October 13, 2005


Data on marriage and births reflect the political divide

A story published today in the New York Times reports that when it comes to marriage and babies, the red states really are different from the blue states, according to a new Census Bureau analysis of marriage, fertility and socioeconomic characteristics.

People in the Northeast marry later and are more likely to live together without marriage and less likely to become teenage mothers than are people in the South.

The bureau's analysis, based on a sample of more than three million households from the American Community Survey data of 2000-3, is the first to examine the data by state.

"There are marked regional differences, said Jane Dye, the bureau researcher who did the study, with Tallese Johnson.

Generally, men and women in the Northeast marry later than those in the Midwest, West or South. In New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Massachusetts, for example, the median age of first marriage is about 29 for men and 26 or 27 for women, about four years later than in Arkansas, Idaho, Kentucky, Oklahoma and Utah. And tracking the red state-blue state divide, those in California, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin follow the Northeast patterns, not those of their region.

Nationally, the age of first marriage has been rising since 1970. But because this is the first state-by-state analysis the Census Bureau has done, the authors of the study said, it is impossible to say whether the early-marrying states are moving in the same direction, and at the same pace, as the later-marrying ones.

"With the trend to later marriage, we were interested to find out if people were living alone longer, or living with a partner and then marrying later," Ms. Dye said. "We did find that in the states where people marry later, there is a higher proportion of unmarried-couple households. So it may be that people join in couples at the same time, but just marry later."

Generally, the study found, states in the Northeast and the West had a higher percentage of unmarried-partner households than those in the South, In Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, unmarried couples made up more than 7 percent of all coupled households, about the twice the proportion of such households in Alabama, Arkansas and Mississippi.

On teenage births, the same differences become clear. In New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts, about 5 percent of babies are born to teenage mothers, while in Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, New Mexico, South Carolina, Texas and Wyoming, 10 percent or more of all births are to teenage mothers.

The study also found that the percentage of births to unmarried mothers was highest in the South.

The new study also confirms just how big and how uneven a presence immigrants have become in American society.

Over all, it found, 15 percent of the women who had given birth in the United States in the previous year were not citizens. But immigrant presence, too, is very much a regional phenomenon. So while noncitizens made up a third of the new mothers in California, and more than 20 percent in Arizona, Nevada, New Jersey and Texas, there were a dozen states where less than 4 percent of the new mothers were not citizens.

Similarly, while 21 percent of all women who gave birth in California in the last year and 14 percent in Arizona, Nevada and Texas either did not speak English well or did not speak it at all, there were 14 states where less than 2 percent of the new mothers had limited English skills or none.

The researchers said that they had looked for evidence that immigrant mothers were poorer than others but that they had not found any.

"One thing that was interesting to us is that we didn't find a correlation between language and citizenship and poverty status," Ms. Dye said.