New data on marriage and divorce across the United States has prompted surprise and elicited a great deal of interest from demographers, psychologists and family specialists.

A family demographer from the U.S. Census Bureau says, for example, that the first detailed report on national trends in marriage and divorce to come out in two decades “really shows different marriage philosophies and how we have different marriage cultures in the same nation.”

Statistics from the report — compiled by the Census Bureau and based on information collected from three million households across the nation in a 2009 survey — confirm and underscore that view.

The report was released yesterday, and shows interesting and — to some — surprising regional differences. One example is its undercutting of a common assumption that the divorce rate is comparatively lower in the South because many southern states are socially conservative as compared to their northern neighbors.

The actual case turns out to be precisely the opposite, with divorce rates for both men and women being highest in the South. Georgia ranks near the top of the list, for both sexes, as do Tennessee and Alabama, as well.

Researchers point out that people tend to marry at an earlier age in the South, which is a strong factor for increasing the risk of divorce.

One other interesting trend gleaned from the data is the pattern toward later marriage overall, i.e., Americans when considered as a national grouping are clearly marrying at a later average age than in times past. Men now tie the knot, generally, at around 28 years of age, with the average age for women being 26.5.

Related Resource: USA Today, “Marriage, divorce rates higher in the South, lower in Northeast” Aug. 25, 2011