If you had to pick one U.S. state that has the least in common with Seattle, Utah would be as good a choice as any.
And Utah is famously religious — second only to Mississippi for the percentage of pious residents, according to a Gallup poll. Seattle, in contrast, ranks in the top-three most secular U.S. places in a recent survey of religious affiliation.
Utah is also a bastion of traditional values. For example, the state has the lowest rate of births to unwed mothers in the country. Census data show in 2012, just 15 percent of Utah women who had given birth in the past 12 months were unmarried — less than half the U.S. average.
And here in progressive Seattle? Well, actually, this is one thing we do have in common with Utah.
Of the 75 largest U.S. cities, Seattle has the smallest percentage of births to unmarried women. According to the most recent census data, Seattle’s rate of non-marital births is, in fact, even lower than Utah’s – just 14 percent.
It may not be as surprising as it first sounds. When it comes to outside-of-marriage motherhood, other factors come into play beside old-fashioned religious values. For example, a Census Bureau report found that non-marital birth rates correlate strongly with education and income. In more affluent, well-educated places (like Seattle), the rate of non-marital births tends to be lower.
Nevertheless, it is still striking just how low Seattle’s non-marital birth rate is — even compared to cities we think of as our demographic peers.
Seattle is five percentage points lower than San Francisco, and 12 lower than Portland. Minneapolis, Denver, and Austin have more than double the percentage of out-of-marriage births than Seattle. In Boston and Washington, it’s more than triple.
So if we can’t chalk it all up to demographics, what other reasons may be behind our remarkably low rate of out-of-wedlock motherhood? Are we more conventional in Seattle than we let on, at least when it comes to marriage and family? Feel free to weigh in on the comments.