Why people in Connecticut have cold feet.

How popular culture gets popular.
Feb. 14 2006 4:49 PM

I Don't!

Why people in Connecticut have cold feet.

This Valentine's Day, as candles flickered and tuxedoed garçons poured champagne, thousands of women gazed into their boyfriends' eyes and muse, "Maybe, just maybe, he's the one." A few of these love-struck fools were forced to make a decision by meal's end, when a diamond engagement ring was plopped into their glass of Grand Marnier.

To gauge their odds of receiving a Valentine's Day proposal, marriage-minded women could do a little number crunching. If the night's dinner was scheduled for a bistro in Connecticut, for example, all is basically lost; according to the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University, the Nutmeg State had the nation's lowest marriage rate in 2004, at just 24.2 betrothals per 1,000 single women over the age of 15. The runners-up were also blue states: After Connecticut, the top marriage-phobic states are California (26.4 weddings per 1,000 single women), Pennsylvania (27.4), New Jersey (30.4), Massachusetts (30.4), and New York (30.6). Why is Connecticut the No. 1 state for people with cold feet?

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For starters, young Connecticuters tend to be city dwellers and highly educated—two attributes of the prototypical marriage skeptic. Eighty-eight percent of Connecticut's population was classified as urban in the 2000 census, and households headed by unmarried, opposite-sex partners are far more common in cities than elsewhere.

Connecticut also has its fair share of eggheads. The state ranks fourth in the United States in the percentage of residents with bachelor's degrees, and fourth again in the percentage with advanced degrees. Education level is a good indicator of a person's willingness to get hitched—the more letters after one's name, the less likely one is to rush to the altar. This is in part because full-time students, who typically have yet to embark on viable careers, are often reluctant to get married before completing school. But it's also because there is a correlation between one's education level and one's openness to untraditional values, and so the highly educated may be more likely to see nothing morally wrong with shacking up in lieu of marriage.

Affluence also plays into Connecticut's dearth of weddings. The state has the nation's second-highest median household income, thanks to lots of commuters who staff New York City banks and law firms. (The No. 1 state is fellow commuter hotbed New Jersey.) This translates into a high cost of living, especially in terms of housing; Connecticut has the seventh-highest median house cost in the United States, and the sixth-highest median monthly rent. That means it's tough to save up for and purchase a first home—let alone a $25,000 wedding—and that fact seems to be contributing to Connecticut's low marriage rate. It's no coincidence that, of the top 10 most expensive states to buy a home, five also appear on the top 10 list of states with the lowest marriage rates. The dark side of the housing boom, then, may be that it's discouraging marriage; people don't want to get hitched as renters. That's in line with a 2003 UCLA study that found that financially unstable men—that is, those who can't save up to purchase a first home or support children—were far more likely to prefer cohabitation to marriage.

Does Connecticut's paucity of weddings hint at forthcoming problems for the state? The conventional wisdom, after all, is that marriage builds prosperity for a variety of reasons—from the pooling of resources to the accumulation of assets. Plus, of course, marriages produce children, who eventually become the cogs in a state's labor force. So, it would be logical to view Connecticut's low marriage rate as a negative omen for the state's future.

But the evidence doesn't really support that conclusion. Connecticut, like its immediate neighbors, has had a low marriage rate for at least the last decade, and yet it continually ranks high in household income and low in poverty. States where weddings occur at a rapid clip, meanwhile, often lag behind the economic curve. Once you knock out the marriage tourism capitals of Nevada and Hawaii, the three states with the highest marriage rates are Arkansas (75.5 weddings per 1,000 single women), Idaho (74.5), and Tennessee (69.9). All three rank well below the national average for median household income—though, granted, it's also cheaper to live in those places. They also all exceed the national average for children living below the poverty line.

States with high marriage rates also have a lot of divorces—Arkansas, for example, ranks second only to Nevada in divorce rate, with 6.1 splits per 1,000 residents. Connecticut, meanwhile, has one of the nation's lowest divorce rates at a mere 3.1. So though Connecticut weddings may be rare, the state's couples do tend to stick together. Connecticut men may have cold feet, but a little prudence isn't always a bad thing when it comes to popping the question.

Brendan I. Koerner is a contributing editor at Wired and a columnist for Gizmodo. His first book, Now the Hell Will Start, is out now.