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Gallup Vault: Teen Brides Acceptable to 22% in U.S. in 1937

Gallup Vault: Teen Brides Acceptable to 22% in U.S. in 1937

How old should a girl have to be to legally marry with her parents' consent? Gallup posed this question to Americans in one of its earliest polls, in 1937. At the time, 53% thought "girls" should be 18 years old to legally marry with parental agreement. The rest had opposing views: 25% said girls should have to be 19 or older, while nearly as many, 22%, said they could be younger than 18.

Americans' Views in 1937 on Legal Age for Girls to Marry
If a girl has her parents' consent to marry, how old should she be before the state permits the marriage?
U.S. adults
%
14 or younger 1
15 2
16 15
17 4
18 53
19 2
20 8
21 13
22 or older 2
Gallup, Feb. 10-15, 1937

About half of men and women polled 80 years ago -- 53% each -- thought 18 was the right threshold age for a girl to legally marry. While men were divided over putting the number above or below 18, women were about twice as likely to say girls should be older than 18 as they were to say younger, 30% vs. 16%, respectively.

Views on this varied little by age, but adults 55 and older were more likely than those under 55 to think a girl should have to be 19 or older to legally marry.

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Regional differences were more interesting, with residents in New England, as well as the East Central and Mid-Atlantic regions, tilted toward thinking "girls" should be 19 or older to marry, while those in the West Central and Pacific Coast states were closely split in thinking they should be older vs. younger than 18. Those in the South, Southwest and Rocky Mountain regions were the most likely to tilt toward allowing girls under 18 to marry.

Americans' Views in 1937 on Legal Age for Girls to Marry
If a girl has her parents' consent to marry, how old should she be before the state permits the marriage?
19 or older Age 18 Less than 18
% % %
Total 25 53 22
Gender of respondent
Men 22 53 25
Women 30 53 16
Age of respondent
17 to 24 22 56 22
25 to 34 23 53 24
35 to 54 24 53 23
55+ 32 51 17
Region
New England 24 59 17
Mid-Atlantic 32 50 18
East Central 27 56 17
West Central 22 52 26
South 21 52 27
Southwest 20 51 28
Rocky Mountain 16 53 31
Pacific Coast 22 58 20
Gallup, Feb. 10-15, 1937

Referring to women of marital age as "girls" is, of course, passé today, but there are two other things that reveal this question's age: it carries an assumption that a female must have her parents' consent to marry, and it was asked only about girls, not boys.

What hasn't changed is that children still get married in the U.S. Although most states now set 18 as the minimum age a girl can freely marry without her parents' blessing, every state allows exceptions in certain cases, such as with parental consent or when she is pregnant. According to one study of state marriage license data from 2000 through 2010, "in 38 states, more than 167,000 children -- almost all of them girls, some as young [as] 12 -- were married during that period, mostly to men 18 or older."

Read about Americans' current views on marriage here.

Read more insights from the Gallup Vault.

Gallup


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