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The Shameful Statistics of Underage Marriage

“I spent years suffering alone and thinking I was the only one. I was horrified to find out that child marriage was happening with great frequency.”

- Sara

If the disturbing reasons why young girls and boys are coerced into arranged marriages with sexual predators weren’t shocking enough, the statistics on youth marriage are even worse.

There are currently at least 75,344 minors aged 15 to 17 trapped in child marriages across the United States.

The map below displays the number of 15- to 17-year-olds in coerced underage marriages in every state as of 2018. After consulting with researchers, advocates, and experts, we determined that the United States Census Bureau’s American Community Survey would provide us with the most accurate estimates of the prevalence of underage marriage in each state.

Child Marriage By the Numbers: The Shocking Truth

As marriage license reporting standards vary between states, acquiring the exact data behind this abusive practice isn’t always possible for more recent years. However, the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS) is considered the gold standard for this type of research and has been used previously in the campaign to end child marriage.

However, the limitations of the ACS data are such that our count is believed to be an underestimate of this life-destroying institution. First, over 21,974 additional 15- to 17- years olds were victims of child marriage as of 2018 but are not included in the above count because they are either separated, divorced, or widowed. Second, although many states have laws that permit exceptions for marriage under the age of fifteen, the Census does not count these cases as the Bureau only surveys individuals fifteen and older. Additionally, the survey is self-reported, so our data does not account for any individuals who conceal their child marriage.

excluded from the United Stats child marriage

In light of these limitations, the Students Against Child Marriage research team is actively working with state agencies from across the country to acquire exact counts from marriage license data and precisely measure the scale of this systematic child abuse. For further information regarding our statistical methodology, please see our Methodology page.

“Let me be clear: the institutions and legal system of Indiana failed both me and my child multiple times. The legal systems in Kentucky and Tennessee did as well.” - Donna

These statistics paint a grim picture of a nation that directly enables the arranged marriage of minors without their consent—a far cry from the American ideal of upholding the life and liberties of individuals. Read about each state's problematic statutes and the legal exceptions that directly lead to child marriage in the United States.

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