, 77 percent of men and 73 percent of women were white alone, non-Hispanic. 

Historically, data on marriages and divorces in the United States were collected from marriage and divorce certificates filed and collected at the state-level through the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) vital statistics system. In 1996, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the NCHS discontinued the collection of detailed state-level vital records data from marriage and divorce certificates. Beginning in 2008, questions about marital events were added to the ACS to collect national and state-level marriage and divorce data. These new marital events items fill a void in the marriage and divorce data collected in the United States.

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As is the case with all surveys, statistics from sample surveys are subject to sampling and nonsampling error. All comparisons made in the reports have been tested and found to be statistically significant at the 90 percent confidence level, unless otherwise noted. Please consult the data tables for specific margins of error. For more information, go to <http://www.census.gov/acs/www/data_documentation/documentation_main/>.

Editor’s note: The report will be publicly available at http://www.census.gov/prod/2011pubs/acs-13.pdf on 12:01 a.m. EDT, Thursday, August 25, 2011.

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Source: U.S. Census Bureau | Public Information Office | PIO@census.gov | Last Revised: September 09, 2014