Interpreting Divorce Rates

Aug 8, 2012 by

No one gets married with divorce as the goal. Americans today all agree that marriages are preferable to divorces and that marriage is better for the family, the children and the community in general. Unfortunately, divorce rates have been on the rise in the United States for several decades.

Divorces in the United States used to be much harder to obtain. Back around the turn of the century divorces were much harder to obtain because the spouses had to prove a sufficient cause like abuse, adultery and abandonment. At that time, the divorce rate in America was estimated to be less than 5% of all marriages. Things didn’t change much until WWII ended in 1945 and divorces in the U.S. began to rise as hundreds of thousands of soldiers returned to their home towns across the nation. The 1950’s saw the return of an era of relative calm as the number of divorces leveled off a bit, only to rise again in the mid-1960’s. The increase in American divorces in the 60’s was attributed to a rapidly expanding economy, the rise of feminism and large numbers of women entering the workforce for the first time. Another rise in divorces occurred in the 70’s with the adoption of no fault divorce laws in most states across the country.

During the pre-war 1940’s, the American divorce rate was estimated to be about 14% of total marriages. By 1975 the number of marriages had decreased by 30% and the number of divorces had risen to 40%. Since then, divorce rates in the U.S. have slowly risen to the point that many estimates claim the overall rate of divorces has reached 50%, or half of all marriages today. Determining the total number of divorces is an inexact science and many different factors and methods of counting have been employed along the way. It is safe to say however, that if current trends continue, the divorce rate in the United States will continue to rise.

Some researchers have suggested that the 50% failure rate does not adequately represent all groups within the population, and that the divorce rate is now actually lower than it was in the mid-1970’s in some sectors. Factors supporting lower overall divorce numbers include education and wealth, with the chances of divorce shrinking for those with higher educations and middle-class or above incomes. A few studies have indicated the risk of divorce lessens after 20 years of marriage. Conversely, newlyweds with lower levels of income and education, get more divorces. The numbers have also shown that persons marrying at younger ages have higher divorce rates than those who marry in their 30’s or older.

Although there is not a consensus on the total divorce rate, there is no disputing that changes introduced to state laws with the adoption of no fault divorces in the 1960’s did have the effect of increasing the number of divorces in the country. No fault divorces were thought to be a positive solution to the lengthy and costly adversarial divorce process. In reality, the introduction of no fault divorces made getting divorces so much easier that more people were inclined to get divorced. No fault laws may have made divorce less painful for the principals involved, but the increase in the number of divorces created more hardship for families and children. The implementation of no fault laws streamlined the divorce process, but also resulted in more divorces that would not have otherwise occurred. Research estimates indicate no fault laws alone increased the number of divorces in the United States by as much as 25% since their introduction.

It may be impossible to predict an exact rate of divorce for couples getting married in the United States today, but it is a fact that all marriages must come to an end. Some marriages last until “death do us part” and the rest end in divorce. Americans today are living longer than ever before, and all those extra years might just give them more time to consider getting divorced along the way.


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