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Number, Timing, and Duration of Marriages and Divorces: 2009

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Report Number P70-125


Marriage and divorce are central to the study of living arrangements and family composition. Social and economic events as well as changes in cultural attitudes shape marital behavior, which then affect family life and other interactions. The study of the evolving patterns of marriage and divorce requires basic measures of the incidence of these events.

The Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) is one of few data sources that can provide a comprehensive look at both current and historical marital patterns in the United States. SIPP data contain a detailed marital history for men and women aged 15 and over, as well as extensive information about the characteristics of adults, their households, and the people with whom they live. In addition, information about both husbands and wives is available for people who are currently married.1

The marital history data have been collected in SIPP since 1986 and reports were published starting with the 1996 data. Before that time, marital history reports used Current Population Survey data, which included a marital history from 1975 through 1995. The SIPP marital history topical module is a nationally representative survey which is fielded approximately every 5 years, with the most recent data collection prior to this survey occurring in 2004.2 This report updates some of the tables shown in the previous reports and tables with data collected in the second interview of the SIPP 2008 Panel, collected in January through April of 2009, and adds several tables covering other topics.3

In 2009, marital history data were collected from men and women 15 years and over in approximately 39,000 households. In the sample, 55,497 ever-married adults were asked questions about the number of times they had been married and the month and year of marital events (including marriage, separation, divorce, and widowhood) for their first, second, and most recent marriages. Since fewer than 1 percent of adults have been married four or more times, few events are missed by using this approach.

The first section of this report examines changes in marital patterns during the period that SIPP data were collected, 1986 to 2009. Additionally, this section describes changes in the age at marriage, divorce, and remarriage across different cohorts of men and women born since 1940 to 1944. The second section provides current indicators of the percentage of the population who have married more than once, who have ever divorced, or who experienced other marital events. This section also answers questions about how long first marriages last, the median age at which people marry or divorce, and what percentage of currently married couples involve spouses who are both in their first marriage. The third section profiles the characteristics of people who experienced a marital event in the year prior to the survey.

1 Since 2008, the American Community Survey (ACS) has been asking adults whether they had married, divorced, separated, or been widowed in the year before the survey, as well as the number of times married and the year the latest marriage began. Estimates of indicators such as the characteristics of people who had a recent marital event, the percentage of men and women who have ever divorced, and the percentage of recent marriages in which both the bride and groom were marrying for the first time are now available in both the SIPP and the ACS. See the following paper for more information: Elliott, Diana B, Tavia Simmons, and Jamie M. Lewis, Evaluation of the Marital Events Items on the ACS, 2010, available at <www.census.gov/hhes/socdemo/marriage/data/acs/Evaluation_paper.pdf>. While ACS adds valuable information about recent U.S. marital patterns, especially state-level data, SIPP still contains the most detailed, comprehensive data available at the national level. A forthcoming report will showcase the new ACS marital events data.

2 The tables for 2004 are available on the Census Bureau Web site at <www.census.gov/hhes/socdemo/marriage/data/sipp/2004/tables.html>.

The most recent report in this series was written using SIPP 2001 Panel data and is available at <www.census.gov/prod/2005pubs/p70-97.pdf>.

The earlier 1996 report is also available at <www.census.gov/prod/2002pubs/p70-80.pdf>.

3 The population represented in this report (the population universe) is the civilian noninstitutionalized adult (15 years and over) population living in the United States. The items asked in the marital history topical module are available at <www.census.gov/sipp/core_content/2008/quests/wave2/2008w2core.pdf>.

Page Last Revised - October 8, 2021
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