Prisoner counts skew local gender and marriage statistics

by Peter Wagner, October 27, 2003  

There are 86 unmarried men for every 100 unmarried women in the United States. The ratio will vary between neighborhoods, cities, regions and states from a variety of influences on the statistic. Some are the reflections of women’s longevity, different cultural ideas about marriage, and some are the result of social and economic demographics like the concentration of young people.

The disparity between states is somewhat small, ranging from Alabama and Rhode Island at 79 unmarried men to 100 unmarried women, to Alaska at 114 unmarried men per 100 unmarried women. (Alaska is a very small state that has a lot of industries that rely on imported male workers. The next state is Nevada at 103 unmarried men per 100 unmarried women.)

The county disparity is huge, ranging from 53.8 to 362 unmarried men per 100 unmarried women. The Census collects marital status data because it helps communities plan for social services and future growth. While relatively useful for some purposes on the state level, this data is more difficult to use on the county or town level because the Census includes “special populations” of prisoners and soldiers — which tend to be male — in with the local community rather than at their actual homes.

On October 22, the Fremont News Messenger report on the Census Bureau’s Marital Status 2000 report that only in 5 Ohio counties do unmarried men outnumbered the unmarried women. All of those 5 counties contain large prisons.

The News Messenger article, which focused on the ratio mostly for dating purposes, was able to manually correct for the prison-effect in rural prison counties by subtracting the prisoner population, but it could only guess the impact in urban communities where most prisoners originate:

Even if a county has a prison, that does not hinder dating prospects for most women [because the true number of men is unchanged by the presence of the prison], said Carol Getty, who teaches criminal justice at Park University in Parkville, Mo. The biggest problem comes in some urban neighborhoods where up to half of men in their late teens and 20s may be in prison.

If the Census counted prisoners at home, this data would be more useful and the whole exercise of correcting the data for actual use would be moot.

Sources:

Where the boys are — behind bars, by Greg Wright, Fremont News Messenger (Ohio), October 22, 2003

Census Bureau, Marital Status 2000, [PDF] issued October 2003

Where the Boys Are – and Aren’t by Donald W. Bogie, Montgomery Advertiser

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