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Ethics & Religion
Column #2,048
November 12, 2020
Divorce Rate Is Falling
By Mike McManus

Divorce rates in recent years have been falling - and hit a record low in 2019 according to the newly released American Community Survey data based on the Census. For every 1,000 marriages in the last year, only 14.9 ended in divorce. This is the lowest rate in 50 years!

The pandemic has actually brought some couples closer to each other. A majority (58%) say the pandemic has made them appreciate their spouse more and more. Half agree that their commitment to marriage has deepened.

This is great news for Americans who are married. It means their marriages are likely to be more stable, and their children will more likely grow up with two married parents which provides them the best chance for success later in life.

However, there is also bad news. The marriage rate has fallen - particularly for people in lower income brackets. While 64% of American in the top one-third income bracket are married, only 24% of those in the lower one-third income bracket are in an intact marriage. They are mostly living with someone of the opposite sex - a relationship with a low likelihood of marriage or permanence.

What's worse, all signs point to a continuing downward trend for new marriages. The pandemic has increased the percentage of Americans who are postponing marriage.

This sobering news about marriage puts a damper on our hope for the future of American families. "With the rates of both marriage and divorce dropping in America, we expect to see the marriage divide deepen with poor and working class Americans increasingly disconnected from the institution of marriage," asserts Dr. Wendy Wang, director of research for the Institute of Family Studies in Charlottesville, VA.

"Fewer people are getting married, and those who do are the sort of people who are least likely to get divorced," says University of Maryland sociologist Michael Cohen. The divorce decline has been steepest for college graduates because they tend to wait longer as they focus on their career and have the financial independence to postpone marriage until they are more confident that it will work.

Divorce rates have been increasing since the mid-1800s, in part because of the gradual growth in the sense if was okay to end a marriage if you are unhappy. Divorces spiked after World War II, peaking in 1980. Those without college degrees were a few decades ago significantly more likely to be married by age 30 than were those with college degrees.

"Just over half of women in their early 40s with a high school degree or less education are married compared to three-quarters of women with a college degree," asserted Victor Chen, a sociologist writing in The Atlantic last year.

However, fewer Americans are married today to reap the many benefits associated with marriage. In fact. The U.S. marriage rate hit an all-time low in 2019.

For every 1,000 unmarried adults in 2019, only 33 got married. This compares with 35 a decade ago and 86 in 1970. This is sad because married people are happier, have more and better sex, more joy in life, are happier and have more successful children.

America's "marriage divide" is only widening. College-educated and economically better off Americans are more likely to marry and stay married while working class and poor Americans face more family instability and higher levels of singleness. For Americans in the top one-third income bracket, 64% are in intact marriages, meaning they have only married once and are still in their first marriage. By contrast, only 24% of Americans in the lower third income bracket are in intact marriages.

What's worse, all signs point to a continuing downward trend for new marriages. A high share of never-married Americans are postponing their marriage plans because of the pandemic. Many say they "can't afford a wedding," and do not have a stable job. It is reasonable to predict that fewer singles will tie the knot amidst a pandemic when financial distress is high.

This sobering news about marriage puts a damper on our hope for the future of American families. With the rates of both marriage and divorce dropping, I expect the marriage divide to deepen with poor and working class Americans to be increasingly disconnected from the institution of marriage.

One bit of good news is that younger couples are approaching relationships very differently from baby boomers who married young, divorced and remarried, etc. Millennials are being pickier about who they marry, and are tying the knot at older ages. when education, finances and careers are on track.

The result is an encouraging drop in the divorce rate. That is good news, indeed.


Copyright (c) 2020 Michael J. McManus, a syndicated columnist and past president of Marriage Savers. To read past columns, go to Hit Search for any topic.


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