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Ethics & Religion
November 23, 2016
Column #1,839
Divorce Rate: Falling Or Rising?
By Mike McManus


According to 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 declining!

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 decades ago."

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 the mess."

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, a syndicated columnist and past president of Marriage Savers. For previous columns go to Hit Search for any topic.

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