Ask just about any American how many divorces end in divorce and you will probably hear: “50%.” That figure has been common knowledge for decades; however, that figure is and has been incorrect for decades. In fact, the divorce rate is evidently declining.
The divorce rate crested during the 1970s and 1980s, when 35% of marriages ended in divorce before their 15th anniversary. Some experts claim the relatively high divorce rate of the 1970s and 1980s was a “historical anomaly.” In contrast, 30% of 1990s Marriages ended in divorce before the 15th anniversary and the rate is even lower for 21st Century marriages. According to researchers, if the rate of decline continues, 66+% of marriages will never end in divorce.
Both the rise of divorce rates in the 1970s and 1980s and the declining divorce rates of later decades have been attributed to several factors. First, in the 1970s, among the earliest years of the feminist movement, people were marrying traditionally acceptable postwar partners but their marriages had to endure social and economic upheaval; many marriages didn’t endure the transition. Secondly, as the upheaval dust settled, that same feminist movement resulted in more employment and greater reproductive rights for women, causing marriage to develop into a more contemporary form based on love, shared passions, often two incomes and shared household duties. Third, the median ages for first marriages rose: in the 1950s, the median marriage age was 23 for men and 20 for women; as of 2004, the median marriage age was 27 for men and 26 for women. More mature individuals tend to have more mature marriages based on more reasonable expectations. Fourth, there is more social tolerance for couples living together, which allows couples to break up rather than divorce. Fifth, there is more social tolerance for single-parent homes, reducing the number of relatively shaky “shotgun” weddings.
Even as the total divorce rates decline, a closer look reveals a widening socioeconomic gap. The divorce rates for college-educated, higher income couples are declining. However, the divorce rates for less educated, lower income couples remain near the peak of the 1970s/1980s. Furthermore, the reverberations of the widening gap will continue through generations, as children of better-educated, higher income couples will benefit from more stable home lives while children of less-educated, lower income couples will suffer the fallout from divorces and single-parent families.
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