May 312011

Mexican couples still prefer marriage over the alternatives, but not as strongly as in the past. According to the 2010 census, 40.5% Mexicans age 12 and over were married, down from 44.5% in 2000 and 45.8% in 2009. The 11% decline since 1990 does not sound like much, but is significant when the data are investigated more deeply.

Because the data include all Mexicans over age 12, it is not surprising that 35.2% were single in 2010, compared to 37.2% in 2000 and 40.6% in 1990. The 13% drop since 1990 in the percentage for singles is mostly a result of the relative decline in the total number of teenagers, most of whom are unmarried, as a consequence of the decline in fertility over the past few decades.

The most impressive growth was for “free union” couples, those living together but not married. In terms of population, the proportion went from 7.4% in 1990 to 10.3% in 2000 and 14.4% in 2010, almost double the 1990 level. If we compare married couples with those in free union, we get an even clearer picture of the trend. In 1990, 13.9% of all couples lived in a “free union”; this figure increased to 18.8% in 2000 and 26.2% in 2010.

While roughly three of every four couples in Mexico are married, this varies significantly from state to state. It is not surprising that the least Catholic state—Chiapas— has the most couples living in “free union” – 38.8%. Chiapas also is one the most heavily indigenous states. But even in Chiapas, over six in ten couples are married. Other states with high rates of “free union” couples are Baja California (35.5%), Nayarit (34.5%), Baja California Sur (34.4%) and Quintana Roo (34.4%), a state with relatively few Catholics and a substantial indigenous population. The most Catholic state of all—Guanajuato—has the fewest “free union” couples, only 13.4%. Other states with relatively few unmarried couples are Yucatán (14.1%), Zacatecas (15.3%), Nuevo León (15.6%) and Aguascalientes (16.0%).

The census also includes three additional categories which all have increased rather rapidly since 1990. Those widowed went from 3.6% in 1990 to 4.3% in 2000 and 4.4% in 2010. This probably is a function of increasing life expectancy and people living longer on their own after their spouse dies, especially if the death resulted from an accident or violence. Separation, though still rather rare, is becoming more common, increasing from 1.2% in 1990 to 2.6% in 2000 and 3.7% in 2010. Divorce is also quite uncommon but increasing, from 0.7% in 1990 to 1.0% in 2000 and 1.5% in 2010.

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