The Divorce Rate is Not 50%.
We have all heard repeatedly, both in the media and from friends and family, that 50% of marriages end in divorce. It’s a sobering statistic that may make some people question if marriage is even worth considering.
According to experts in the field of demography, however, the 50% statistic is based on a simple and flawed calculation: the annual marriage rate per 1,000 people, compared with the annual divorce rate per 1,000 people.
However, researchers say that this calculation method is misleading and virtually useless in understanding the divorce rate because the people who are divorcing in any given year are not the same as those who are marrying. The correct and preferred method by social scientist in determining the divorce rate is to look at the total number of people who have divorced out of all of the people who have ever married. Based on this calculation method, the divorce rate has never exceeded 41%, according to researchers.
Some of the uncertainty around the more recent divorce rates stem from the lack of detailed annual figures. Since 1996, the National Center for Health Statistics stopped collecting data from states on age, income, education and race of people who divorced. As a result, U.S. government surveys have had to fill in the gaps. However, among demographers, there remains a general consensus on the divorce rate.
In a NY Times article, Dr. Rose M. Kreider, a demographer in the Fertility and Family Statistics Branch of the Census Bureau, stated “At this point, unless there’s some kind of turnaround, I wouldn’t expect any cohort to reach 50%, since none already has.”
The Divorce rate is actually declining. New research actually shows the divorce rate is decreasing. The small drop in the divorce rate is caused by a sharp decline in the divorce rate among college graduates. “Families with [college] educated mothers and families with [non college educated] mothers are clearly moving in opposite directions, Dr. Steven P. Martin wrote in a paper presented and widely discussed at scientific meetings.
Are there consequences to the 50% divorce rate myth? Yes, according to social scientist like Joshua R. Goldstein, an associate professor of sociology and public affairs at Princeton University. “Expectations of high divorce are in some ways self-fulfilling,” he said. “That’s a partial explanation for why rate went up in the 1970’s” Conversely, as the word gets out that divorce rates have begun to fall, “It could lead to self-fulfilling prophecy in the other direction.”
In summary, first, the divorce rate is not, never has been and probably never will be 50%. Second, the current divorce rate is 40%, and is decreasing. Things are not as bad as we are told, so, spread the word!