North Carolina: State of Our Unions

Half of North Carolina adults age 16 and older are currently married according to the 2012 American Community Survey. Another 5% are unmarried but living with a romantic partner; 366,000 are cohabiting with an opposite-sex partner, 37,200 with a same-sex partner.

Figure 1 shows marital status by age group. In the youngest group, ages 16 to 24, the vast majority (87%) are single/never married. The proportion of younger individuals who have never been married has risen steadily since 1950, when 61% of individuals in this age group were unmarried. These changes reflect delays in marriage due to growing opportunities for women and the increasing importance of postsecondary education.

In 2012, the median age at first marriage in North Carolina was 28.3 for men and 26.6 for women, slightly earlier than the median age at first marriage nationwide (29.1 and 27.1, respectively). The tendency to marry in mid- to late-twenties is reflected among North Carolina’s 25 to 34 year olds. In this group, more than half of individuals have been married at least once; 44% of these individuals are currently married and another 8% are separated or divorced. Cohabiting is most common in this age group (10.5%), consistent with broader trends in cohabitation as a precursor (or replacement) for marriage. A small subset of individuals in this age group who are currently cohabiting were married previously.

Figure 1. NC Marital Status by Age Group, 2012 ACS

Marital Status by AgeWhile the proportion of individuals who are currently married peaks in the 55 to 74 year old age group at 64%, the proportion of individuals who have ever been married rises steadily with age. By age 75 and older, 97% of North Carolina adults have been married at least once, including the vast majority (90%) of those who are currently cohabiting. Among older adults, nearly 44% are widowed; the vast majority (83%) of those in this age group who have lost a spouse are women, reflecting that women tend to live longer than men.

Twice is Nice, Third Time’s a Charm?

Seventy percent of North Carolina adults have been married at least once. Among these individuals, nearly three-quarters (73%) were married only once, another fifth (21%) have been married twice, and nearly 6% have been married three or more times.

Age is Nothing but a Number

The average age difference between spouses is 3.7 years. Unmarried partners tend to be closer in age, with an average age difference of 2.5 years.

Nearly 8% of North Carolina husbands and wives are more than 10 years apart.

Among married couples, the male is the older partner in 66% of couples.

Figure 2 shows the age difference between spouses by sex and age. A positive number indicates that, for that age and sex group, the average person is older than their spouse, while a negative number indicates the average person is younger than their spouse. As women age, the age difference between them and their husband narrows. Above age 80, the wife is, on average, slightly older than her husband, reflecting sex differences in life expectancy. In contrast, the average age gap between a husband and his wife steadily increases with husband’s age.

Figure 2. NC Age Difference between Spouses by Sex and Age, 2012 ACS

Age Difference between Spouses by Sex and AgeCelebrating Many Valentine’s Days

Among individuals who are currently married, the average number of years of marriage is 22.

On this Valentine’s Day, it’s worth noting that 7.2% of married couples – 276,000 North Carolina couples – have been married for 50 years or more.

Data used in this analysis were drawn from IPUMS-USA. Analysis was limited to North Carolina individuals ages 16 and older.

About Rebecca Tippett

Rebecca Tippett is Director of Carolina Demography at UNC-Chapel Hill's Carolina Population Center.
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