According to a recent Pew Research study, the District of Columbia has the lowest marriage rate in the country. Only 23 percent of women and 28 percent of men and in D.C. are married, compared to 48 and 52 percent nationwide. The rates in D.C. are so low that they lie entirely off the Pew map’s color key. The closest states to D.C.’s numbers are Rhode Island, where 43 percent of women are married, and Alaska, where 47 percent of men are married.
Why aren’t D.C. residents getting hitched?
The Pew poll offers up one possibly related figure: residents of D.C. get married significantly later in life than do the residents of the 50 states. In D.C., the median age at first marriage is 30 for women and 32 for men. In contrast, the median age for a first marriage in the state of Idaho is 24 for women and 25 for men.
Additionally, marriage rates are generally lower in urban areas than they are in rural areas. A quick review of the Pew map shows that states like Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, and the Dakotas have the highest concentration of married couples, whereas the states which host the nation’s biggest cities—-like New York and California—-generally have a lower percentage of married people. D.C., which is all city, all the time, would clearly trend toward singledom.
But the District also has another demographic issue working against high marriage rates. In the 2000 “gay census,” the District of Columbia ranked first in the nation for its percentage of same-sex couples. Same-sex couples, of course, cannot currently be married in D.C., and their out-of-state marriages became recognized in the District only recently.
If D.C.’s gay marriage bill is successful, it won’t just ensure equality for all. It will also, strangely enough, make D.C. look a lot better in the eyes of conservative defenders of traditional marriage. When those people glance at a report on the strength of marriage in this country, they probably think that us heathens in the District of Columbia are singlehandedly rejecting the institution. But in a couple years, D.C. may appear significantly more married. I’m not a big proponent of the institution myself, but I can appreciate the irony there: in D.C., at least, the tradition’s remaining relevance may just depend upon same-sex couples wanting to opt-in.