Relationship Status by Census Tract
“Some places attract young singles, whereas others attract married couples and families,” writes Nathan Yau on his data visualization blog, Flowing Data. This is something that I often discuss when I present to audiences around the state: places have age-specific migration profiles that reflect both the reasons why people are moving to a place, and the potential demands that they will have when they get there. Some places, like Mecklenburg County, have net migration profiles dominated by 25 to 29 year olds – these individuals are likely looking for work and less likely to be married. Union County, outside of Mecklenburg, on the other hand, tends to have a more classic family suburban profile, drawing many individuals (often from Mecklenburg) who are married with children.
Inspired by Yau’s nationwide look at “Relationship Status Geography” for every county in the United States, I used the 2009-2013 American Community Survey to look at relationship status for each of the state’s 2,195 census tracts. The maps below display the relative proportion of individuals age 15 and over by relationship status. Darker pink areas mean that the proportion of individuals of a given marital status is higher than the statewide average. Darker gray areas identify places that are lower than the statewide average.
Statewide, just about half (49.6%) of the population 15 and over is married. The median age at first marriage is 28.2 for men and 26.4 for women. Consequently, relatively older portions of the state, such as the mountains, the coast, and suburban areas have more married people. In three census tracts, 100% of the population 15 and older is married. One census tract is in Durham County, one in Onslow, and one is in Wake.
In contrast, relatively younger populations, particularly those currently enrolled in college, are much more likely to be never married. Just over 30% of North Carolinians of marriageable age have never been married. Census tracts near major universities, such as Western Carolina in Jackson County, Appalachian State University in Watauga County, and East Carolina University in Pitt County, have above average proportions of never married individuals. Similarly, there are high concentrations of never married individuals in urban centers and near Fort Bragg and Camp Lejeune.
Statewide, 100% of the population 15 and over is never married in only one census tract: tract 116.01 in Orange County, in the heart of UNC-Chapel Hill’s campus.
Nearly 11% of North Carolinians are currently divorced, about the same as the national rate (10.6% for NC vs. 10.8% for the U.S.). Nationwide, Yau notes that there is a divorce belt running through the middle of the country, where the counties have, on average, a higher share of divorced individuals. There are no clear geographic patterns to divorce within North Carolina’s census tracts. Divorce is highest among individuals ages 40-74, with 19.1% of North Carolina residents age 50-54 identifying as divorced in the 2013 American Community Survey.
Only 3.1% of North Carolinians are currently separated – higher than the national rate of 2.2%. In his national analysis, Yau notes that there is a “separation belt” running from west Texas to southern Virginia, where separation is relatively more common. He asks, “Is it just more common to separate instead of officially divorce in these areas?”
Although nearly all counties in North Carolina are above the national average for separation, rates are higher in the eastern portion of the state than in the western portion.
Just over 6% of the state’s population 15 an older is widowed. Urban centers, college towns, and military bases, with their relatively young populations, have below average rates of widowhood.
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