Half of All Marriages End in Divorce, Right?

In the U.S., there are about twice as many marriages as divorces each year. So 50% of marriages end in divorce, right? Wrong.

How is that? Because the people getting divorced in a given year were not the same people who got married that year – for the most part.

Moreover, the U.S Census Bureau calculates what is known as a crude divorce rate – the number of divorces per 1,000 people in the population (federal funding for the collection of detailed divorce statistics was suspended in 1996, and not all states report divorces).
This calculation has its limitations, however, as it includes children and single adults who are not at risk of divorce. Considering these limitations, the crude divorce rate rose from 2.2 in 1960 to 5.3 in 1981 – a 141% increase, and then dropped gradually to 3.6 in 2007 – a 32% decline.

Most social scientists and demographers believe that the refined divorce rate – the number of divorces per 1,000 married women – is preferable to the crude rate, because it includes only those people at risk of divorce.

Using this approach, the refined divorce rate ranged from 14.3 in North Dakota to 34.5 in Washington, D.C., with a national average of 19.4, according to National Center for Family and Marriage Research.

Further, the divorce rate fell (slightly) from 17 divorces per 1,000 married women to 16.9 per 1,000 married women from 2007 to 2008.

Social scientists also use what has been termed the cohort approach, which is the divorce rate among people who married in a given year or set of adjacent years. Societal changes over time, many of which are shared by “cohorts,” affect the divorce rate.

The fact that people are marrying later in life may be leading to more mature marriages and lowering the divorce rate. In the 1950s, the median age for marriage was 23 for men and 20 for women, compared to 27 for men and 26 for women in 2004.



Jean-Paul Guidry is a Shreveport divorce lawyer.

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