Many couples today choose to live together prior to getting married, after which the majority of people do get married. In 2021, almost half of all North Carolinians ages 16 or older were currently married, on par with the nation. (This percentage has been steadily decreasing. North Carolina’s currently married population peaked in 1960 – when almost 70% of adults 16 and older in North Carolina were married. That’s the highest percentage since (the Decennial Census started reporting marital status in 1880).
In 2021, sixty-eight percent of the population 16 and older had been married at least once, slightly higher than the national average (67%).
In 2020, the most recent year of data, 53,170 marriages took place in North Carolina. The number of marriages in 2020 was 18% lower than in 2019, likely due to the pandemic
In this blog post we examine trends and characteristics of marriage among adults in North Carolina. We focus on the population 16 years and older because as of 2021, age 16 is the legal minimum age to marry in North Carolina with parental consent.
In 2021, 4,200,310 adults 16 years old and older in North Carolina were married. Union , Camden , and Currituck Counties had the highest shares of married couple households according to the 2020 Decennial Census, where 60% or more households were married couple households. In 45 counties, the shares of married couple households were smaller than in the state overall with the lowest shares in Edgecombe County (35%), Halifax County (35%), Scotland County (36%), and Hertford County (36%).
Out of adults currently married in 2021, 33,543 were in same-sex marriages (0.85% of the total married population ages 16 and up). (This number is likely higher because the American Community Survey only asks one person in each household, the head of the household, about their relationship to the household members and it is only possible to know if this person is married to someone of the same sex.)
In the 2020 decennial census, only Buncombe County and Durham County had shares of same-sex married couple households (out of all married couple households) larger than 2% (2.5% and 2.4%, respectively). The smallest shares of married same-sex couples were in Pamlico County (0.2%) and Perquimans County, Camden County and Northampton County (all at 0.3%). In 2020, only 19 counties had shares of same-sex married couple households of 1% or higher.
According to analyses by the U.S. Census Bureau, in North Carolina the median age at first marriage in 2021 was 27.7 years old for women and 30.1 years old for men. The median age at first marriage in North Carolina was lower than nationally: in 2021, the median age at first marriage for women in the U.S. was 28.6 years old and the median age at first marriage for men in the U.S. was 30.6 years old.
Those ages 55 to 74 had the highest share of currently married adults in 2021 with 63%, closely followed by those ages 35 to 54 (61%.) The lowest share of currently married adults, 7%, was among those ages 16 to 24. At ages 75 and older, 96% of North Carolinians had ever been married. Among those, 35% were widowed. Eighty-one percent of widowed adults 75 years old and older were women, reflecting the longer life expectancy of women as compared to men. Women also made up the majority of adults ages 75 and older who were currently divorced (71%.)
Among North Carolina adults (ages 16 and older), Asian Americans were most likely to be currently married (64%) followed by White, non-Hispanic, adults (56%.) The lowest share of currently married was among Black, non-Hispanic adults. In 2021, Black, non-Hispanic, adults were also the most likely to be divorced (12%) and to never have been married (43%). Adults who were Hispanic were the most likely to be cohabiting (10%).
In 2021, marriage was more common among those with higher levels of education.
In 2021, 27% of ever married adults had been married more than once with 6% having been married three times or more. Remarriage was slightly more common among men (27.1%) than women (26.4%). Remarriage was most common among adults ages 55-74 with 36% of ever married adults having been married more than once.
Thirty-five percent of married adults in 2021 had at least one (own) child living with them who was younger than 18 years old. Among married adults with at least one child under 18, the average number of children was 1.91.
Marriage is not necessarily the cause but married adults fare better than their unmarried counterparts. For example, married adults have, in general, better physical and financial health than unmarried adults. Married adults also report higher levels of trust and satisfaction in their relationships than cohabiting adults. Finally, a clear material implication is that married partners benefit from a range of federal and state policies and protections to which cohabiting partners do not have access.
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