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Student Against Child Marriage Data Methodology

Students Against Child Marriage is among the nationwide authorities on American child marriage. Our research and the materials we publish are intended to educate both lawmakers and the general public about this life-destroying institution, directly assist child marriage victims and survivors through support services and resources, and advance scholarship on this critically important yet widely unknown subject. Nobody, whether student, ally, lawmaker, or child marriage survivor, should have to leap hurdles when searching for the facts about child marriage.

In the pursuit of these objectives, we are committed to publishing all methodologies and source materials used in our research so that our findings may be replicated and the public further educated. Click here to view Students Against Child Marriage’s Census data.

As explained in Shameful Statistics, we utilize data from the United States Census Bureau’s American Community Survey to detail the systematic abuse of American child marriage in our map, “Child Marriage By the Numbers: The Shocking Truth.”

Child Marriage By the Numbers: The Shocking Truth

The decision to use this data was made after consulting with numerous researchers, statisticians, and experts, in addition to conducting a comprehensive analysis of peer-reviewed scholarly research on underage marriage. This is a common practice that has been employed by both peer-reviewed scholars and universally respected researchers.

While previous studies and media reports have utilized youth marriage information directly provided by the respective state agencies, up-to-date data from these sources is not always available. Different reporting standards and practices between states, as well as the failure by many states to collect any child marriage data whatsoever, has led Students Against Child Marriage to use the Census Bureau’s highly-accurate American Community Survey population estimates for our underage marriage incidence rate statistics.

The American Community Survey Directly Measures Child Marriage

additional victims of child marriage

Following conversations with researchers experienced in using Census data, we determined that the American Community Survey’s question, “Sex By Marital Status By Age For the Population 15 Years and Over” (B12002), would best allow us to understand the shocking, widespread nature of American child marriage. This question assesses the marital status of male and female Americans in fourteen different age categories (see Age Categories chart, right).

This question further breaks down the marital status for each of these age groups into four categories: never married, widowed, divorced, and now married, of which the American Community Survey 2018 5-Year-Estimate Technical Documentation provides the following definitions: never married “includes all people who have never been married, including people whose only marriage(s) was annulled”; widowed includes “widows and widowers who have not remarried”; and divorced includes “people who are legally divorced and who have not remarried. Those without a final divorce decree are classified as ‘separated.’”

Age Categories

15-17 years

18 and 19 years

20 to 24 years

25 to 29 years

30 to 34 years

35 to 39 years

40 to 44 years

45 to 49 years

50 to 54 years

55 to 59 years

60 to 64 years

65 to 74 years

75 to 84 years

85 years and over

Each of these categories are excluded from the United States child marriage incidence count on our map as those who are separated, divorced, or widowed have escaped their abusive marriage.

Child marriage victims who are “now married” are further subdivided into two categories: those married with their spouse present and those married with their spouse absent. Present spouses are “married people whose wife or husband was reported as a member of the same household, including those whose spouses may have been temporarily absent for such reasons as travel or hospitalization.” Absent spouses are “married people whose wife or husband was not reported as a member of the same household or people reporting they were married and living in a group quarters facility.”

The absent spouse category is finally delineated by those who are separated and “spouse absent, other.” Separation is defined as “people legally separated or otherwise absent from their spouse because of marital discord.” Because “those without a final divorce decree are classified as ‘separated,’ this category also includes people who have been deserted or who have parted because they no longer want to live together, but who have not obtained a divorce.” We have thus not chosen to include these individuals in the underage marriage incidence count.

The “other” category is defined as “married people whose wife or husband was not reported as a member of the same household, excluding separated. Included is any person whose spouse was employed and living away from home or in an institution or serving away from home in the Armed Forces.”

Child marriage victims who are now married with their spouse present and those in the “other” category make up our American underage marriage incidence count. After replicating the methods of previous researchers that have used American Community Survey data to determine the prevalence of child marriage in the United States, we applied the same techniques to the most recent data available. The above inclusionary and exclusionary decisions align directly with earlier studies.

The “other” category is defined as “married people whose wife or husband was not reported as a member of the same household, excluding separated. Included is any person whose spouse was employed and living away from home or in an institution or serving away from home in the Armed Forces.”

We Turned Raw Census Data Into Compelling Underage Marriage Statistics

The most recent American Community Survey data is available for 2018, with 2019 set to be released in December, 2020.  The United States Census Bureau provides American Community Survey data through 1-year and 5-year estimates. We have chosen to use 5-year estimates due to their “increased statistical reliability of the data for less populated areas and small population subgroups.”

The United States Incidence Rate Data created by Students Against Child Marriage uses American Community Survey data acquired from Social Explorer, a census data navigation service that sources its information directly from the Census Bureau.

Our data, presented using a Google Sheet spreadsheet, contains three different sheets of information related to child marriage cases throughout the United States. The first sheet, SACM Cleaned ACS 5-Year-Estimates (2014-2018),” contains a cleaned-up version of our Social Explorer data. To remove extraneous data, we have hidden all age categories other than the relevant 15- to 17-year age group. We have additionally blackened out the totals provided for each marital status which are inclusive of the additional age groups and the percent-of-whole fields provided by Social Explorer for each category. These calculations use the total number of men and women in each state, not just that age group, and mislead the shocking frequency of child marriage.

To calculate the true incidence rate, we have instead included the aggregate number of 15- to 17-year-old male and female residents of each state. The total number of child marriage victims for that state who are currently trapped in child marriages, calculated by adding all male and female 15- to 17-year-olds who are now married with their spouse present or in the “other” category, is then divided by the previously calculated total number of all male and female residents aged 15 to 17. This rate is listed at the bottom of the spreadsheet as the number of underage marriage victims per thousand 15- to 17-year-olds and is a more accurate representation of the youth marriage incidence for each state.

The second sheet, titled “Raw Social Explorer ACS 5-Year-Estimates (2014-2018) - B12002,” is the complete, unedited output from Social Explorer. This data is sourced directly from the United States Census Bureau and has not been edited other than for formatting. A third and final sheet is titled “Sources & Notes” and includes formal documentation regarding the data, in addition to the ACS 5-Year Data Releases Technical Documentation.

We welcome and encourage the reproduction and use of our data-sheet with the permission of our team. The greater the availability of this data, the more Americans will become aware of the child marriage crisis in their backyards. Please direct any questions regarding our methodological decisions or the usage of this data to Students Against Child Marriage Executive Director Max Robins.

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