One of the puzzling things about the United States is its extraordinarily high marriage rate. Among OECD countries, only Turkey and Cyprus have a higher rate of marriage (Source, OECD).
Higher marriages rates do not, however, mean that Americans are more likely to be in long-term committed relationships than people in other countries. In Canada, and especially in Quebec, many educated professional people live together for years without being married.
American marriages are, compared to marriages elsewhere, relatively short-lived. As the next figure shows, no OECD country out-divorces the Americans.
The high US marriage rate has, to me, always been one of those on-going puzzles with no obvious answer. It might be due to Americans' high rates of religious observance (see, e.g., Iannacone, p. 1487). But if devout religious types are driving the marriage rate, we wouldn't expect to see so many divorces. It could be incentives for marriage created by the income tax system, which permits joint filing. Perhaps Americans are just incurable romantics? Exceedingly optimistic? Or perhaps it's something in the water?
Then I read something in the New York Times that sheds new light on the puzzle:
Corning, I.B.M. and Raytheon all provide domestic partner benefits to employees with same-sex partners in states where they cannot marry. But now that they can legally wed in New York, five other states and the District of Columbia, they will be required to do so if they want their partner to be covered for a routine checkup or a root canal.
In Canada, I think that most employer health plans cover cohabiting partners. I don't know why Canada is different from the US in this regard - perhaps it's due to legal requirements. Perhaps it's because there are fewer problems with insurance fraud - health coverage is far less valuable in Canada because so much health care is publicly funded. In any event, in Canada there is little reason to get married for health insurance coverage; in the US, there is.
So does the American health insurance system contribute to America's high marriage rate?
I can't prove it - America is different from other countries in many ways, so it's impossible to establish causality.
However I was able to download some newly liberated data from the World Bank on the percentage of health care spending that is privately financed, and compare it to marriage rates for OECD countries.
The data that I used to create this chart is here. The US is the observation at the top right, Turkey is the observation in the bottom right.
The welfare state and the family can be seen, to some extent, as substitutes - both are forms of social organization that provide care and security to others. So I don't know what we can learn from the fact that there is a correlation between the extent of private health spending and marriage rates - are people marrying for insurance benefits? Or is the correlation merely a symptom, a reflection of other, larger, social trends?