Divorce – it’s way bigger than we thought

Parental-Divorce-Reduction-Act1The following comes from a Mar. 24 posting on the blog of Family Studies.

Most of us in the family studies business have had people look at us strangely when we tell them that divorce has declined over the past three decades. Forget about the anecdata, we tell them. Those friends, relatives, and perhaps even you yourself, who have been emptying their life savings into the laps of lawyers, can’t change the big picture: in the 1970s Americans got divorced like crazy, but after 1980, they calmed down. Since then, divorce rates have declined, pretty much steadily. On hearing this, most people shrug and move on. There’s no point in quarreling with the numbers.

Or is there? A new paper by Sheila Kennedy and Steven Ruggles appearing in the most recent issue of the journal Demography not only battles with the numbers, it kicks them and much of the accepted wisdom about divorce rates out of the house. Divorce has not gone down, they argue compellingly: it has risen to record highs.

Kennedy and Ruggles spend the first half of their paper, nicely titled “Breaking Up is Hard to Count,” explaining why demographers could have been so wrong about what may strike the uninitiated as a rather easily calculated figure. To oversimplify a complex story: the United States has been lousy at collecting data. Individual counties may keep pretty good track of finalized divorce cases, but someone else—meaning the states—has to collect and tabulate that information, and someone else—the Census Bureau—has to put it all together.

There were occasional periods of our history, including between the years 1960 and 1990, when we were pretty good at that. But in 1996 the federal government lost interest in the whole enterprise and stopped providing financial support for detailed state collection. By 2005, six states including Georgia, Minnesota, and California—California!—stopped reporting entirely. In sum, since 1996 and possibly earlier, researchers have been digging divorce information out of a drought-ridden, muddy pool of information.

According to new research, far from declining since 1980 as researchers thought, age-adjusted divorce rates have actually risen 40%.

In their paper, Kennedy and Ruggles rely on an entirely different source of information: the American Community Survey, an ongoing sampling of population in every state. Here is what they find: far from going down about 20% since 1980 as researchers had previously concluded, the overall divorce rate has declined only 2.2%. Worse, when you control for the change in the age of the population between 1980 and today—the population of married men and women is considerably older now—the divorce rate has actually risen 40%. By these measures, after a brief pause in the recessionary year of 2009, the divorce rate peaked in 2011. “By 2010,” they write, “almost half of ever married Americans had divorced or separated by the time they reached their late 50’s.”

If you’re looking for something or someone to blame for this dismaying state of affairs, the Boomers, those born between 1945 and 1954, are your best bet. They joined the divorce revolution early on and have stayed true to it ever since. In the 1970s, Boomers, who were then in their twenties, and middle-aged couples were more or less equally likely to divorce. By 1990, that was no longer the case; couples in their twenties and early thirties were looking more stable, while Boomers, now in their forties, continued to divorce “at unprecedented rates.” Since 1990, the biggest rise in divorce has been among women over 45; there was a particularly “massive increase” in divorce among women in their fifties. (For methodological reasons, the authors track women only.)

Meanwhile, younger married couples, including those in their teens and early twenties, who used to be at high risk of breaking up, are actually enjoying more stable marriages than their older peers did at their age. The authors find that 18% of the most recent marriage cohort separated within five years of marrying; that’s compared to 21-22% of first marriages formed by the previous two cohorts.

Cohabiting unions have always been less stable than marriages, and they remain so today.

Still, Kennedy and Ruggles complicate the Boomers-ruined-marriage story by bringing cohabiters into the mix. They note that the reason divorce is lower for younger married couples today than it was for Boomers is that the population most at risk of divorce—teens and high school dropouts—are not getting married in the first place; instead they’re living together….

To read the entire post, click here.



To add a comment, click on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ icons OR go further down to the bottom of comments to the Post your comment box.


  1. We are all to “blame”for our own sins.
    And we must accept full responsibility for them.
    People will burn in Hell because of their own choices.

    Passing the buck is part of the problem in today’s society.

  2. Is it possible that the decline in the number of divorces is that many people, both young couples and older couples, don’t marry, but cohabit instead?

    • Abeca Christian says:

      BINGO! Thanks Sarah glad you pointed that out. Most younger couples are now shacking up instead. Its just horrible! Lets pray for this generation.

  3. Father Karl says:

    When I was in grammar school, Sister Francis told us that divorce was a horrible sin. Elizabeth Taylor was just getting one of her divorces, and Sister Francis continued to tel us never to patronize one of her films, because that was giving approval to her wicked and sinful lifestyle. Today, divorce seems as normal as the rising and setting of the sun, and it is so common. It still is sinful and wicked, even though the majority are going it. How far we have fallen from God’s laws.

