Kansans marry — and divorce — more than national average

TOPEKA — Kansans are getting married and divorcing at a higher rate than the national average, according to a new analysis by the Census Bureau.

Nationally, an average of 19.1 out of every 1,000 men got married in 2009, the Census analysis shows. In Kansas, 22.1 men per 1,000 tied the knot. Meanwhile, women averaged 17.6 marriages per 1,000 nationally. But in Kansas, 20.8 women got married per 1,000.

For divorces, the Kansas rate is also higher. Nationwide, 9.2 out of every 1,000 men divorced. In Kansas, 10.6 per 1,000 divorced. An average of 9.7 out of every 1,000 women nationwide officially ended their marriages compared with 10.2 per 1,000 in Kansas.

The Census says men have higher marriage rates because they tend to remarry more than women.

The new data comes as Gov. Sam Brownback and Social and Rehabilitation Services Secretary Rob Siedlecki begin their initiative to help foster healthier marriages. Brownback recently applied for a $6.6 million grant from the Obama administration to promote marriage among unwed parents as part of an effort to reduce child poverty.

In an editorial board meeting with The Eagle on Aug. 16, Siedlecki said he wants to promote healthy marriages among unwed parents through voluntary counseling. But he acknowledged that some marriages just won't work.

"Not everybody will be successful at this," he said. "Not all marriages succeed.

"Like I said, I'm divorced. I tried to save it. It didn't work. But for some couples, they could do it."

He said most unwed parents intend to get married when they have a baby, but many don't. But if the couple gets the proper skills and has insight into maintaining a marriage, more would likely stay together.

Above-average marriage and divorce rates in Kansas likely stem from many factors, said Mike Duxler, associate professor of social work at Newman University. He is co-founder of the Kansas Healthy Marriage Institute and project manager of Catholic Charities' Marriage for Keeps.

Education, the economy and culture all play roles, he said.

Education, for example, tends to lead to better financial situations and a stronger understanding of how working through problems will pay off over time.

"The danger, I think, is isolating and reducing and simplifying this very complicated issue," he said.

Duxler said divorce rates tell a much more difficult story.

"Along with those numbers is a heck of a lot of heartbreak, families breaking up, children being affected," he said. "It's not just a statistic. This is really about a lot of people doing a lot of struggling around here."

An Associated Press story about the new Census report noted that men and women are now joining in wedlock later and across a greater range of ages.

As a whole, since 1970, the median age at first marriage increased from 22.5 years to 28.4 for men and from 20.6 years to 26.5 for women.

Marriages are now at a record low, with just 52 percent of adults 18 and over saying they were joined in wedlock, compared with 57 percent in 2000, according to census data released last September. The never-married included 46.3 percent of young adults 25-34 — the first time the share of never-married young adults exceeded those who were married, 44.9 percent, with the rest being divorced or widowed.

Marriages have been declining for years due to rising divorce, more unmarried couples living together and increased job prospects for women. But analysts say younger people also may now be increasingly choosing to delay marriage as they struggle to find work and resist making long-term commitments in the recent recession.