DES MOINES, Iowa --- Iowans had a higher rate of divorce and marriage than their peers in the Midwest and in the United States as a whole, data released today by the U.S. Census shows.
The census report tracked marriage and divorce from all 50 states for a year to draw conclusions about the institution of marriage as a whole.
Overall, both marriage and divorce were more common in the southern United States and less common in northeastern states, according to the bureau's Marital Events of Americans report.
The findings aren't surprising to Iowa State University sociologist Susan Stewart, who specializes in family demographics and statistical analysis of household changes over time.
"Marrying at a younger age is more common in more traditional areas of the country," said Stewart, who includes the Midwest and South in that category. "Marrying young is one of the indicators of divorce; it's not the only one, but there is a relationship."
Stewart said the marriage and divorce data should be expanded beyond a single year --- the figures the bureau released in its report were for 2009 only --- to draw reliable conclusions. But she said the pattern fits into the overall patterns that have been established by other sources.
"Demographers like to have at least three years of data to look at," Stewart said. For example, she said, a single year might not show a pattern of contributing factors. She said marriage and divorce rates are down overall nationwide, and it's not only because more people are co-habitating.
"Marriage and divorce are expensive," she said. "Marriage and divorce rates fell during the Depression, too."
Another contributing factor is that 2009 was the first year that same-sex marriage was allowed in Iowa, resulting in an initial influx of marriage ceremonies, including many from out of state.
According to the data, the marriage rate for Iowa males over 15 years of age in 2009 was 21.5 per 1,000. In the Midwest that rate was 18 per 1,000, and in the United States as a whole the rate was 19.1. The Illinois rate was 17.9. Divorce rates in the same categories were 10.2 per 1,000 in Iowa, 8.0 in Illinois, 9.1 per 1,000 in the Midwest and 9.2 in the nation.
Marriage rates for Iowa women were 21.5 per 1,000 in Iowa, 16.3 in Illinois, 17.1 in the Midwest and 17.6 in the U.S. Divorce rates were 10.8 in Iowa, 8.0 in Illinois, 9.2 in the Midwest and 9.7 in the United States.
"We'd love to have a divorce rate of zero," said Bob Vander Plaats, president and CEO of the Family Leader, a social conservative group best known for its efforts to mobilize Iowans against same-sex marriage and pushing Republican hopefuls for the presidential nomination to sign a 14-point marriage pledge.
Same-sex marriage was legalized in Iowa with a Supreme Court decision on April 3, 2009, and the first same-sex marriage licenses were issued that month. The census data does not differentiate between same-sex and opposite-sex marriage in the report released today.
Vander Plaats said the marriage issues have overshadowed divorce in the public conversation, although he views divorce as part of a larger "breakdown of traditional marriage." His organization offers marriage counseling and marriage preparedness classes.
"I wouldn't say (divorce) is accepted," Vander Plaats said. "But I can tell you that growing up in Sheldon, Iowa, if somebody was divorced, the whole community knew. I don't know if that's still the case today."