Here's Some Startling Facts About Divorce Rates In America

Children often suffer as a result of their parents' divorce. Image credit: fizkes/
Children often suffer as a result of their parents' divorce. Image credit: fizkes/
  • In states where couples are more likely to marry young, there are actually more people who have been married three times.
  • People who obtain higher education are less likely to get divorced, but this does not apply to all groups.
  • Many older couples divorce after 30 years of marriage, seeking independence in the years they have left to live.

Divorce: it is something that usually no one aspires to, but it happens to many. Divorce has a long history in the US. One of the first places to deal with it after Europeans arrived on the continent, was the Colony of Massachusetts Bay. In 1629, a tribunal was set up there to deal with the problem of unhappy marriages, allowing people to divorce for adultery, impotence, and being deserted. The ways couples can now get a divorce vary from state to state. Some states allow for a no-fault divorce, and others require more specific reasons in order to qualify for a “fault divorce.” The grounds for a no-fault divorce can include the fact that a couple has been living apart for a long time, there are irreconcilable differences, the marriage has broken down irremediably, or that the marriage is irretrievably broken. A fault divorce, on the other hand, requires one half of the couple to prove that something such as adultery has taken place, that their partner is now insane, that their partner is abusing substances, or that something like abuse is taking place, among other possible grounds. 

Are Americans divorcing in droves? The answer to that question depends on the decade in which you ask it, and to which Americans you are referring. Here are ten things to know about the divorce rate in the US. 

The General Divorce Rate Is On The Decline

Since the 1980s, the divorce rate has been going down. People are either not getting married or they are making better choices when they do. In the 80’s the divorce rate in the US sat at 50%, which sounds rather dire, and now that has gone down to about 39%, experts say. The biggest reason couples get divorced in the country is they feel they are no longer compatible, followed by infidelity, and money issues, surveys show. 

All this being said, some experts say the declining divorce rate does not necessarily equate with a greater amount of happy couples. According to Paul Amato, who published a review of research on divorce in the Journal of Marriage and Family and has been written about on, a couple’s lifetime risk of divorce in the US now probably sits around 42 to 45%. 

“And if you throw in permanent separations that don’t end in divorce, then the overall likelihood of marital disruption is pushing 50 percent,” Amato added. 

Divorce Rates Have Doubled Among The Higher Age Groups

Image credit: Syda Productions/

The divorce rate in the country is not going down for all groups, however. According to Pew Research Center, the divorce rate for couples 50 and older has actually doubled since the 1990s. In that decade, only about 5 people in every 1,000 aged 50 and older got divorced, and that number now sits around 10 for every 1,000. Experts say this is due in part to the fact that baby boomers, those born between 1944 and 1964, experienced a high level of divorce in young adulthood. It is a statistical fact that second marriages have a greater chance of resulting in divorce compared with first marriages. Other statistics reflect this, showing that among all adults aged 50 and older who got divorced in 2015, 48% were in their second or higher marriage.

Divorce Rate For Younger Generations Is Higher

Image credit: Antoniodiaz/

All of this bad press may be making baby boomers look bad, but in truth, the divorce rate of younger couples remains higher, despite the increase in divorces in older couples. For adults 25 to 39 years old, about 24 people in 1,000 got divorced in 2015. For those adults 40 to 49 years old, just 21 people in 1,000 went through a divorce. It is a small difference, but it exists. Experts say the fact that younger generations are getting married later in life could be contributing to the fall in their divorce rate. 

Rate Of Divorce Lower Among The More Educated Groups

Research shows that overall, the more education you have, the greater your chances are of having a long-lasting marriage. There are some exceptions to this rule, however. In a study cited by Huffington Post in 2013 and published in the journal Family Relations, researcher Jeounghee Kim found that African-American women who attain higher levels of education do not seem to benefit from the same “degree of protection” that obtaining higher education provides to marriage. Not fair, but for some reason, true, at the moment. 

Older Adults With Late Marriages Have A Higher Chance Of Divorce

Researchers have found that adults 50 and older who have been married for less than ten years get divorced nearly twice as often as those the same age, who have been married for 20 to 29 years. 

The Need To Enjoy Independence Often Leads To Divorce In Older Age

Pew Research Center also found that a large chunk of older couples who get divorced have been married for many years before they make the decision to part ways. About one third had been married for at least 30 years before getting divorced, and over 10% had actually been together for 40 years or more. Why did these couples wait so long to act on their wishes? That question was not answered. Surveys have shown that many of these divorces happen when people are seeking to enjoy some independence in the years they have left to live. Hey, there’s no time like the present. 

The Longer The Marriage, Greater Is The Risk Of Divorce 

This is a strange fact but it is true. As time goes on, more people get divorced. So, if you take any given group of married people in the US, for those who have been married for a short time, say about four years, almost 90% will still be married. By the time you reach the 20th year of marriage however, researchers have found that not even 60% of couples are still together. Does this prove that much of marriage is about compromise? Some people seem to get tired of the deal. 

Couples Who Go Into Wedding Debt Are More Likely To Go For Divorce

Image credit: Beeboys/

One way to safeguard yourself against suffering through a divorce is to have a low-key wedding. One survey showed that couples who did go into debt holding their wedding were more likely to get divorced. Nearly half of the newly weds who had wedding debt said money problems were causing them to consider divorce, compared with just 9% of couples who were wedding-debt-free. 

Divorce Could Be Contagious

Just as the idea of going on vacation to that amazing resort in Mexico can be catching among social groups, so can getting divorced, it has been found. Researchers have discovered that if you have a friend or a close relative who gets divorced, it actually dramatically increases the chances that you, too, will part ways with your spouse. 

States Where People Marry Young Have More Divorcees

Not too surprisingly, the states in the US where people get married younger have a higher rate of divorces. Arkansas and Oklahoma are among these, as are Utah, Idaho, and Kansas. People seem to be hopeful in these places, however, and some of these states also have the highest number of people who have been married three times. 


More in Society