Thomas Gallatin / November 24, 2020

Declining Marriage and Divorce in America

While marriages are at an all-time low, the divorce rate has also dropped to a 50-year low.

The number of American couples divorcing has hit its lowest mark in 50 years. “For every 1,000 marriages in the last year, only 14.9 ended in divorce,” according to research released by the Institute for Family Studies, But before popping corks in celebration, one primary factor needs to be noted: fewer Americans than ever are choosing to get married in the first place.

Research director Wendy Wang believes that the divorce rate is expected to continue to drop “despite the pandemic,” and she points to several contributing factors besides fewer marriages. Those include people waiting until they’re older and more financially stable, being more selective in their choice of a spouse, and the fact that a higher percentage of the couples getting married are more likely to be religious.

Sociology professor Philip Cohen says the declining divorce rate is also appearing in younger couples as well. He explains, “The United States is progressing toward a system in which marriage is … more stable than it was in the past,” adding that in marriages from 1980 to 2010, “the odds of divorce in the first decade or two of marriage fell.”

Yet there is one outlier, and that is the divorce rate for older baby boomers. The divorce rate for women ages 55-64 almost tripled between 1990 and 2017, while it doubled for men in the same age demographic. This rate only seems to increase with age, as women 65 and older have increased the divorce rate six times from 1990 to 2017, while men in the same age range have tripled divorce rates.

Wang notes a consistent theme among couples with lower rates of divorce across all age demographics: strong religious commitments. “People who are frequent churchgoers are more likely to be married, even after controlling for education and income,” Wang states. “The marital commitment among those couples are high.”

Finally, the COVID-19 silver lining. Interestingly, research indicates that the coronavirus has brought 58% of Americans a greater sense of awareness of and appreciation for their spouse, while roughly half of married couples claim to have experienced a greater contentment in their marriages throughout the pandemic. Researchers W. Bradford Wilcox and Lyman Stone write, “Some 65% of married adults whose financial situation got worse said the pandemic has made them appreciate their spouse more, and 60% said it has also deepened their commitment to their marriage.”

Hopefully, more Americans will come to appreciate and value marriage, which is the essential institution of any healthy society and the foundation for genuine family.

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