For married couples, staying together is looking more and more promising. The divorce rate is decreasing, and not for the reasons you may think.
By Terry Gaspard — Updated on Apr 03, 2023
Photo: Ground Picture / Shutterstock
One of the most commonly quoted statistics about marriage is that half of them end in divorce. For several decades, the divorce rate hovered around that rate, but in recent years, this statistic has been challenged.
Do you ever wonder why there is so much curiosity about the divorce rate? Admittedly, my perspective is skewed since divorce runs in my family. But from my view, one of the main reasons why people tend to be so interested in the divorce rate is because they fear divorce and question the stability of marriage.
After all, we’ve all grown up in a divorce culture since it peaked in 1970. We all know someone who has seen their parents’ marriage crumble, and many have experienced more than one divorce in their lifetime.
Unsurprisingly, young adults raised in divorced families worry about their futures.
According to author and marriage expert Paul Amato, the divorce rates for adult children of divorce are twice those raised in intact families. If two children of divorce marry, their risk of divorce is three times that of those raised in an intact family. However, even though it’s hard to get out of the shadow of divorce, there is some good news about divorce proneness.
Why is the divorce rate dropping?
Many researchers have asserted in recent years that the divorce rate is leveling off and even dropping for at least the following two key reasons:
1. Fewer people are getting married in the first place.
Let’s look further at the first issue. according to CDC reports, which are derived from census numbers, it appears as if divorce rates are decreasing. But so, too, are marriage rates, and it’s been front-page news for a while.
More surprisingly, there were 61.44 million Americans married in 2022, compared to 40.2 million in 1960, according to the CDC reports. The truth is that most researchers predict that marriage rates will remain at a historic low in the decades ahead.
According to Phillip Cohen, professor of sociology at the University of Maryland College Park, in an interview with the Huffington Post, the biggest reason why marriage rates have fallen since the 1950s, and 1960s is because marriage is now seen as optional. He also noted that women are becoming more independent, and having better employment opportunities has caused them to question the necessity of marriage.
2. The age at which many Americans marry for the first time has been rising for decades, and getting married later reduces an individual’s risk of divorce.
College-educated individuals, who marry when they are older and have decent incomes, enjoy much lower divorce rates than the general public.
In the US, divorce is becoming more closely tied to socioeconomics. Andrew Cherlin’s renowned work, The Marriage-Go-Round, found that while the divorce is going down for the college-educated, it’s going up for those with only high school degrees.
Divorce statistics can be frustrating, as many people view them personally.
“What are my chances of getting a divorce? What group do I fall into?” is a question most people ask themselves. And with 48 percent of births being to unmarried women and a divorce rate that still hovers between 40 and 50 percent, many wonders, “Why marry at all? Why bother?”
According to Kaitlyn Cawley, editor-in-chief of Elite Daily, the recent decline in America’s marriage rate may have something to do with women’s tendency to fear commitment and to be paralyzed by so many options. On a more optimistic note, Stephanie Coontz, an author and historian from Evergreen State University, asserts that the longer a woman delays marriage, the lower her risks for divorce. After all, women initiate 69 percent of all divorces, so it makes sense that young women are smart to delay getting married until they are in their late 20s.
In her landmark book, For Better: How the Surprising Science of Happy Couples Can Help Your Marriage Succeed. marriage researcher Tara Parker-Pope advises young adults to delay marriage until they are at least 25 when they probably have a clear sense of their goals and interests. She also speculates that couples today have higher — some might say unrealistic — expectations for marriage. However, Parker-Pope’s conclusions about marriage in the 21st century are optimistic. She writes, “The good news from the study of marriage is that today, far more people are succeeding at marriage than failing.”
My overall impression is that there is reason to be hopeful about the institution of marriage.
The optimistic interpretation of divorce rates is that marriage is a changing institution and that most people still want to marry.
David Lipp, an affiliate scholar from the Institute for American Values, agrees that most young adults still want life-long love and want to give their children a stable marriage.
So should we fear marriage because we might be doomed to get a divorce?
While my search for the answer is ongoing, I believe that those seeking marriage, especially individuals raised in divorced families, would do well to develop a healthy respect for the value of commitment. They are wise to delay marriage until their late 20s and adopt a mindset that marriage can be rewarding but requires effort and commitment. Overall, young adults are still interested in tying the knot, and the declining divorce rate appears to be a good sign.
While marriage doesn’t appear to be dead, it’s certainly evolving.
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Terry Gaspard, MSW, LICSW, is a licensed clinical social worker with extensive experience in counseling and writing.