Data on Child Marriage in North Carolina Misrepresented During Legislative Session

Release Date: April 30, 2021
Media Contact: Joe Shaffner, Senior Communications Manager, ICRW

Over the course of the past 72 hours, ICRW has received a number of press inquiries about a statistic that has been quoted by press and policymakers in the state of North Carolina (NC), which suggests that more than 90% of child marriages would be prevented if legal marriage in the state were limited to parties with an age difference of no more than 4 years.

This statistic has been misattributed to ICRW’s own research, which gathered records of 3,949 marriage license applications involving over 4,000 minors from 2000 to 2019 in the state. Among those, we found that the majority of marriage applications were between an adult and a minor. However, this statistic did not speak to number of years of age difference between the parties.

In order to clarify this point and give NC leaders concerned about the rights and wellbeing of children the data they need to make informed decisions about the best solution to end child marriage in the state, we have conducted an analysis of the data to determine what number of marriages would have been prevented by limiting the age difference of applicants to no more than 4 years.

This new analysis reveals that an overwhelming majority of the marriages – 71% – would have proceeded legally under these conditions.  By solely preventing marriages involving a minor and a five year or greater age gap, only 29% of the marriage license applications in question would have been blocked.

As a leading global expert on the issue of child marriage, and on the basis of decades of research on the drivers of and solutions to this practice, it is the evidence-informed opinion of ICRW that child marriage undermines the rights, health and interests of any child, and that regardless of the age gap, even one child married is one too many. Our and other evidence shows that child marriage has a cascading and detrimental impact on educational attainment; earnings; physical, reproductive, and mental health; experiences of violence; and a likelihood of divorce.

According to Mara Steinhaus, one of the report authors, “The call to do away with marriage below the age of 18 is consistent with findings from a growing body of evidence in the U.S. Our synthesis of the literature shows that remaining unmarried under 18, even in the case of pregnancy, has better outcomes for teen mothers and their children.”

Mission Statement:

ICRW is the premier applied research institute focused on women and girls. In 2016, ICRW merged with the U.S. research organization Re:Gender (formerly the National Council for Research on Women) to create a global research platform.Headquartered in Washington, DC, with regional offices in India and Uganda, ICRW provides research and analysis to inform programs and policies that promote gender equality and help alleviate poverty.