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Marriage & Divorce

Highlights

There were 178,751 marriages reported to the Texas Bureau of Vital Statistics (BVS) in 2003, a decrease of 3,239 compared to 2002 in which there were 181,990 marriages reported. The crude marriage rate decreased from 8.4 marriages per 1,000 residents in 2002 to 8.1 in 2003.

The number of divorces reported to BVS also decreased to 84,316 in 2003 from 85,394 in the previous year. The crude divorce rate of 3.8 divorces per 1,000 residents is slightly lower than the rate of 3.9 divorces per 1,000 residents that was reported in 2002.

Marriage Trends: 1970-2003

In 2003, 178,751 marriages were reported to BVS. This number is down 1.8 percent from the 181,990 marriages reported in 2002. From 1992 to 2003 the number of marriages held fairly steady. The number of marriages reached an all-time high of 210,978 in 1984, after climbing steadily from 152,162 in 1973. After the peak, the number of marriages consistently declined until 1989 when there were 170,964 marriages, the lowest level observed in the 1980's. This downward trend stopped with the 1990 increase to 178,613 marriages.

The 2003 crude marriage rate has decreased again to 8.1 marriages per 1,000 people residing in Texas, and it is too soon to say if this will become a trend. The 1998 data, which were under-enumerated, yielded a crude marriage rate of 8.4 that was the second lowest ever recorded since reporting of marriages to the Bureau of Vital Statistics began in 1968. In 1981, the crude marriage rate was 13.2, the highest level ever recorded. Since 1981, the marriage rate has been generally decreasing.

Many factors may have combined to produce the downward trend in crude marriage rates recorded in Texas since 1981. One very important factor is change in age structure of the population. If a population has a high percentage of young people in their early twenties, the prime marrying years, a higher crude marriage rate can be expected. If the proportion of people in this age group declines, so too will the marriage rate. In 1981, 9.6% of the Texas population was age 20-24; by 1989 this figure had fallen to 7.9% and to 7.7% in 2003.

Another factor is the trend toward postponement of marriage. In 1970, 40% of the women getting married were 15 to 19 years of age. This percentage has consistently decreased. In 2003, only 8.5% of women getting married were 15 to 19 years of age. The percentage of women 20 to 24 getting married between 1970 and 2003 also dropped, but only by 5.3%. However, the percentage of women aged 25 to 29 increased from 9.0% in 1970 to 21.1% in 2003. The figures for men followed the same trend. The difference being that for men the dramatic decrease was for ages 20 to 24, and the dramatic increase was for ages 30 to 34. This trend further indicates a major change in social behavior.

According to recent research, many young adults are opting to cohabitate prior to, or rather than, getting married. This is a trend that has continually risen in recent years. As more adults choose to begin their relationships with cohabitation, the marriage rates are likely to continue to drop. This trend has been documented by numerous demographers in recent years. According to a study published in 2000:

"Between 1960 and 1990, the percent of never-married women ages 25-29 tripled from 10% to 30%...Despite this delay in marriage, young people continue to set up households with the opposite sex. In fact, most of the decline in proportions married by age 25 in the past few decades is offset by entry into cohabitation. Today, there are more than 4 million cohabiting couples in the United States, which is about 8 times the number of couples cohabitating in 1970."1

In 2003, females continued to get married at an earlier age than males, with an average age difference of 2.4 years. Although the number of males (81,617) and females (86,313) getting married between the ages of 20 and 29 was approximately equal, a gender difference in younger members of the cohort (all people married in a given time period) was even more clearly shown. Females under age 20 made up 8.5% of marriages in 2003, whereas males under 20 made up 3.2%.

Marriages & Marriage Rates

Divorce Trends: 1970-2003

There were 84,316 divorces reported to the Bureau of Vital Statistics in 2003, a decrease of 1.3% from the 85,394 divorces reported for 2002. Since 1970, the first year of reliable reporting, the number of Texas divorces rose consistently and rapidly until a peak was reached in 1981 with 101,856 divorces. This was nearly twice the number of divorces (51,530) reported for 1970. Since 1982, the annual number of divorces has remained below the 1981 high mark.

Crude divorce rates have followed the same pattern as the divorce numbers. Rates rose steadily from 1973 to 1981, although not as rapidly as the number of divorces. After 1981, the divorce rate fell consistently through 1989, rose again until 1992, and has continued to decline since that year. The crude divorce rate for 2003 was 3.8 per 1,000 residents.

For men, the majority (46.9 percent) of divorces occurred in the 30-44 age group, while for women the majority (47.5 percent) were in the 25-39 age group. In 2003, 45.2 percent of divorced males were between 25 and 39 years of age, and women in the same age group made up 47.5 percent of divorced females. Teenage men represented 0.2 percent and teenage women 0.8 percent of people divorced in Texas in 2003.

Divorces & Divorce Rates

Divorce/Marriage Ratio

The Bureau of Vital Statistics' statisticians are often asked the following question, "The number of divorces last year was just about half the number of marriages. Does that mean that one half of last years marriages will end in divorce?" The answer is no. The divorce/marriage ratio for a particular year tells us almost nothing about what will transpire during the lifespan of the members of that year's marriage cohort (all people married in a given time period). The available data are not sufficient to develop statistical predictions for the future of a recent marriage cohort.

Children Affected by Divorce

Divorce affected the lives of 67,085 children under 18 in 2003. One measure commonly used to document the involvement of children in divorce is the average number of children per divorce decree. For Texas, the 2003 average was 0.8 children per divorce. However, this figure can be misleading. It tends to leave the impression that almost all divorces involve children. The raw numbers tell a different story. More than half (53.0%) of all 2003 divorces for which the number of children was known, involved no children. Slightly less than one quarter (22.8%) of the divorces affected one child only. The remaining 24.2% of 2003 divorces involved two or more children.


1. Brown, Susan L. "Union Transitions Among Cohabitors: The Significance of Relationship Assessments and Expectations." Journal of Marriage and the Family. 62 (August 2000): 833-846.

Last updated May 07, 2010