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.