Ethics & Religion
November 23, 2016
Divorce Rate: Falling Or Rising?
By Mike McManus
new data, the U.S. divorce rate has dropped to its lowest level in 35
years. However, this report is misleading.
Census reports that in 2015 there were 16.9 divorces for every 1,000
married women - down from 17.6 the previous year and far below the
all-time high in 1980 of nearly 23 divorces per 1,000.
There is another way to measure the divorce rate - the number of
divorces in a year compared to the number of marriages. There were only
2,077,000 marriages in 2015 vs. 1,159,000 divorces. That is a 55.8%
divorce rate - which is higher than the 50.2% divorce rate of 2000 and
the 48.1% rate of 1975.
Thus, the odds of getting divorced are actually rising slightly - not
In fact, the Bloomberg article which reported the divorce rate drop
included this sentence: "Many sociologists believe the typical marriage
today still has about a 50/50 probability of lasting, the same chance as
How can this be true if the divorce rate is dropping?
It is dropping, but so is the marriage rate. In fact, there has been
roughly one divorce for every two marriages for four decades in America.
- back to 1975.
What has changed profoundly is a huge plunge in the marriage rate. The
2,077,000 marriages in 2015 were actually fewer than the 2,159,000 in
1970 when America had only 203 million people compared to the 319
million in 2014.
Why is the marriage rate plunging? Millions are cohabiting as a way to
"test" their compatibility. This is big mistake. There were 8.3 million
couples living together in 2015. Only 1.3 million of them married.
What happened to the other 7 million? Most broke up. The average
cohabitation lasts only 15 months. The old adage, "Try on the shoe
before you buy it" - does not work. Relationships are not shoes.
Premarital couples cannot practice permanence.
And cohabiters who marry are more likely to divorce.
In 1960, 69% of Americans over age 15 were married. By 2014 that
percentage plunged to only 48%, according to Census. There are another
3.5 million couples who are technically married - but the spouse is
absent. A few - perhaps 5,000 to 10,000 in 2014 - were fighting in
Afghanistan. Most of those living apart are contemplating divorce.
Another 5.6 million are formally separated - one step away from divorce.
However, more than half of Americans have never divorced - despite the
data reported above. In 2004 pollster George Barna asked a sample of
Americans if they had ever divorced. He reported that only 35% of
Americans had divorced.
Why is that figure not 55%? Because U.S. numbers of divorces include
those who are divorcing a second or third time!
Barna also found significant differences for people of faith. Catholics
divorce at only a 25% rate compared to 44% for Pentecostals. Some 35% of
"born-again" Protestants have divorced - only slightly less than the 37%
of atheists and agnostics.
In fact, America's divorce rate is triple that of Britain or France!
After five years of marriage, 23% of Americans are divorced compared to
only 8% of British or French.
Why? If a British wife wants a divorce but her husband does not, they
have to wait five years for the divorce and six years in France. Five or
six years allows time for couples to reconcile - and most do!
By contrast, half the states have a zero waiting period! This is
foolish. They are pushing couples to divorce. Why?
In 1969 California passed the first "No Fault Divorce" law. Up to that
point, one had to prove their spouse was guilty of a major fault - such
as adultery, abandonment or physical abuse - to get a divorce. But
feminists and divorce attorneys argued that "no fault" should have to be
proven - that if one spouse said the marriage was "irreconcilable,"
divorce should simply be granted.
By 1975 virtually all states had passed No Fault Divorce laws. Result:
the number of divorces jumped from 639,000 in 1969 to 1,036,000 by 1975,
and 1,189,000 in 1980.
Statistics don't communicate this tragedy adequately.
Michael Reagan, the son of Ronald Reagan and Jane Wyman, experienced
their divorce and later wrote, "Divorce is where two adults take
everything that matters to a child - the child's house, family, security
and sense of being loved and protected - and they smash it all up, leave
it in ruins on the floor, then walk out and leave the child to clean up
Ironically, Ronald Reagan signed the first No Fault Divorce law as
governor of California. He later told Michael it was his "greatest
regret" in public life.
Copyright (c) 2016 Michel J. McManus,
President of Marriage Savers and a syndicated columnist. For previous
columns go to
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