April 13, 2021

Marriage Ages Across the 50 States

wedding colection Having found ourselves recently talking about the issue surrounding the Mormon sect that had their children abducted, I thought it would be interesting to look at some of the states around the USA and what their ages for marriage are.  Throughout the world it seems that the youngest you can get married is puberty– in Sudan.  South Africa goes as low as 12 for females.

The standard, both in the States and globally, is 18, with 16 being the case with parental consent.  The table below shows the states that deviate from this norm:

State Parental Consent Age Age Without Consent
Arizona no minimum – need approval of superior court judge and parental consent under 16 18
Arkansas 16 females, 17 males 18
California no minimum – under 18 need superior court judge and parental consent 18
Massachusetts 16 with parental and judicial consent 18
Michigan 16, 15 and under with parental consent and probate judge approval 18
Mississippi 17 for males, 15 for females 21
Missouri 15 18
Nebraska 17 19
New Hampshire 14 for males, 13 for females, in cases of “special cause” with parental consent and court permission 18
New York 16, 14 with parental and judicial consent 18
North Carolina 16, unlimited in the case of pregnancy or birth of a child 18
Ohio 16 for females 18
Oregon 17 18
Pennsylvania 16, unlimited with parental consent and approval of a Judge of the Orphan’s Court 18
Puerto Rico 18 21
Rhode Island 16 for females 18
Texas 16, younger with judicial consent or if previously married and divorced 18
Utah 16, with court approval 15 18
Washington 17, may be waived by superior court judge 18
West Virginia 16, unspecified limit with parental and judicial consent 18

As you can see, many of these have unlimited cases.  Some actually make the defaults higher.  California and New York surprised me.  That California is unlimited, and New York would allow 14 year olds to marry is interesting considering the liberal tendencies of those states and the normal liberal/conservative stereotypes.

Perhaps it’s just that either there are laws on the books we no longer believe and the ages should be raised (this happened with Alabama).  This would mean that at one time we thought these to be acceptable ages and now we do not– which would probably mean we’ve delayed maturation.

But it could just be that there’s a difference of opinion in regards to age that one is “ready to marry.”  Everyone is different.  I know of no parent that is ready for their child to date– let alone get married– and the longer that we can put that off the better!  However,  I also know that when you are that age that you always believe you’re ready for anything.  And I’m sure that there are good and bad cases surrounding marriage at that age.

One last comment:  Perhaps we can see why the members of this sect were forcing the new brides to consummate their marriage before they left the building– that some states give exceptions to pregnant women.

However, the wrinkle here is that, in the cases of polygamy, they weren’t truly married.  The USA doesn’t allow for bigamy or polygamy, so by strictest definition, the polygamists were committing adultery, and the marriage laws do not apply.

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4 thoughts on “Marriage Ages Across the 50 States

  1. Throughout the world it seems that the youngest you can get married is puberty– in Sudan. South Africa goes as low as 12 for females.

    These are countries which also have much more violence directed towards women.

    terris last blog post..Gmail Problems

  2. @terri: I believe that these countries have much more violence in general, would you agree? However, I’m not sure I see the point or correlation you’re trying to make.

  3. I would venture to say that societies which tend to systematically approve of the marriage of very young girls also tend to be abusive, and lag behind on treating women with equality and safety.


    Has it occurred to you that the reason things are different in our current society is to prevent some very serious abuses that have happened in the past, or to allow people to reach a certain level of physical and mental maturity before being married.

    13, 14 and 15 year old girls tend to have more complications in childbirth, and in less developed countries with less medical intervention, tend to die more frequently.

    It is not for convoluted reasons that the marriage age is higher than in the past.

    terris last blog post..Fear and Blame–Part 1

  4. @terri: I would say that you’re probably right with the correlation between how a society treats women and the marriage age, but I’m not sure that you can prove causality.

    For example, I’m also sure that these societies have much lower divorce rates than our current scheme. That doesn’t mean we should lower the ages simply because it lowers the rate, but there are some different cultural norms at play. What we’d need to do (and maybe I can find the time to do it) is cross references the countries marriage age with the amount of violence against women.

    For example, the article you linked to talked about violence against women in South Africa– but if you check the wikipedia entry I linked to you’ll see that it is the same for maritagable age as most of the USA – 18, and 16 with parental approval. That would tend to refute your causality. Sudan, the lowest of the group, does have a lot of violence, but it’s violence directed at everyone though there’s a high degree of violence toward women (conscription, forced prostitution, etc.). How this is effected by the mariagable age, I’m not sure.

    So, it’s not as simple as to say that cultures that do not value their women and have more female violence have lower marriagable ages. In order to be fair, we’d have to first define a set of countries/states that we believe treat women fairly, and compare their marriagable ages to those that do not. I think that the problem you will find is evidenced by my chart above– even in America you can marry someone at 14 and even in Africa/Asia (which has the highest violence against women) you’ll find that they’re 18/16.

    So, statistically, there’s no reason to imply this causation.

    I’m totally with you in physical development. I’m suspicious of our food sources as to younger puberty ages and wonder if our girls and boys are becoming fertile way before the appropriate time.

    I also expect that marriages between older males and younger females is more prevalent in other cultures do to the same mortality rate you hint at.

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