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Census: First marriages in Utah last longer

Couples stay together on average of 23.6 years; nation, 20.6

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SALT LAKE CITY — Sixty-five years of marriage have taught Alvin and Mina Mae Ecker a few things — only spend what you have, shred the credit cards and find a religion.

Since they wed at a mortuary in Montana in 1946, the Eckers have raised four children, built several homes and traveled around the West without straying from each other's side. They have lived in Utah for the past 20 years, a state that practically leads the nation in marriage longevity, according to figures released Thursday by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Only Wyoming couples stayed together longer — 23.7 years compared with Utah's 23.6 years. Nationally, the median length of a first marriage is 20.6 years.

Utah also had more than three out of five households headed by a married couple, the highest percentage in the nation and more than 10 percent above the national average.

The Eckers raised four children in Great Falls, Mont., while Alvin Ecker, 88, worked as a construction foreman earning less than $1 an hour when he started.

His now 83-year-old wife was a homemaker.

As children of the Great Depression, the Eckers learned the value of frugality. They avoided personal debt, using a credit card only once to rent a car, and never carried a mortgage.

"If you take care of your pennies, you'll take care of yourself and your family," Alvin Ecker said.

The 2009 figures, the latest available, are highlighted in the Census Bureau's new "Marriage Events in America" report.

The numbers have been adjusted to account for the average age of women in each state, which Census researchers said provides a better reflection of marriage duration.

Utah also has the youngest median age of married men and third youngest age for women, a reflection of a Mormon church-dominated culture that encourages marrying early and having large families.

"The influence of the Mormon church is seen in these numbers," said Pam Perlich, a senior research economist at the University of Utah. "People marry younger and have marriages that last longer, which is evidence of a culture that values marriage and having children."

The Eckers are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and say their faith has helped keep them together, especially after having a hemophiliac son who died at the age of 40.

"When you're told by doctors that they don't know what is wrong and they can't help, you have no choice but to turn to the Lord," Mina Ecker said. "It's helped us through some tough times."