Were you born in Michigan? Then your spouse probably was too! Michiganders appear loath to marry folks born outside their pleasant peninsulas: Their rate of interstate marriage is the lowest in the nation, our analysis of Census Bureau data shows.
Across the nation, in-state marriages were holding steady at around 60 percent until 1960. They’re now around 50 percent, and likely to decline further — young Americans today marry out of state more than their parents did. But interstate marriage has flatlined in recent decades and is now losing ground to international marriage, which is hitting its highest levels on record.
About a fifth of international marriages involve a partner from Mexico. Germany, the Philippines, Canada and the U.K. also supply a significant number of American spouses. Puerto Rico ranks sixth, assuming we’re counting U.S. territories alongside foreign countries — which we probably should, since we don’t have enough data from the Census Bureau to treat them all like states, and it would be silly to leave them out.
Michigan’s particular marital myopia arises in part because Michiganders don’t often make life choices that lead them to venture outside the state. Young adults in Michigan are among the least likely to move out of their birth state, behind only young Texans.
And moving out of state is the easiest way to find a spouse from elsewhere. People who leave home rarely marry someone from their birth state — unless they’re from New York, in which case a third of them either moved with their spouse or found another New Yorker to marry. (Even by this admittedly arcane metric — do you have a spouse from home, even though you moved? — Michigan lags behind only New York, Pennsylvania and a handful of other states.)
But the insular peninsula’s lack of interest in marrying outsiders is not driven simply by its reluctance to move out of state. If we look only at folks who didn’t leave their home state, Michiganders are still more likely to marry their neighbors than folks in any other state — though Pennsylvania and Louisiana rise to what might as well be a tie for first.
That’s a hint that Michigan’s spot at the top of the list is a recent development. Pennsylvania held the honor from 1980 to 2010, and before that the longtime leader was North Carolina.
In fact, in the earliest years for which we have data, 1880 to 1900, Michigan (and neighboring Ohio and Wisconsin) had unusually low rates of in-state marriage. The then-dynamic heartland attracted migrants from all over the country and the world, providing locals with their pick of exotic partners.
From 1920 to 1930, the population of Michigan grew faster than in all but two other states. In 1950 and 1960, it still ranked in the top 15 for growth, as its factories vacuumed up workers from around the country and spat out cornflakes and Chryslers. But by 2010 it had plummeted to dead last, and it remains mired in the bottom five.
As fan-belt production gave way to rust-belt destruction, fewer outsiders arrived and marriage-minded folks on the Great Lakes turned inward. The interstate-marriage torch was passed to sprawling, still-growing Western states such as Nevada, Alaska, Wyoming and Colorado.
The Nevada-to-California pipeline, in particular, links the two states more strongly than Interstate 15 ever could. Incredibly, people born in Nevada are about as likely to marry a Californian (20 percent) as they are a fellow Nevadan (21 percent).
But while the California-Nevada link is unique in that it’s perilously close to eclipsing Nevada-to-Nevada marriages, many small states also find themselves linked in a tight marital relationship with a larger neighbor. New Hampshire marries Massachusetts, Oregon marries California, North Dakota marries Minnesota and Delaware marries Pennsylvania, in a reflection of both historical and economic ties.
But history may be shoved to the sidelines as we enter a new romantic-pursuit paradigm. The majority of relationships today probably begin online, a radical and sudden shift from just a decade ago. We found this out a few years ago when colleague Lisa Bonos helped us analyze data on how thousands of couples met, the result of work by Stanford sociologist Michael Rosenfeld and his collaborators.
As the marriage market goes global, it seems reasonable to expect a shift toward interstate and international marriage. But marriage moves slowly. It takes time for relationships to mature and ties to bind. And with marriage rates falling, change arrives ever more haltingly.
An earlier version of this article incorrectly said Michigan and neighboring states had low rates of interstate marriage in the 1880-to-1900 period. They had low rates of in-state marriage.
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