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The importance of marriage surveys

Questions about people’s marital status could be cut from an annual survey in the United States, despite opposition from family groups.

Five questions which are currently part of the American Community Survey (ACS) are facing removal. These ask whether the respondent has married, divorced, or been widowed in the last year, how many marriages they have had and when the most recent one took place.

The ACS is an annual survey commissioned by the US government, asking questions on subjects including race, gender, health, employment and the cost of living. The data it collects helps to determine how federal money is spent.

Officials from the US Census Bureau justified the proposed changes to the survey by claiming there should be “compelling justification” for the government to ask people about their marriages. Several research groups which focus on family matters argue that there is such justification.

The National Center for Family & Marriage Research (NCFMR) claim that without the five marriage questions, the United States will be “the only country in the developed world that does not generate annual age-specific rates of marriage and divorce” as no other survey collects such data.

The marriage questions in the ACS have revealed several important statistics since its inception, the NCFMR asserts. In 2013, for example, there were around twice as many marriages as there were divorces in the US. However, since the recent recession, the marriage rate has gone down and not returned. The divorce rate, on the other hand, has returned to the level it was before the recession began.

Last year, nearly one in three people who married in the US were not doing so for the first time. Additionally, men have a remarriage rate almost 100 per cent higher than that of women. Without the ACS, these statistics would not have been found, the NCFMR contends, as “no other data provides estimates of remarriage by age, gender, or race/ethnicity”.

People were able to submit comments about the Census Bureau’s proposal to drop the questions until 30 December. There were reportedly over 800 comments submitted, but the Bureau declined to say whether they were supportive or opposed to the changes.

The blog team at Stowe is a group of writers based across our family law offices who share their advice on the wellbeing and emotional aspects of divorce or separation from personal experience. As well as pieces from our family law solicitors, guest contributors also regularly contribute to share their knowledge.

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