Despite the devastating impact of child marriage (marriage before the age of 18 years) on health, no study has yet evaluated its impact on mental health in the general adult population. This article presents nationally representative data on the prevalence, sociodemographic correlates, and psychiatric comorbidity of child marriage among women in the United States.
Data were drawn from the 2001–2002 National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions. We limited our analyses to the sample of women (N = 24 575) with a known age at first marriage, of whom 18 645 had been or were presently married.
The prevalence of child marriage among women was 8.9%. Demographic factors associated with child marriage were black and American Indian/Alaska Native ethnicities, age at interview of >45 years, low educational level, low income, and living in the South and rural areas of the United States. The overall lifetime and 12-month rates of psychiatric disorders were higher for women who married as children, compared with women who married as adults. In addition, women who married as children were more likely to seek and access health services, compared with women who married in adulthood.
Child marriage increases the risk of lifetime and current psychiatric disorders in the United States. Support for psychiatric vulnerabilities among women married in childhood is required.