Southerners really do get married younger — but not as dramatically as you’d think

Southerners really do get married younger — but not as dramatically as you’d think
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I’m quickly reaching the stage of my life where I’m scrambling for extra magnets and trying to find a space on the refrigerator for all of the wedding invitations. At almost 25, this phase wasn’t entirely unexpected, but it did hit faster than I thought it would.

I spent my childhood in South Carolina, teenage years in New Jersey, college years at a small liberal arts school in Virginia and, now, my early and mid-twenties in North Carolina.

So, with friends and family still in each region, I’m seeing the full gamut of marriage patterns: Some friends are moving in with and getting married to their significant other just out of school. Some are just moving in and skipping the marriage part. And others are coming up on a multi-year anniversary with no plans for a ring in sight — but there might be a dog in the mix.

I recently attended the wedding of a high school friend and was astounded to learn that, at this small five year reunion, I was one of last ones from my core group of high school girlfriends without a boyfriend, ring or plans for either.

I brought this up with a college friend, and she had the same experience – only she chalked it up to a difference in Southern and Northern culture.

Names have been removed to protect the innocent.

I wasn’t standing for this. It’s 2017 – surely we’re past the stereotype of the MRS degrees that Southern women are so known for.

But what if there was something to it?

According to the Population Reference Bureau, there is. The marriage rates, or marriages per 1,000 people, in both regions were higher in Southern states than it was Northern, with averages of 18.51 and 14.84, respectively.

So we’re getting married more frequently. But are we doing it sooner, and is there something to waiting?

The Agenda looked at numbers from five Southern states (North and South Carolina, Georgia, Virginia and Alabama) and compared that data to five Northern states (New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania) between the years of 2010 and 2014 for 3 more key elements for both regions:

  • Median age of first marriage
  • Divorce rate
  • Percentage of men and women who never married

What we found was that while Southerners do tend to marry earlier than their Northern counterparts, it’s not by as large a margin as the stereotypes suggest.

Men and women in the South are getting married at an average age of 28.6 and 26.7, respectively. North Carolina is home to the youngest married men, at 28.5, while Alabama’s women were marrying first, at 26.1.

This trails the Northeast’s pattern, though just barely: Men are marrying at the average age of 30.3, with women following at 28.7.

Pennsylvania saw both its men and women get married first, at 29.7 and 28, respectively.

Nationally, the regions’ averages fall in the middle: Men are 29.5 and women are 27.6 when they first get married.

When it comes to not marrying at all, the South lags behind as well, but still comes close, with an average of 32.4% of people over the age of 15 never taking that trip down the aisle, compared to 34.9% in the North.

winnie couture wedding dress

My next question was this: Is there something to waiting, the way my Northern friends keep mentioning?

By this, I also mean, “Does my mother have a point when she says that my friends are too young to get married?” Will I really, after the wave of marriages dies down, be hit with another, but this time of divorces?

If I stay in the South, I might.

Data from the five Southern states show an average divorce rate of 9.11 per every 1,000 marriages, compared to just 6.75 in the Northern states.

Don’t panic, though. According to recent data, divorce in Charlotte itself is at the lowest its been since 1998, with the number of marriages increasing each year.

Cover photo by Hayley Lawrence

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