United States Divorce Statistics

Divorce Statistics

In the United States, in 2005 there were 7.5 new marriages per 1,000 people, and 3.6 divorces per 1,000, a ratio that has existed for many individual years since the 1960s. As many statisticians have pointed out, it is very hard to count the divorce rate, since it is hard to determine if a couple who divorce and get back together in that same year should be considered a divorce, so there is in fact no predictive relationship between the two annual totals. This method does not take account of the length of marriage; just the fact that a certain percentage of people were divorced and a certain number of people are married, rendering the statistic problematic. Nonetheless, the claim that "half of all marriages end in divorce" became widely accepted in the US in the 1970s, on the basis of this statistic, and has remained conventional wisdom. Pollster Lewis Harris in his 1987 book "Inside America" wrote, "the idea that half of American marriages are doomed is one of the most specious pieces of statistical nonsense ever perpetuated in modern times."

To establish an actual divorce rate requires tracking and analyzing significant samples of actual marriages through decades, which is not an easy task. Recent US scholarship based on such long-term tracking, reported for example in the New York Times on April 19, 2005, has found that about 60% of all marriages that result in divorce do so in the first decade, and more than 80% do so within the first 20 years; that the percentage of all marriages that eventually end in divorce peaked in the United States at about 41% around 1980, and has been slowly declining ever since, standing by 2002 at around 31%. Some have attributed this decline to the popularity of cohabitation without marriage. While in the 1960s and 1970s there was little difference among socioeconomic groups in divorce rates, diverging trends appeared starting around 1980 (e.g., the rate of divorce among college graduates had by 2002 dropped to near 20%, roughly half that of non-college graduates).

In the decades following introduction of no-fault divorce laws, there was an extraordinary increase in divorce rates, and more recent research has clarified that US divorce rates had been on a gentle increase since the 1890s (with a short-term decline during the Great Depression and a spike just after World War II). The long-term rate of increase steepened with the advent of no-fault divorce laws in the late 1960s; the gradual decline starting in the early 1980s has continued for a quarter-century thus far, often attributed to increased social acceptability of co-habitation without the benefit of marriage.

States in the US handle billions of dollars in alimony and child support arrangements, which commonly result from divorces. According to a 2003 US census report, 43.7% of custodial mothers and 56.2% of custodial fathers, are divorced or separated. A 2005 Census Bureau Report found that in 2002, $40 billion had been paid in support arrangements by 7.8 million payers, 84% of whom were men. States also collected federal incentives to collect support payments, with a potential incentive pool of up to $454 million in fiscal 2004.

The divorce rate is generally low among Muslims, in comparison to other religious groups. This may be due to the somewhat strict limitations generally placed on divorce in Islam, as well as a very strong culturally based stigma associated with it. However, at least in some Muslim populations, that rate may be rising. For example: in 2004 in Singapore (which has an 18% Muslim population) many feared that the divorce rate among Muslims had risen too high: 9 out of every 1,000 marriages, a ratio 3 times higher than Malaysia, and 5 times higher than Indonesia.

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Divorce".  

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