Are 90% of US Marriages Between ‘High School Sweethearts’?

When puppy love becomes "'til death do us part."

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Do 90% of people in the U.S. marry their high school sweethearts?
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Claim

Ninety percent of marriages in the U.S. are between people who started dating during their middle or high school years.

Rating

In December 2008, someone emailed Snopes, asking whether a text they had purportedly received about a marriage statistic was accurate.

The message to us read: “I got a text forward saying that 90% of people marry their 7-12 grade sweetheart. Is this true?”

“How did you guys meet?” is a question commonly posed to couples, and the answers may range from a mundane “Oh, we met at work” or “We were introduced by a mutual friend” to a comical or bizarre, one-in-a-million chain of coincidences that brought two strangers together.

Yet for all the variegated responses this question might possibly elicit, the statistic quoted above suggests that by far the most common response is an ordinary and simple one: the overwhelming majority of married couples (90%) originally met and established an initial romantic relationship during their secondary school (i.e., junior high or high school) years.

But is this statistic accurate? It might have been true (or closer to true) in an earlier era, when people tended to marry younger, when a larger percentage of the population lived in rural areas and/or spent most of their lives close to their birthplaces, and when the opportunities for meeting and mingling with members of the opposite sex after the completion of high school were limited by more restrictive social mores and a more rigid separation of the sexes in the areas of employment and post-secondary education.

However, we could find no evidence documenting that the cited 90% figure is (or was) true any time in the last few decades, at least for the United States.

Statistics about how married couples met vary from year to year (and survey to survey), but studies in recent years have consistently reported that more couples met through family or friends, at college, at work, or online than in secondary school. For example:

According to a Harris Interactive online survey of more than 10,000 people who married in the US during an 18-month period in 2006 and 2007, nineteen per cent of the couples met online, compared with 17 per cent who met at work and 17 per cent who met through friends. In contrast, a similar poll of almost 5000 couples who married between September 2004 and August 2005 found that 14 per cent met online, compared with 20 per cent at work and 17 per cent through friends.

Another Harris Interactive survey conducted in January 2006 asked respondents who were currently involved in relationships (although not necessarily married), “How did you meet your current partner?” and compiled the following results. Note that the “School” category, even though it encompassed both secondary school and college, was the answer given by only 14% of the total respondent base:

Total (%)Echo boomers, age 18-27 (%)Gen X, age 28-39 (%)Baby boomers, age 40-58 (%)Matures, age 59+ (%)
Work1815192112
Through friends149181215
School1434141010
Bar/club846107
Social gathering with friends887610
Arranged meeting/blind date41249
Through family members44454
Place of worship (not a wedding)43543
Online dating service33431
Neighbors/from the neighborhood33324
Online chat room33521
Grew up together/known each other since we were young22224
Restaurant, coffee shop or café21213
Dating service or singles group (not related to place of worship or online)111
While shopping111
New Year’s Eve party1
Other — met in a public place73788
None of these57356

Even allowing for some potential biases in survey methods (e.g., online surveys might target a greater preponderance of people who met online than other survey methods would), it seems clear from these and similar studies conducted since the early 1990s that nowhere close to 90% of U.S. marriages are matches between people who were secondary school sweethearts.

One of our favorite “how they met” stories (true or not) is the following, told of former MLB player Cal Ripken Jr.:

In 1984, the athlete was approached for his autograph by a middle-aged woman who said, ‘Please sign it to my daughter Kelly, because my other daughter’s spoken for.’ He signed it, ‘To Kelly — if you look anything like your mother, sorry I missed you.’

About two months later, a young woman approached him and said, ‘Thanks for being so nice to my mom. 

The baseball player replied, ‘Oh, are you Kelly?’

She was, and now she’s Mrs. Ripken.

Sources:
Gavin, Sean.   “Couples Meeting, Marrying Later in Life, Research Says.”
Washington Square News.   25 February 2008.    

Harris Interactive.   “More Think It Is Important to Give Than to Receive on Valentine’s Day.”
9 February 2006.    [San Jose] Mercury News.  

“Most People Prefer Partners with Similar Backgrounds.”
18 February 1995   (p. A1).    New Scientist.  

“Go Online to Find Your Future Spouse.”
15 August 2008.    The [Portland] Oregonian.  

“This and That and How They Met.”
17 August 1998   (p. C2).

Recent Updates
  1. This article was updated to meet Snopes' current formatting standards on Sept. 15, 2022.
  2. This article was updated on Feb. 4, 2009.
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