According to the most recent data from the US Census, roughly 16.6 out of every 1,000 women in the US over the age of 15 are married. The divorce rate currently sits at around 7.7, meaning that approximately 39-42% of US marriages end in divorce.
Popular narratives might have you believe that divorce is an escalating problem in the US, but that's not necessarily true. In truth, the divorce rate now is significantly lower than it was 50 years ago due to a variety of factors.
Whether you're considering marriage with a significant other, are a newlywed wondering what's in store for you, or are contemplating divorce yourself, understanding trends in marriage can be helpful. Without further ado, here are the divorce trends you should be aware of in 2020.
Millennials Are Getting Divorced Less (So Far)
With each generation, the average age for marriage tends to increase. In 2018, the median age for marriage was 29 for men and 27 for women. To compare, the average marriage age for women in the 1960s was around 20, and for men it was about 22.
That's a pretty significant jump. Millennials are also getting married less—according to the Pew Research Center, the marriage rate for millennials will probably even out at around 70%, which is about 10-20% lower than the previous three generations (the most significant marriage rate drop in the history of the US).
A couple of key factors are contributing to the low marriage rate among millennials:
- Secularity. Four in ten millennials say they aren't affiliated with a religion. In 2019, 26% of people surveyed by the Pew Research Center identified as atheist or agnostic, up from 17% in 2009. Conversely, the number of individuals who identified as protestant dropped from 51% to 43% in that time. It's worth noting that younger individuals (like millennials) don't respond to telephone surveys like older people, so the gap may be even larger in reality. Even young Americans who do identify as religious are still less likely to actively practice religion, maintaining a belief system without attending church or actively praying.
As fewer Americans identify with a particular religion, the institution of marriage and the classic idea of getting married in a church become less appealing. The millennial's successor generation, Gen Z, is the least religious yet, so don't be surprised if the divorce rate continues to drop in the coming years.
- Economic stability. For many millennials, financial stability is a prerequisite for marriage. However, relative to inflation, millennials earn roughly 20% less than baby boomers did at the same stages of life, despite being better educated. Couple that with a 14% increase in the cost of living across the US, and you've got a recipe for financial instability among younger generations in the US.
However, once millennials do get married, they're more likely to stay with each other for longer—at least, so far. However, the oldest millennials now are just nearing their 40s, and the divorce rate tends to spike among people aged 50 and older. You'll have to check back in with us in another 15 or so years before we can definitively claim that millennials are staying with each other longer than other generations.
Speaking of the divorce rate among older adults...
The Divorce Rate Is Spiking Among Older Generations
For America's age 50+ population, the outlook on marriage isn't quite as rosy as it is for younger generations. According to Pew Research, since the 1990s, the divorce rate among baby boomers and other Americans aged 50 and over has roughly doubled. That's a considerable increase.
As for reasons why, there are a few:
- Many older Americans are on their second or third marriage. Remarriages are much more likely to end in divorce than first marriages. Per the same research from Pew, the divorce rate for individuals on their second marriage is twice as high as the divorce rate for individuals who are still with their first spouse. A lot of things, such as jumping into a new marriage recklessly, increased financial instability from a previous divorce, and heightened cynicism about the bond of marriage, all play a role in this statistic.
- Life expectancy among older Americans continues to increase. Some studies have linked life expectancy and divorce. As people continue to live longer and remain healthier later into their lives, many Americans find themselves wanting for new experiences that may be incompatible with their current marriage or lifestyle. In such cases, many people turn towards divorce.
- Dating apps make leaving a relationship or committing infidelity easier. Dating apps are a double-edged sword. For younger Americans, dating apps may lead to happier marriages. Having access to a wide range of partners allows younger individuals to more accurately understand what kind of person they gel with and establish a stronger marriage once they do settle down. For older Americans, however, dating apps may have the opposite effect. Dating apps make it easier than ever for people to leave an unhappy marriage or commit adultery, both of which often lead to divorce.
However, it's not just older Americans who are getting divorced more. Increasingly, women are instigating the end to their marriages.
Women Are More Likely to Ask for Divorce
Women prompt the vast majority of divorces—a survey from 2015 found that women initiated 69% of divorces, and that figure may have risen in recent years.
The reason why women are more likely to ask for a divorce is relatively simple. As women's rights have increased, women are more capable of leaving poor marriages and unhappy relationships.
Women's rights movements, such as feminism, have created a paradigm shift in gender roles across the US. In previous generations, many women were relegated to the role of stay-at-home parent, taking care of the homestead and/or raising children while their partner was responsible for bringing in income. For women in this situation, divorce often seemed untenable—they lacked the financial resources and social structures to justify ending their marriage.
Today, more women are working than ever before, even if they have children. The more women integrate into the workforce, the more financial agency they have. Couple that increased economic stability with evolving views on gender roles and independence, and you have a good recipe for divorce. It's no mystery as to why women higher up the corporate ladder are more likely to file for divorce.
On average, women tend to be happier post-divorce than men. Researchers found that 35% of women report feeling less stressed immediately after their divorce, and around 30% experienced a boost in self-esteem. For men, those percentages evened out at 17% and 15%, respectively.
All of these trends are only compounded by current events, such as the COVID-19 Pandemic.
Will the Coronavirus Lead to Higher Divorce Rates?
Many family lawyers are bracing for a surge in divorces as states across the US lift their stay-at-home and quarantine order for the COVID-19 pandemic.
In cities such as Miluo, China, when the quarantine lifted, so many people filed for divorce that staff didn't have time to drink water between processing divorce filings. The number of divorce cases filed backlogged government offices.
Many US-based family lawyers predict a similar spike in divorces once the US begins to reopen. For many couples, having time apart to participate in unique activities and hobbies is vital to keeping the marriage healthy. Being cooped up inside together all day every day in quarantine is a recipe for disaster for many couples.
Additionally, money problems are often cited as the number-one instigator of divorce. Over 20 million Americans have lost jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic. Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell has warned that the US unemployment rate could top out at around 25%, a figure not seen since the Great Depression.
Add together these factors with the added stress of parents who are forced to educate children and work from home simultaneously due to the pandemic, and it’s no surprise why so many lawyers expect a surge in divorces post-quarantine in the US.
Divorce in the US is a complicated topic. We hope this list of divorce trends across the US has given you some food for thought and helped you learn a little more about divorce and marriage in America.
If you need help with a divorce or other family law-related legal dispute, contact our office online or via phone at (215) 515-9901 for a consultation with our team.