Marital Status in the United States

In Census 2000, the following question appears for Marital Status:

What is this person's marital status?

Now married
Never married

According to the census results, out of 221.1 million people aged 15 and over in the United States in 2000, 

Now the fact of the matter is that marital status defined in this manner is more of legalistic interest than social interest.  It has plenty to do with what is documented on certain pieces of paper than to do with reality.  We will refer to a couple of oddities that can be found by asking some related questions in addition to the usual marital status.  Our data will come from the 2004 MARS study.  This is a mail survey of 21,054 adults (persons 18 years or older) in the United States.  

With the MARS study, there is an additional and separate question: "Are you currently living with unmarried/domestic partner?"  Since 1997, the National Center for Health Statistics has included an extra category "living with partner" (also known as "cohabiting") defined as "people who are not married but living together regardless of gender".  The NCHS considers this to be a part of the mutually exclusive and exhaustive categorization in their definition of marital status.  The MARS question is not part of the definition of marital status.  This creates some interesting intersections.

Overall, 9.2% of the MARS respondents described themselves as "currently living with unmarried/domestic partner."  The most interesting aspect is the incidences by the previously recorded marital status in the next chart.

(source: 2004 MARS)

The highest incidence of cohabitation occur for 'divorced' people, perhaps because of the 'once bitten, twice shy" syndrome.  The second highest incidence occur for 'single (never married)' people, and it is also higher than average for 'separated people.  But the surprise is that the incidence is NOT zero among 'married' people.  This points to the legalistic nature of the traditional definition of marital status, which may be different from actual lifestyles.  Thus, we have people who are still formally classified as 'married' according to the marriage license, but who are neither divorced, separated nor widowed and who are actually living with someone else other than the spouse.  Presently, the United States is a free and liberal society in which open adultery is not punishable by, say, death by stoning or some such.

The next issue that we wish to address here is pregnancy rates.  Within the MARS study, there were 4,956 women between the ages of 18 to 40, of which 3.2% said that they are presently pregnant.  We are interested in the incidences by martial status.  We also have the separate catgegory of 'currently living with unmarried/domestic partner.'  In addition, there is another question which is also independent of marital status: "Are you currently engaged?"  The incidences are shown in the following chart:

(source: 2004 MARS)

While pregnancy rate is high among married women, it is even higher among those who are currently engaged.  Is this the proverbial 'shotgun wedding'?

(posted by Roland Soong, 5/29/2004)

(Return to Zona Latina's Home Page)