Thursday, November 8, 2012

Why do Marriages Last Better In New Jersey?

In the October 14th edition of The New York Times, I found an article in the wedding section with some interesting demographic data about staying married. Recently, the Census Bureau released its 2011 American Community survey, showing New Jersey ranking last among the states for its percentage of residents age 18 and older who are divorced.

A different study by Philip Cohen, a professor of sociology at the University of Maryland looked at the states with the lowest of divorces the previous year compared with their populations, finding these states to be Delaware, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and North Dakota. All of these states had rates of divorce about 6-7% per 1,000 people, compared to 31 states that have above a 10% rate.

The Director of the National Center for Family and Marriage Research at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, Susan Brown, suggests that the data about less divorce in New Jersey has a lot to do with the demographic trends for first marriage there. Long-term marriages are more likely when couples marry later, have a higher level of education, and are more financially stable. In New Jersey, it seems that more people are delaying marriage until they are more ready for it and have fewer risk factors for divorce.

According to American Community’s 2011 survey, 23% of Americans married that year were between 18 and 24 years old. In New Jersey, only 13% of newlyweds were that young. The same survey found that of people 31% of Americans married in 2011 had a bachelor's degree or higher education. In New Jersey, this figure was 42%.

Public Policy professor Andrew Cherlin from Johns Hopkins notes that the divorce rates tend to be lower in the northeastern states because of this trend to marry later and at a higher educational level.

Recessions tend to have a mixed effect on the rates of divorce. While job loss, unemployment, bankruptcy, foreclosure and other economic instability are bad stress for couples, it may be that some couples do not separate or divorce because they cannot afford the additional expense of setting up and maintaining two households, plus legal costs.

Other writers wonder if other factors make divorce in New Jersey less likely. There are many foreign-born residents, which may reduce divorce rates. Unemployment is not as high in New Jersey as some other states. Perhaps the stress and impact of Hurricane Sandy will impact the next set of divorce statistics. Some question whether married people in New Jersey have a lower happiness set-point than those in other areas, or if they are settling.

At the very least, these national statistics about trends in marriage and divorce give us an interesting dialogue about that factors that make splitting up less likely. For my own daughters, and all the young people I work with in counseling, I still hope you will take your time. Don't partner too early. Finish your education and get financially stable on your own if possible before taking on the huge commitments of marriage and family. Be sure to get some pre-marital counseling so you know how you will deal with decisions, religion, parenting, finances, family, and sex.

Your core self isn't truly developed until close to age 30, so if you marry before then, it's anybody's guess if you will still be a fit with your partner later on. Give yourself the best chance at marital happiness and success that you can, because there are plenty of challenges you can't control in life. 

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