The media frequently reports about celebrities who separate, divorce trends, and the woes of matrimony. This has fueled the diehard myths that half of marriages end in divorce and that the divorce rate in America is surging.  However, industry experts have investigated divorce statistics and have found that they are highly misinterpreted. In certain demographics, the rate of divorce has actually dramatically dropped and the prospect for marriages is much brighter than it was in years past.

Divorce Stats under Review

The 2005 New York Times article, “Divorce Rate: It's Not as High as You Think,” sheds some light on the topic. One of the take-homes is that the overall rate of divorce is on the decline. Everyone has heard the statistic that one in two marriages ends in divorce. Researchers say this is misleading and the old method of calculating divorce rates was inaccurate.

Now, social scientists have figured out a better calculation method and determined that only 41 percent of marriages end in divorce. The 2005 NYT articles states: “[D]ivorce rate in the United States has never reached one in every two marriages, and new research suggests that, with rates now declining, it probably never will.”

A more recent New York Times article from 2014 cites data from University of Michigan economist Justin Wolfers indicating that, if the current trend continues, about two-thirds of marriages from the 2000s will never involve a divorce. Further, “[a]bout 70 percent of marriages that began in the 1990s reached their 15th anniversary…up from about 65 percent of those that began in the 1970s and 1980s.

Why the drop in the U.S. divorce rate?

The rate of divorce has inched downwards since the 70s and the rates in one specific demographic – college graduates – plummeted. Women who do not have an undergraduate degree have a similar divorce rate within the first 10 years of marriage as before the 1980s – about 35 percent, according to the 2005 NYT article citing sociology professor Dr. Steven P. Martin of the University of Maryland. But women who are college graduates saw a decline in the divorce rate within the first 10 years to about 16 percent among those married between 1990 and 1994, down from 27 percent among those married in the late 1970s.

Researchers speculate that the following reasons may contribute to the drop in divorce rates.

  • People are marrying later in life after they’ve achieved stability.
  • More couples are using birth control.
  • More people are marrying for love.
  • College-educated couples tend to have disregarded old gender roles and have created “a new marriage model in which both spouses work and they build a strong economic foundation for their marriage,” according to the 2014 NYT article quoting sociologist Andrew Cherlin.

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Molly B. Kenny
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Divorce and Child Custody Attorney Serving Bellevue and Seattle Washington
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