People often throw statistics around about marriage and divorce, sometimes loosely or without any scientific grounding. We happened across an excellent chart that shows the per capita marriage and divorce rates in the United States for the last 140 years, and it shows some very interesting trends.
One of the most startling observations is that marriage and divorce tend to follow one another – as marriage rates increase, so do divorce rates. Why? We would guess because people do not divorce to remain single, but to uncouple with the intent of recoupling in the future. Also, until recently, the social norm of remaining single was perceived as negative and indirectly pressured many people to marry.
Second, marriage is not nearly as popular today as it has been in the past. With the exception of the “marriage boom” after World War II, marriage had been very steady from 1910-1990. However, since 1990, marriage has been on a steep decline, currently at its lowest per capita rate in the last 150 years.
Third, divorce has been steadily increasing since the beginning of the twentieth century. Many states had very high barriers to divorce between 1850 and 1920, and until no fault divorce arrived in the 1970’s, couples seeking to end a marriage had to jump through many hoops. Since no fault divorce became the new normal, divorce rates have remained fairly consistent and strong, with the only noticeable decline after 9/11 and the market collapse in 2007. Surprising to many, even the negative economic climate of 2007-2011 did not keep people from pursuing divorce at close to normal rates.
What conclusions can we draw from these findings?
Divorce remains a favored option. While more couples marry than divorce in a given year, the rate of new marriage continues to drop even as divorce rates remain steady – which means that more and more people would rather leave an unhappy marriage than remain in it, and that increasingly more people are choosing to stay single longer rather than marry several times in a lifetime.
It seems that people, no longer hindered by social stigma or archaic laws, find divorce a normal choice to a troubled marriage. At the same time, marriage is not vanishing as an institution, just shrinking as more and more individuals find cohabitation outside of marriage, and even raising children outside of marriage, more acceptable than the traditional choice of one marriage for life, and it seems doubtful this trend will reverse itself.
In the years ahead, as society adjusts to second and third generations of no fault divorce, it will be interesting to see if marriage rates continue to fall or if marriage makes a comeback.
If you have questions about divorce, contact us – we can help.