Divorce Rates Hit Lowest Rate Since Early ’70s

The divorce rate in the U.S. is now at its lowest point since the early 1970s, according to data recently released by the National Center for Health Statistics.  Infidelity rates, marriage and birth rates are also declining.

According to a New York Times analysis, there were approximately 3.4 divorces per 1,000 people in 2009, falling from 3.6 in 2007 and 3.5 in 2008.  Marriages and birth rates also declined. Some say Americans are holding off on these major life changes due to a dismal economy. In 2007, 7.3 marriages per 1,000 people were reported. In 2008, rates fell to 7.1, and in 2009 to 6.8. Read the full report from the Centers for Disease Control.

Americans continue to have the misperception that half of marriages fail. It may even make us feel like the odds of marital success are so high that we can’t be held responsible if we fail. If you’re living in poverty, a teenager, a high school dropout, a person with a lower-than-average IQ (yes, low IQ is a risk factor for divorce), a person on your third or fourth marriage, yes, your odds of marital success are low, and premarital education and skills training are essential. However, the success rate for first-time married college-educated adults (among other groups) is excellent. Prepare and believe in the success of your union, and you will be more likely to succeed.

The problem is that increasingly, young couples don’t feel equipped to enter into marriage, often because of their economic or job situation. Education and income level have a direct impact on family life and marital strength. An interesting article by Andrew Cherlin and Bradford Wilcox called “The Generation that Can’t Move On Up” states:

These working-class couples still value marriage highly. But they don’t think they have what it takes to make a marriage work. Across all social classes, in fact, Americans now believe that a couple isn’t ready to marry until they can count on a steady income. That’s an increasingly high bar for the younger working class. As a result, cohabitation is emerging as the relationship of choice for young adults who have some earnings but not enough steady work to reach the marriage bar.

The problem is that cohabiting relationships don’t go the distance. In fact, children who are born to cohabiting parents are more than twice as likely as children born to married parents to see their parents break up by age five. These break-ups are especially troubling because they are often followed by a relationship-go-round, where children are exposed to a bewildering array of parents’ partners and stepparents entering and exiting their home in succession.

Research points to education playing heavily into the solution of more stable families. While 40 percent of infants today are born to unwed mothers, 90 percent of college-educated women are married when they give birth. College-educated adults don’t learn the key to marital success while studying at a university. Instead, they are more prepared for the job market, and they can often avoid the extreme financial stresses of those without an education…stresses that can cause a marriage to quickly unravel.

Whatever reason the pundits ascribe to the falling divorce rate, I’ll call it good news. As for bridging the economic and educational gap in America, I’m afraid we have a significant distance to go.

11 responses to “Divorce Rates Hit Lowest Rate Since Early ’70s

  1. While this is good news, we must also remember that we have the highest divorce rate on the planet. This is in part because marriage counselors have such a dismal failure rate of 75%. They do it all wrong, including not teaching conflict resolution skills. The lack of conflict resolution skills is the number one reason that couples divorce.

    Blessings on you and yours
    John Wilder

  2. Very interesting stuff, Lori! I’m very interested in thinking about whether or not a reliable income ought to be such an important factor in people’s decision to get married.

  3. Job status is certainly one consideration, but the emphasis today from our culture that you have to have “made it” before marrying may go too far IMO. What happened to struggling together a little in your early marriage, learning to live a little more frugally before you move up the corporate ladder? Too many kids are being left without married parents because the parents don’t think they earn enough to be married. In actuality, they may be able to provide a more stable life for the child and save money if they join households and marry.

    The data does seem to show that when college comes first, a successful marriage is more likely, and the couple’s children are more likely to live with their married parents. The data doesn’t explain whether the type of people who go to college are more likely to make these choices, or whether the fact that they are college educated gives them certain advantages.

  4. I recently read “For Better – The Science of a Good Marriage” by Tara Parker Pope. She think that erroneously repeating the 50% divorce rate statistic actually does damage and increases everyone’s risk of divorce, creating ambivalence about marriage and divorce. I think I agree with her. It’s kind of an “everyone’s doing it so it must not be a big deal” kind of mentality.

    I was very surprised to read that for college graduates marrying after age 25 the rate is as low as 19%, according to a Univ. of Pa. study.

  5. I agree. There’s kind of an attitude that so many marriages are failing, so it’s nearly impossible to succeed. Why should I expect to do any better? But the reality is quite different.

  6. Wow as someone who is not married hearing that the actual divorce rate is much lower than usually reported makes me feel a lot less worried. I think many people my age don’t want to get married because they are so worried it will fail.

  7. Wow, I would not have thought the divorce rate is lower. I’m 25 and have been married 1.5yrs. Neither of us went to college,{I am doing an online college} we both have very good and steady careers. I believe we had a humble beginning. We dated 4yrs before getting married and lived in a single wide trailer for 5 years. Three months ago we finished building our home, and that was a huge high for us!

    I am glad to hear the rates are down, but I must say that it doesn’t “feel” like it. I know several people in my age group going through divorce, or just finalized a divorce.

    Thanks for this post!

  8. I’m curious as to why people think cohabiting is a better idea if marriage is “unaffordable” due to lack of a steady income. There seems to be a piece missing here.

  9. Lesli, my research indicates men don’t feel prepared to marry until they have arrived in terms of their career, solid job, money for things like rings and weddings. Many women also seem to want to enter marriage with financial stability as well. However, they don’t have that same prerequisite for living together. And, they don’t usually know they are reducing their odds for a successful marriage. The reason is that the cohabitation period becomes a “testing” period. And even if they marry, they often are still testing one another to see if they made the right choice. (Read my post “We all married the wrong person” to understand my thoughts on that.) I hope that explains your question.

  10. I believe men who marry before the age of 30 are unprepared for marriage. They are still immature and not sure what to do with their lives, and if you add another person (or more) to the mix that makes it all the more difficult. Women are more mature, but at a young age they still do not know enough about men in general and their shortcomings when young. That is why I am not surprised at all by the college grads older than 25 having a lower divorce rate. Makes perfect sense.

    • Hi Kevin. Thanks for the point. While it does seem guys are taking longer to mature these days, I know there are some men under 30 who are prepared for marriage. My hubby, for example was around 25, and was relatively mature at the time we married. Still, I think you make a good point.

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