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12-29-2011 (2514 Days Ago)
TitleSouthwest Florida marriage rates dropping
Published: Tuesday, December 27, 2011 at 11:14 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, December 27, 2011 at 11:14 a.m.

Marriage rates are dropping across the region even faster than they are nationally, particularly in Sarasota, where nearly a third of residents 15 and older have never been married.

Marriage made the news earlier this year when the percentage of married people nationally dropped below 50 percent for the first time in the decennial census. The marriage rate for Floridians, virtually the same as the national figure, fell below 50 percent for the first time, too.

The city of Sarasota, though, broke through a lower floor, with the community's marriage rate falling below 40 percent.

Experts point to young adults who are putting off marriage, much as they are also putting off buying their first home. And, of particular import to this area, the population is getting older, and older residents are more prone to being widowed or divorced than being married.

Artsy and older, Sarasota has long trailed the nation and state in marriage rates.

While Florida's marriage rate fell to 49 percent in the latest census data, Sarasota's fell from 43.1 percent to 37.6 percent. Bradenton's marriage rate of 43.2 percent also is much lower than the state's average.

The census' lowest age category for marriage is 15 to 19, though the marriage rate in this youthful group is just 0.7 percent in Florida and zero percent in Sarasota, Bradenton, North Port and Venice.

Perhaps most surprising in the new census figures is the number of people in Sarasota who have never been married. In 2000, 27.2 percent ages 15 or older had never been married. That jumped to 32.4 percent in the new data, which come from annual surveys conducted by the census from 2008 to 2010.

"It doesn't suit me really," said Marie Vecchioli, a 45-year-old IT professional who works in Lakewood Ranch but enjoys Sarasota's music scene.

Unlike "everybody I know" in New Jersey, where she is from, Vecchioli has never been married. In New Jersey, people would notice, but in Sarasota, it is just not a factor.

"I'm a live music person," Vecchioli said. "There's such a huge pool of talented people here. You go to the tiki bar and the person next to you talks to you. Here people show up alone all the time."

It is not so much that Sarasota, with its high percentage of people who have never been married, is different. The percentage of Sarasotans who have never been married is only 2 percentage points higher than the U.S. average. But the Sarasota rate is much higher than neighboring cities: 3 percentage points higher than Bradenton's rate, 10 percentage points higher than North Port's and 20 percentage points higher than Venice's.

But the percentage of residents who have never been married grew even in couples-dominated South County. In North Port, only 15.6 percent of residents had never been married in 2000. The figure rose to 22.3 percent in the latest data. In Venice, the number jumped from 8.7 percent to 12.7 percent.

Richard Meyers, who started the social meeting place,, takes into account that Sarasota is simply different than surrounding communities. The idea behind his website is to get people from Bradenton to Fort Myers to link online — married couples with similar interests, singles with something in common, people who share hobbies — and then hold a couple of events a week for members to mingle and meet.

"The numbers of people who have never been married is definitely a lot higher than I've ever seen," Meyers said. "There's a tremendous amount of people who have no marriage experience whatsoever and no children whatsoever. The other side of that is many of them are not that interested in being married."

Demographic figures like these are taken into account at the local government level, particularly by planners forecasting the future needs of the population.

For example, communities that have very high marriage rates tend to have more children and a higher need for parks, says Matt Lewis, Sarasota County's long-term planning manager.

Lewis notes that the two aging trends — younger people putting off marriage and a lower percentage of older people who are married — are driving housing trends.

"We have adequate supplies of single-family housing," Lewis said, attributing that to the the county's boom era which attracted families with children.

Now, though, there is expected to be a move toward denser housing, like condominiums, because of demand from both young and old unmarrieds, he said.

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