Other people’s marriages

Does same-sex marriage have any effect on wider social measures of family intactness? As the institution becomes more familiar — yesterday the GOP-run New Hampshire legislature declined 116-211 to repeal that state’s law — experience continues to suggest that there isn’t really a measurable effect: U.S. states such as Massachusetts and Iowa that recognize same-sex marriage boast some of the nation’s lowest rates of divorce and unwed childbearing, but that was also true before their law changed. I explain in a new post at Cato geared toward the current debate in Maryland.


  • States with low Marriage rates will naturally have low divorce rates. People often spout off about the latter as if it’s a good thing, without considering whether the former is also a good thing.

  • It’s true, most of my friends in Massachusetts have had only one marriage apiece, and I’m pretty sure there are many places around the country where people outdo that.

  • Divorce rates are calculated independently of Marriage rates. Both are per 1000 persons, married or not. It stands to reason that a state with fewer marriages taking place will have less people filing for divorce.

  • Had anyone argued otherwise? In fact a higher marriage rate can arise from many factors, some with favorable implications for family cohesiveness (a tendency to choose marriage over cohabitation), some with unfavorable (states with high divorce rates will also tend to have higher marriage rates since there will be plenty of remarriages). Beyond that, some states with high marriage rates have job markets that attract many persons of marriageable age, and some are wedding destinations like Nevada and Hawaii.

    In point of fact, the factual premise of subnormal marriage rates in SSM states turns out to be faulty. Per CDC the national marriage rate is 6.8 per 1,000, a figure that would drop a bit if one took an average that excluded tourism states like Nevada (38.3) and Hawaii (17.6). The marriage rate for SSM jurisdictions is: MA 5.6, VT 9.3, CT 5.6, NH 7.3, IA 6.9, NY 6.5, DC 7.6. “No clear trend” is probably the fairest reading.

  • “a figure that would drop a bit if one took an average that excluded tourism states like Nevada (38.3) and Hawaii (17.6)”

    Is it your position that people who travel to Nevada and Hawaii to get married would not marry if they stayed home? If not, can I get to pick states to ec=xcludem too?

  • No, my position is precisely that they all *would* marry at home if Vegas and Waikiki weren’t options, which means one should either adjust the figures for the other 48 states upward a bit (to reflect the actual rate at which those states’ citizens are getting married) or compare non-tourist states with averages drawn on other non-tourist states the better to compare apples with apples.