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New study shows marriage rates in the US have seen “dramatic decline”

A new study of marriage rates in the US shows a decline of between 26% and 44% in the four regions studied.

A new study of marriage statistics has found that marriage rates in the US have dropped between 26% and 44% since 2020. The researchers looked at four representative regions of the US. Their study appeared on December 29 in the journal Socius.

The new study looked at the number of marriage certificates issued in Florida and Hawaii from March until the end of July, and in the Dallas–Fort Worth–Arlington (DFW) metropolitan area from March until the end of August. It also looked at the number of marriage applications in the Seattle metropolitan region until the end of September, as marriage applications are a leading indicator of marriages in the near future.

Together, these four regions account for about 10.4% of the population in the United States.

Marriage rates in the US: four representative regions

The research team picked DFW and Seattle because they are both major US metropolitan areas (the country’s 4th and 15th largest).

For each location, they compared 2020 data to the same period in 2019, which takes seasonal variation into account.

Marriage rates in the US showed a “dramatic decrease” in 2020 vs. 2019

The results show “a dramatic decrease in year-to-date cumulative marriages in 2020 compared with 2019” in the areas studied, the authors write. 

Florida’s drop in the number of new marriages began in March. This downward trend increased steadily until the end of July, when the study’s data ends. By the end of July, there had been 23,627 fewer marriages in Florida than in 2019, representing a 26% decrease.

The results in Hawaii were similar, where the decrease started to accelerate in April. By July, there had been 5,183 fewer marriages than 2019, which represents a 44% drop. Much of this drop was attributable “destination weddings” by non-residents, but marriage rates of Hawaiian residents also showed similar decreases.

A comparable pattern emerged in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, where by the end of August 2020 there had been 9,410 fewer marriages than during the same period in 2019, a 27% drop. 

And in Seattle, the study found that marriage applications by the end of September had dropped by 3,060 compared to 2019, a 15% drop.

Why this decline in marriage rates?

Uncertainty in terms of income, employment, and housing can lead people to postpone marriage. Likewise, policies in many places have limited large social gatherings such as weddings. And the closure of government offices that handle marriage applications and certifications has probably also played a role.

With millions of people losing their jobs and therefore their health insurance, the researchers write, the “demand for marriage may have increased as a function of demand for spousal health plans.”

Early marriage statistics may not tell the whole story

The researchers point out that they only measured a small portion of the US population. Likewise, some marriages may have merely been postponed.

Nonetheless, the four regions studied do represent a broad swath of the country. The fact that all four areas had similar results, the researchers write, “suggests that this may be a common experience across the United States.” 

And marriage statistics are important, for many reasons. “As an institution, marriage has important implications for the well-being and health of couples and their offspring, individual behaviors, and legal protections for partners,” the authors write. Likewise, the institution of marriage is among the most-studied topics in the social sciences.


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Study publication date: December 29, 2020
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/2378023120980328
Photo: by Vu Toan via Pixabay