  4. Linda Maria says:

    For Catholic Marriage to succeed, we need a very strong Church, closed to outside secular influences, with strong and excellent Catholic parish schools and universities! It is also very helpful to have only traditional Catholic churches, and to tear down ugly, irreligious post-Vatican II churches! Excellent teaching of the Catechism is necessary, and all Catholics should be well-trained in their Catechism! Everyone should know all about the virtues of Chastity and Modesty, and practice these prized virtues! Priestly celibacy must be cherished and unquestioned! Everyone should know all about the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony, and all about Catholic teaching on sex and child-bearing, and our beliefs, which are often contrary to wrongful modern medical practices. The Traditional Latin Mass, traditional Latin Sacraments, proper liturgical music (no guitars! ) lots of Rosary recitations daily in churches, the Angelus, traditional Latin Divine Office by all clergy and religious orders, and many old and excellent devotions; plus, lighting of candles by prayerful Catholics in church, would all help so much! Women prayerfully wearing lovely, traditional mantillas (or similar head coverings) in church, with a Dress Code for all Catholic churches and schools required, and a Vatican Dress Code, would help so much! Enforcement of Canon Law, Friday abstinence, the “imprimatur” and “nihil obstat” for Catholic books; ratings for movies, tv, and other media, (with a “condemned” rating taken very seriously– Mortal Sin!) and proper standards of dress, speech, and manners required–all of this would greatly help to shape a Catholic culture, and produce a good Catholic environment, for Catholic Marriage, home, and family! Proper leadership of the Church by the clergy (not laymen!) would help tremendously!

  5. Father Karl says:

    Nature abhors a vacuum. When the Church no longer accepted her role in society as a teacher or a leader, the state took her place. Where priests once gave advice, now it is Ann Landers , Dear Abby, and Miss Manners. The network news has replaced the family Rosary, and reading the horoscope is now more popular than reading the scriptures or the lives of the saints. The Italians have a saying; When the fish stinks, it is because of the head. The Catholic Church has lost her motherly instinct, as well as the leadership role of a father. As a result we have neo-pagans who call themselves ‘Catholic’. May God have mercy on us!

  6. good cause says:

    the raw number of divorces will continue to decline primarily because marriage is no longer the long sought after personal goal–and Church imperative–that it once was. The numbers of couples being married will also decline for the same reason……fewer couples marrying, fewer divorces. the Millenials see the divorces in their parents and relatives, with its emotional and financial hardship, and are saying “no, thanks!”. Getting an annulment denied just adds to the pain. Small wonder so many young couples come to the conclusion “why bother?”

    • tom amadeo says:

      Good Cause—perhaps one factor for declining marriages is FEAR of divorce. If you were nothing, are nothing, and will become nothing, then marriage is for you! They cannot take from you that which you do not have. In this culture, however, marriage is essentially the surrender of your sovereignty over what you are and possess to the prejudiced laws and whims of a probate judge, from whose decisions there is little chance of reversal. Many ,wisely, try to avoid such entrapment.

  7. Bob One says:

    Church teachings can remain as they have been for centuries. But, it appears that the people/culture/? / get to a point where certain teachings are ignored because people no longer agree that they are sinful. Divorce is a good example. A century ago if a woman wasn’t married within a year out of high school or college, there was something wrong. Today, we see the average person who does marry starting out in their thirties. Having kids is no longer considered the main purpose of marriage. Sex in and out of wedlock is no longer considered sinful. As soon as the pill became available people began having sex for pleasure/amusement/?/ and not just to have kids. There was no longer the fear of pregnancy. That is the culture of most of the western world if not the whole world. The church, as valid as its teachings may be, has to fight that culture. People no longer believe that sex with contraceptives is a sin. People no longer believe that sex outside of marriage is a sin. People don’t believe that divorce is a sin. People no longer believe that living together unmarried is a sin. The Church is going to have a rough row to hoe trying to change the culture that exist today. Changing the culture may be the right thing to do, but few will listen.

    • Kenneth M. Fisher says:

      Bob One,

      Have you not read where He teaches “Many are called, but few are chosen!”?

      May God have mercy on an amoral Amerika!
      Viva Cristo Rey!
      Yours in Their Hearts,
      Kenneth M. Fisher

    • Richard Lot says:

      Bob One, you are a eternal modern voice in the wilderness. May Jesus bless you. The people on this site only laugh because they have no viable understanding of the evolution of people in the pew’s understanding of Jesus basic or core teachings. Treat your neighbor as yourself. Thank you and God bless you for your wisdom, which Jesus has bestowed upon you for all of us like minded Catholics.

  8. Based upon poverty, divorced and unmarried mothers are at the bottom of the barrel.

    “Whenever the laws and customs of a County permit an arrangement whereby a woman can be discarded because she has dishpan hands, she becomes the slave, not of the dishpan, but of man.”

    “The alarming increase of divorces in our land, and the consequent break-up of family life is due principally to the loss of love for the ideal in womanhood. Marriage has become identified with pleasure, not with love. Once the pleasure ceases, love ceases. The woman is loved not for what she is in herself but for what she is to others. The tragedy is such a state is not only what it does for woman, but also what it does for man. ”

    Quotes from Venerable Fulton Sheen.

COMMENTS POLICY: Comments are limited to 750 characters and will be truncated at 750. Comments should not contain offensive or libelous language. Please strive to be civil. All comments are subject to approval by our moderator and to editing as the moderator deems appropriate. Inclusion of your email address is optional.

Speak Your Mind

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

COMMENTS POLICY: Comments are limited to 750 characters and will be truncated at 750. Comments should not contain offensive or libelous language. Please strive to be civil. All comments are subject to approval by our moderator and to editing as the moderator deems appropriate. Inclusion of your email address is optional.