Fifty Percent of American Marriages Are Ending in Divorce-Fiction!
Summary of eRumor:
Marriage has deteriorated so much that half the marriages in the United States are failing. There is a 50 percent chance that your marriage will not make it.
Here are some examples from just a few websites on the Internet:
- “Fifty percent of marriages will end in divorce.”
— An infidelity support group
- “Fifty percent of all marriages now end in divorce.”
— Promotion for a book on divorce
- “Fifty percent of all marriages in America end in divorce.”
— From the treasurer’s office of a Midwestern state
- “Over 50 percent of marriages end in divorce.”
— From a men’s counseling center in California
Divorce is too common in America and that should not be taken lightly, but those who are committed to a lifetime of marriage don’t need the discouragement accompanying the notion that half the marriages are going to self-destruct anyway.
Let me say it straightforwardly: Fifty percent of American marriages are not ending in divorce. It’s fiction. A myth. A tragically discouraging urban legend.
If there’s no credible evidence that half of American marriages will end up in divorce court, where did that belief originate?
Demographers say there was increased focus on divorce rates during the 1970s when the number of divorces rose, partly as a result of no-fault divorce. Divorces peaked in 1979 and articles started appearing that claimed 50 percent of American marriages were ending in divorce.
A spokesperson for the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics told me that the rumor appears to have originated from a misreading of the facts. It was true, he said, if you looked at all the marriages and divorces within a single year, you’d find that there were twice as many marriages as divorces. In 1981, for example, there were 2.4 million marriages and 1.2 million divorces. At first glance, that would seem like a 50-percent divorce rate.
Virtually none of those divorces were among the people who had married during that year, however, and the statistic failed to take into account the 54 million marriages that already existed, the majority of which would not see divorce.
Another source for the 50-percent figure could be those who were trying to predict the future of divorce. Based on known divorce records, they projected that 50 percent of newly married young people would divorce. University of Chicago sociologist and researcher Linda Waite told USA Today that the 50-percent divorce stats were based more on assumptions than facts.
So what is the divorce picture in America? Surprisingly, it’s not easy to get precise figures because some states don’t report divorces to the National Center for Health Statistics, including one of the largest: California.
Some researchers have relied on surveys rather than government statistics. In his book Inside America in 1984, pollster Louis Harris said that only about 11 or 12 percent of people who had ever been married had ever been divorced. Researcher George Barna’s most recent survey of Americans in 2001 estimates that 34 percent of those who have ever been married have ever been divorced.
One of the latest reports about divorce was released this year by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS). It is based on a 1995 federal study of nearly 11,000 women ages 15-44. It predicted that one-third of new marriages among younger people will end in divorce within 10 years and 43 percent within 15 years. That is not a death sentence, however; it’s a forecast. Martha Farnsworth Riche, former head of the Census Bureau, told USA Today, “This is what is going to happen unless we want to change it.”
Most important, the statistics and predictions about Americans in general don’t tell the whole story about the future. There are other factors that affect a person’s chances for a long marriage. The NCHS study of women, for example, shows that age makes a difference. Women marrying before age 20 face a higher risk for divorce. Marriages that have already lasted for a number of years are less likely to end in divorce. If your parents did not divorce, your chances are better than if you came from a broken home. Couples who live together before marriage are more likely to divorce.
The bottom line is that marriage is still what it’s always been: a commitment between two people who choose to remain faithful to each other. And they don’t need to feel doomed because of scary statistics — least of all ones that are urban myths.