Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

In the News: Divorce is Majorly on Decline

MarriageGood 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.

10 comments… add one
  • RedroverRedrover December 4, 2014, 2:14 pm

    But now what are the MRAs going to complain about who say that feminism is causing all the divorces?

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    • Addie Pray December 4, 2014, 2:16 pm

      Wait, MRAs? …

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      • RedroverRedrover December 4, 2014, 2:23 pm

        If you’ve never run into one, count yourself lucky. They say they’re men’s rights activists, but they tend to actually be anti-feminists. I’ve never met an actual men’s rights activist whose focus is on improving things for men rather than blaming women for all of men’s problems.

      • Dear Wendy December 4, 2014, 2:33 pm

        Ugh, you should see some of the MRA comments I’ve gotten and deleted on DW over the years. They’re vile.

      • Addie Pray December 4, 2014, 3:10 pm

        Maybe one day you could gather all the weirdo/horrible comments and publish them together. Do any of the MRAs ask about me? No? That’s bullshit.

      • RedroverRedrover December 4, 2014, 3:15 pm

        They’re not interesting to read, typically. They’re insulting and upsetting, and they make you feel awful that there are real people out there who apparently actually think this way about women.

      • Addie Pray December 4, 2014, 3:09 pm

        Never ever have I heard of an MRA. I’m not well read or up-to-date on current events though so there you go. I am up-to-date on the Duggars and cheese though.

  • mylaray December 4, 2014, 5:05 pm

    I do think this is good news. People are preparing much more for a good foundation for marriage. Actually, sometimes I think people can prepare too far, like needing to have all your ducks in a row (though I was like that), and then maybe having a family isn’t possible by waiting for everything to be perfect. It will be interesting to see how these marriages fare into old age. As people live longer, I’m kind of skeptical on the longevity of marriage being forever.

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  • Lyra December 4, 2014, 7:21 pm

    I love this. I do think that people are taking their time when choosing someone to marry and I think that’s a really great sign.

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  • SasLinna December 5, 2014, 8:15 am

    This is really interesting. I have to admit that I always just assumed that divorce rates would stay at the current level (or the level they were at when I was growing up). I belong to a generation of kids who experienced a relatively high divorce rate in their parent’s marriages. Now that I’m at an age where a lot of my peers get married, I see many relationships that I believe will go the distance – though of course it will be interesting to check again in ten years. Basically everyone’s getting married at 30+ and there are very few ‘oops’ babies.
    The socioeconomic factors are fascinating as well. I wonder if – besides the different ideas about gender roles – it’s also just harder for people with lower incomes to sustain their marriages because they suffer a lot of additional stress in life. Money issues can be such a huge stress factor.

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