For Better, For Worse

Do We Say "I Do" Too Often?

Posted Sep 20, 2015

Press photo from "The Sandpiper" Public domain/Wikipedia Commons
Source: Press photo from "The Sandpiper" Public domain/Wikipedia Commons

We in California have a reputation for being swingers, due in part to Hollywood and movie stars like Elizabeth Taylor. In reply to a reporter's question about whether she respected the institution of marriage, she said she respected it so much that she had said "I do" to seven husbands. And to one of them, Richard Burton, she had said it twice.

That was then; this is now. A new survey by the U.S. Census Bureau suggests that times have changed in the Golden State. Only 21 percent of us remarry following a divorce or the death of a spouse, compared with much higher rates in other states. How can that be? If anyone knows the value of marriage––married people live longer, and love can really be lovelier the second time around, as the old song goes––it should be Californians. Well, actually, some of us do, according to the survey. 

Up in Redding, for example, the remarriage rate is roughly 35%, while down in Los Angeles it's only half that much. Not to disparage Redding, but it can't be that folks there are more romantic than they are in L.A., can it? 

To be fair, many factors contribute to the marriage and divorce rates in any given community. One is that young people everywhere are marrying later than they did in earlier days. The median age for first marriage, as noted in the survey, is 29 for men and 27 for women, which is two years higher than it was in the mid-1990's. (And a lot higher than it was in the mid-1950's, when any girl who wasn't married by the age of 21 was on her way to becoming an Old Maid!  I narrowly avoided that dreaded moniker by marrying at age 20.)  

Another factor––and a very big one––in the marriage and divorce rate in this country is the baby boomer population. They seem to be marrying, divorcing, and remarrying far more than either the generation before or after theirs. In other words, more than their parents or their kids.

Then there are the geographical differences in remarriage, from state to state. Arkansas leads the pack there, not only in second marriages, but in third as well, with about 35% of the population of ever-married people making at least one more trip to the altar. We might speculate that's because folks marry younger in rural areas. The Northeastern states had lower remarriage rates than Southern states, on the whole. (Warmer weather, warmer hearts, perhaps?)

But back to California, where the remarriage rates were similar to those in New York and Massachusetts, with about 21% of the population remarrying. And that makes us the lowest rate in the West, incidentally. 

So far, so good, but I am left wondering about the never-marrieds, which this particular Census Bureau survey does not include. Many people today (even in Hollywood, or should I say especially in Hollywood?) are not saying "I do" at all. Not even once.