Good news for society: the divorce rate is on decline. Even though the old refrain that “50% of marriages end in divorce” is still used ad nauseum, the truth is that in the past 20 years that statistic is no longer accurate. Since peak divorce rates of the 70s and 80s, which came on the heels of the women’s liberation movement (when women stopped needing men as much for financial support and shifted focus from building marriages and families to building careers), the rate of divorce has steadily dropped. In fact, according to a recent article in the Times, “about 70 percent of marriages that began in the 1990s reached their 15th anniversary (excluding those in which a spouse died), up from about 65 percent of those that began in the 1970s and 1980s. Those who married in the 2000s are so far divorcing at even lower rates. If current trends continue, nearly two-thirds of marriages will never involve a divorce, according to data from Justin Wolfers, a University of Michigan economist (who also contributes to The Upshot).”
There are several reasons for this divorce decline: people are marrying later in life when they have a better sense what they’re looking for in a partner and are more established in their careers, and they are marrying for love instead of financial security; people are living with partners before marriage and weeding out bad matches before tying the knot; fewer people (like those who might be more commitment phobic) are actually opting to get married at all.
Unfortunately, the positive marriage trends aren’t equal across economic classes. For example, people without college degrees are still divorcing at a rate similar to the peak rates of the 70s and 80s. Among people without college degrees who married in the early 2000s, 17% were divorced by their seventh anniversary, while only 11% of college-educated people were divorced. The theory behind this disparity is that less educated, working-class families have more traditional ideas of gender roles in marriages (men are the breadwinners, women take care of the domestic duties and childrearing), but, as the economy nosedived and these working-class husbands struggled to find work and support their families, their marriages collapsed. Meanwhile, “better-educated Americans have found a new marriage model in which both spouses work and they build a strong economic foundation for their marriage,” says Andrew Cherlin, a sociologist and author of “Labor’s Love Lost: The Rise and Fall of the Working-Class Family in America.”
So basically: feminism has been good for marriage.