Utah Polygamy and Divorce – 1880 to 1930

Related Posts: Divorce in 1890 Utah: Signs of Polygamy; Polygamy versus Democracy; Edmunds Act (1882); Edmunds-Tucker Act (1887); Idaho Test Oath; Marriage in 1890 Utah: Very Normal

Summary: I promised another post on divorce and I finally have enough data to write about. So here it is. (This just keeps getting more and more interesting.)

I have analyzed census data from 1880, 1890, 1900, 1910, 1920, and 1930. I restricted the analysis to the white, 15 and older population for the states and territories of the lower 48 states.

In 1880 Utah’s female divorce rate was the third highest in the US, only New Mexico and Nevada are higher. From 1880 to about 1910 Utah’s female divorce rate steadily decreases while the rest of the US tends to increase. From 1910 to 1930 Utah’s female divorce rate rapidly increases, following the national trend. The male divorce rate from 1890 to 1930 follows the national trend.

When looking at the difference in percent male and percent female divorce rates we see that in 1880 Utah had the second highest difference in the US, only Nevada is higher. Utah’s over 15 male to female ratio in 1880 was about 1.1 while Nevada’s was almost 2.5. Utah had a population of 143,964 compared to Nevada’s 62,266. From 1890 and 1900 Utah had the highest difference in male and female divorce rates in the United States. By 1910 Utah’s male and female divorce rate difference was the second only to Colorado. By 1920 Utah had the second highest divorce rate difference, only California was higher. By 1930 the difference in Utah’s male-female divorce rate was equal to the US third quartile.

Because the male and female divorce rates for US states and territories are correlated better than 89% two factor plots provide some additional insight. When the female divorce rate is plotted against the male divorce rate Utah stands out from the national trend for 1880, 1890, and 1900. For 1910 and 1920 it stands out a little. By 1930 Utah is well within national trends.

The only explanation I can see for this is polygamy. It appears that polygamy increased Utah’s female divorce rate noticeably above national trends. And this effect lasted for 20 years after the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints officially stopped polygamy in 1890, maybe longer.

The value of this goes beyond academic interest. It can also relate to the gay marriage debate currently going on in the US Supreme Court. If the state can ban polyamorous unions then why not same sex marriage. From this data we can see quite objectively that polygamy increases the female divorce rate. I’m not going to get into that debate now but you can hear the supreme court arguments here and here. Continue reading