Understanding the Geographic Perceptions of Divorce

  • The Bible belt has a lot to do with geographic perceptions of divorce.
  • Despite preconceived notions, divorce rates in the Bible belt are high.
  • The rest of the country's geographic perceptions of divorce don't always

"Seeing the cultural perception of divorce in a variety of states can help us understand one another better, in how we communicate and relate to one another."

Divorce has always been a fairly taboo subject in society. The idea that two people who pledge to love and honor one each other could ever split can be Earth-shattering to some sects of society. Depending on what part of the United States, or even the world, you might find yourself in, the perception of divorce can vary. Seeing the cultural perception of divorce in a variety of states can help us understand one another better, in how we communicate and relate to one another.

Lack of commonality

The statistics regarding divorce in the United States have been well-documented. The divorce rate was 16.9 divorces per 1,000 married women in 2015, down from a divorce rate of 17.6 in 2014, according to the National Center for Family and Marriage Research at Bowling Green State University.

The more interesting breakdown had to do with divorce rates in each state. The top five areas with the highest divorce rates are Washington D.C., Wyoming, Nevada, Arkansas, and Alaska. The reason why they’re so interesting is that none of them are geographically-similar. Washington D.C. is on the east coast. Wyoming is in the midwest. Nevada is in the southwest. Arkansas is below the bible-belt, and Alaska is in the far north.

The lack of geographical commonality is only shocking when you consider the perception of divorce traditionally correlates with its role as ending a marriage, widely considered a sacred act. This perception of sacredness usually implies religiousness, and the Bible belt is perceived to be the place where religion is most valued.

Breaking down the Bible belt

The bible belt is considered to be made up of south-central and southeastern states and is perceived to promote more socially and politically conservative action in their laws and customs. It is perceived to stem from the prominent role that evangelical Protestantism and Christianity have in their society and in the political leaders in office.

Due to the prominence of religion and religious teachings in the area, many perceive divorce rates to be lower in the Bible belt, when in fact, that is simply not true. According to a 2009 report from the U.S. Census Bureau, the divorce rates of southern men (10.2 per 1,000) and women (11.1 per 1,000) were higher than any of their counterparts in the country. Comparatively, the northeast experienced the lowest rates of divorce in 2009, with 7.2 for men (per 1,000) and 7.5 for women (per 1,000). That correlates with recent data that shows that Rhode Island (-34.0), Delaware (-30.3), and Maine (-29.7) had the greatest divorce rate percentage decreases from 2014 to 2015.

Research at the PewResearch Center adds to the claim regarding religion’s impact on marriage and divorce numbers. In their survey results regarding the state of marriages and divorces, they found that religiousness was expressed as the proportion of a state’s residents who said that religion was very important in their lives. After an analysis of the results, however, it showed that there was not a strong association between a state’s religiousness and its marriage or divorce patterns.

Additional research at the PewResearch Center has a variety of suggestions as to why many Bible belt states are so reliant on marriage, facilitating the inflation of their divorce numbers.

One of them relates to age. According to the research, half of the first-time brides and grooms of Arkansas and Oklahoma were age 24 or younger on their wedding day and are above average in women who divorced in 2007-08. In Texas, more people are married for the third time or higher more than any other state. In fact, six percent of Texans who have ever been married have wed three or more times.

All of this data suggests that the religiousness of an area does not necessarily correlate to its divorce rate. Regardless of how socially taboo or religiously frowned upon the institution might be, divorce is not happening any less in these regions. In fact, the data suggests prevalence of divorce is creating more marriages in the Bible belt, due to first marriages being at young ages and the willingness to get remarried.

East, West, and everything in the middle

Other areas of the country vary depending on gender. In 2009, divorce rates for men in the northeastern states of Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania were significantly below the average of 10.2 per 1,000, ranging from 6.1 to 8.5 per 1,000.

Andrew J. Cherlin, a sociologist from Johns Hopkins University, speculates in his book “The Marriage-Go-Round,” that divorce rates are “…significantly higher in Florida and the west coast, where the population is rich with transplants than in the upper Midwest states like Minnesota and North Dakota, where people tend to stay put.”

His theory lines up with Florida, Washington and Oregon, but the numbers for California are almost identical to Minnesota, lending itself to the theory that while these places may attract people from other states, it doesn’t always translate into divorces.

The research suggests that divorce data does not necessarily influence geographical perception of divorce. However, geography and the religiousness of a region runs parallel with the higher divorce rates, indicating a trend that speaks more to the young ages that first-time brides and grooms are, as well as the willingness to get married three or more times.

This data gives us, as a society, the opportunity to look at the trends of the time, regarding marriage and divorce, but trends do not necessarily speak to everyone’s individual relationship or even multiple relationships in a given area. You could be facing a divorce in an area not known for high divorce rates. Conversely, you could be getting married at a young age on the east coast.

These statistics and demographics are tools to learn, in order to better understand marriages and divorces as a whole, not to blindly follow or to continue the cultivation of a geographic perception of marriage or divorce.

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