Tag Archives: predictors of divorce

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.

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What are the Best Divorce Predictors?

Take five seconds to think about what you think are the most common events or reasons people divorce. During which years of marriage do you think couples most likely to divorce? Let’s see if you’re right.

Most people mistakenly think the most common events that precipitate a divorce are illness, infidelity, job loss or death of a child. Diane Sollee, founder of the Coalition for Marriage, Family and Couples Education (CMFCE), says the event most likely to precede divorce is the birth of a child and the three months following. People also mistakenly think year seven has the highest divorce rate, but she says the highest divorce rates are during first two years and years 14 to 16, leading to the average marriage length of seven years.

Couples may believe that conflict causes divorce, but actually the opposite is true. Smart Marriages, the educational organization run by CMFCE, reports that “the number-one predictor of divorce is the habitual avoidance of conflict.” Early in a marriage, couples may feel that to stay in love they need to agree, be quiet, not fight. In a more mature marriage, couples may avoid conflict because it quickly gets out of hand, either leading to blow-ups or at least one partner shutting down. “Successful couples are those who know how to discuss their differences in ways that actually strengthen their relationship and improve intimacy,” says Sollee. She adds that they know how to keep the disagreement confined so that they don’t contaminate the rest of the relationship.

In other words, don’t let a disagreement stop you from having fun together and making time to enjoy what brought you together in the first place.

Are you thinking that healthy, happy relationships shouldn’t have these areas of disagreement? That would be an incorrect and unrealistic expectation. According to Sollee, marriage researchers have found that “every happy, successful couple has approximately ten areas of incompatibility or disagreement that they will never resolve.” That’s right, Never. So focusing on these areas may just keep you from enjoying the best parts of your relationship. And leaving your partner because you can’t agree on everything will likely lead to you being stuck with another partner who has ten different areas of incompatibility. (For second marriages, the biggest areas of disagreement are about children from earlier relationships.)

“Successful couples learn how to manage the disagreements and live life ‘around’ them—to love in spite of their areas of difference, and to at least develop understanding and empathy for their partner’s positions,” explains Sollee. They also learn to welcome and embrace change, and to lovingly negotiate with one another.

Sollee says the skills for handling disagreement and conflict and for integrating change and expressing love, intimacy, sex, and appreciation can all be learned, for example through educational courses. Gaining or improving these skills will not only improve your marriage, it will allow you to provide a positive model for your family and friends, and particularly your children, who learn most through your example.