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The US divorce rate keeps dropping. What does that reflect?

You've probably heard that half of all marriages in the U.S. end in divorce. It's a statistic people cite to shore up a whole range of arguments, but the truth is a bit more complex. For example, it's not true that half of all first marriages end in divorce; the count includes second and later marriages, which are statistically less likely to succeed.

The reality is always more complex than statistical models, and getting a divorce doesn't turn you into a statistic. Yet while it may not matter to individual people whether the divorce rate is rising or falling, academics have been toiling for decades to find out what divorce rates can tell us about marriage and divorce.

Here are some straightforward numbers: Last year in the U.S., there were 16.9 divorces per 1,000 married women age 15 and older. That represents a drop of between 4 and 5 percent from 2014 levels, and the third year the numbers went down.

The divorce rate is determined using a statistical analysis. After that, it's up to sociologists to describe those trends and see if they can show us any underlying reasons for them. Here are a few of the conclusions made by researchers at the National Center for Family and Marriage Research at Bowling Green State University:

  • Today's young people are waiting longer to get married than their parents did, which may mean they are taking their time finding the right partner.
  • Cohabitation is less stigmatized than in the past, so marriage is no longer the only realistic option for long-term relationships.
  • Americans with more education and/or more money tend to get married at a higher rate than others, and they also tend to stay together longer.
  • The place with the highest divorce rate in the U.S. last year was Washington, D.C., while the place with the lowest was Hawaii.

As we said, statistical information doesn't capture individual situations or the reasons behind them. The only reasons for divorce that really matter are your own.

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John T. Chamberlin, Attorney at Law
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