50% of marriages end in divorce is a long-accepted statistic which has been perpetuated over decades – since the late 1970s when the statistic was first generated. The 50% divorce rate factoid has infiltrated media and popular culture and is widely accepted as accurate. But as pervasive as this statistic has become, the bottom line is that it is now out of date.
No longer do 50% of all marriages end in divorce. As a matter of fact, it is more like 35% - 39% of all marriages. The divorce rate trend has been sliding downward ever since its 50% peak.
Interestingly, the onset of the Covid-19 Pandemic, which sparked an onslaught of attention-grabbing headlines suggesting that the mandated stay-at-home lockdowns caused marital discord (and Covid-induced divorce) turned out to be largely false. Divorce rates have continued their steady decline even through the end of 2021.
The bottom line is that the divorce rates have dramatically decreased from its 50% peak over 40 years ago. Why?
For starters, it is not only the number of divorces that are declining, but the number of marriages as well. This is even the case with a general expansion of marital rights, such as interracial marriage in the late 1960s and same sex marriages in 2015.
Those who are electing to get married are doing so at an older age – the average age of a marrying male is now up to age 30 and age 28 for a marrying female, up from ages 27 and 25, respectively, as recently as 2003. These marrying individuals are not only older, but they are also better educated – particularly women – more frequently possessed of bachelor’s and graduate degrees. Marriage, once considered an institution which protected women by providing legal and financial support from their male spouses, is no longer such a foregone conclusion for women of a marrying age.
Men, too, are focusing on careers and achieving financial stability before tying the knot – approximately 25% of single individuals (male and female) over 40 had never been married, up from 20% just 11 years before, and 6% in 1980.
Declining marriage and divorce rates may also be the result of an increased acceptance of premarital cohabitation and childbearing outside of a marital relationship.
A decline in divorce may also be the result of the availability and de-stigmatization of therapeutic and mental health services to aid both individuals and couples with those problems which may ail them, and those which may lead to marital breakdown. Individual therapy, premarital counseling, couples’ therapy and discernment counseling are some of the many therapeutic services that may assist couples in remaining in a lasting marital partnership.
But with a statistic as wide-ranging and nuanced as the marriage and divorce rates, they cannot be universally applied. The marriage and divorce rates, statistically, vary greatly depending on a number of factors, including race, age, income and education. By the numbers, young, less educated black and brown individuals are more likely to get divorced than older, highly educated white individuals. Change one or more of these factors, the statistics begin to shift.
As with other statistics, divorce trends and demographics are not a defining characteristic or indicator of a marriage’s success. In the end, the election or marry, or divorce, is often in the pursuit of happiness – which pursuit is an individual choice, hopefully uninfluenced by the prevailing statistics.