Keeping Score: Did Divorce Rates Fall in 2009?

Aug 8, 2012 by

Annual reports from the National Center for Health Statistics keep track of marriages, births and divorces in the United States and depending on how you read the numbers, it appears the overall divorce rate slowed down a bit in 2009. In fact, the rates of all three major life events, marriages, births and divorces all seem to be on a slight, but steady decline compared to the numbers just two years ago.

Taking a look at the actual numbers reveals a clear decline, but how the numbers are interpreted may not be so universal. Many speculate that the weak economy and high unemployment are causing people to postpone or drop plans for anything that might get expensive and marriage, birth and divorce all fit that description. Whatever the driving force might be, the numbers do show definite declines in all three areas:

Marriages ““
2007 = 7.3 marriages per 1,000 people
2008 = 7.1 marriages per 1,000 people
2009 = 6.8 marriages per 1,000 people

Births ““
2007 = 14.3 births per 1,000 people
2008 = 13.9 births per 1,000 people                                                  
2009 = 13.5 births per 1,000 people

Divorces ““
2007 = 3.6 divorces per 1,000 people
2008 = 3.5 divorces per 1,000 people
2009 = 3.4 divorces per 1,000 people

Some sources have estimated the American divorce rate is at or near the shocking number of 50%, while others have said that is not accurate. Depending on how you slice the population, it’s a fact that the divorce rate for certain segments of American society do not equal 50%. For example, it has been shown that people with higher education levels and higher incomes do not divorce at the same rate as other segments of the population.

Then there is the contention that the method of calculating the overall divorce rate in the United States is incorrect because the people who get divorced in a specific year are not the same people who got married that same year. In that light, the critics claim any resulting statistic is useless in analyzing the true divorce rate.

So, did the divorce rate decline? Looking at the numbers for divorces in 2009 does show a decline, the number dropped from 3.6 per 1,000 people to 3.4 and that’s an undeniable reduction, but with the total number of marriages decreasing at the same time, the result is nearly the same overall percentage of divorce. The traditional method of calculating the divorce rate is to divide the number of divorces per 1,000 people by the number of marriages per 1,000 people. Plugging in the numbers for 2007 yields a divorce rate of just under 50% at 49%. Using the new numbers for 2009 produces exactly 50% and shows that while there were fewer divorces in 2009, the reduction in marriages means that the overall divorce rate actually went up by 1%. In conclusion, the good news is that there were actually fewer divorces in 2009, but the bad news is that the overall divorce rate remained basically unchanged.


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