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Marriage and Divorce: Statistics and Legal Trends

Last Updated 10/18/2019

Marriage and divorce have changed significantly since the English common law times from when they originated. As our society has been in a constant state of evolution, so have the institutions of marriage and divorce. Every aspect from why people choose to get married (or divorced), to who can get married (or divorced), to how people get married (or divorced) has evolved.

Let's take a look at current marriage and divorce statistics, as well as legal trends that have emerged in recent years.

Marriage and Divorce by the Numbers

Have you ever heard that the divorce rate in the United States is 50 percent? That's a popular "statistic" that gets thrown around a lot, but it lacks accuracy. It's hard to pin an exact percentage on how many marriages end in divorce, but we do know that the divorce rate has been on the decline since the 1980s.

Thanks to the CDC, the Pew Research Center, and other sources, we also know:

  • The divorce rate in the U.S. is 3.2 per 1,000 people, according to the CDC (44 states and Washington, D.C. reporting).
  • The divorce rate decreased by 18 percent from 2008 to 2016, according to a 2018 study.
  • Only 50 percent of today's American adults will tie the knot; in 1960, 72 percent of Americans got married.
  • In the early 1980s, the median ages for men and women to get married were 25 and 22, respectively. Today, the median age for men to get married is 29 and for women is 27.
  • The average length of a marriage that ends in divorce is eight years, according to the 2011 U.S. Census.
  • 18 million Americans were living with an unmarried partner in 2016, which was up 29 percent since 2007.
  • The divorce rate quadrupled over the past three decades for people between the ages of 54 and 64.
  • 40 percent of marriages today involve at least one person who has been divorced.
  • 16 percent of U.S. children live with a blended family, where one or both parents each have children from a prior marriage.
  • 6 percent of divorced couples end up remarrying each other.

Social Norms and Economics Affect Legal Trends

As the statistics above show, both the marriage and divorce rates are trending downward in the U.S., and researchers believe this is mostly due to changing social norms and economics. These factors, and other marriage and divorce trends, include:

Millennials making an impact. Those born from 1981 to 1996 are getting married later, when they are older and more established in life and career. Researchers credit millennials with helping to lower the divorce rate, as these marriages tend to be less risky and less likely to end in divorce.

Signs of social inequality. Marriage is now more about status than necessity, researchers say. It is more common for people to enter marriage in a financially-secure place than hoping to gain financial security, which tends to put negative pressure on a marriage. However, at the same time, marriage is becoming less obtainable for certain demographics, which is a sign of social inequality, researchers warn.

Cohabitation. Living together before marriage has become much more common, and today more than 65 percent of couples live together before tying the knot. Some choose cohabitation as a less formal alternative to marriage, which comes with fewer privileges and responsibilities.

Babyboomers and divorce. The divorce rate is still on the rise for the babyboomer population, which is known as the "gray divorce" phenomenon. Reasons for this include: boomers were more likely to marry young (a major risk for divorce) and have multiple marriages in life (second and third marriages are more likely to end in divorce).

Divorce isn't taboo. Unlike a few decades ago, it has become socially acceptable to end a marriage for virtually any reason. Divorce is represented in mainstream TV shows and movies, and public figures such as politicians and church leaders are not afraid to discuss their divorces.

Marrying for love. The Pew Research Center reported that 88 percent of Americans said love was a "very important" reason to get married — over other reasons such as making a lifelong commitment, companionship, and having children. Only 23 percent of people said legal rights and benefits were a "very important" reason to get married.

Intermarriage on the rise. Marrying a person of a different race or ethnicity is becoming more common. In 2015, 17 percent of people were intermarried, while only 3 percent of newlyweds were married to a person of another race or ethnicity in 1967. More than half of younger adults support intermarriage.

Want to Learn More About Divorce?

You can learn more about the divorce process in your state here. If a divorce may be in your future, or you'd like to discuss a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement, an experienced family law attorney in your area can answer all of your questions.

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