Divorce in a Modern World
Q. Why is divorce so prevalent in this country?
A. Marriages used to be held together by many different bonds, including economic dependency, pressure from families, societal taboos, strong religious ties, and strict divorce laws. These have all weakened in modern times. Today, marriages are based almost entirely on love, an emotion. People's emotions are notoriously changeable. When love is lost, there often seems little reason to continue to hold the marriage together. Looked at slightly differently, the standard of a good marriage today is personal fulfillment -- a historically high standard. If one feels that is not being achieved, there are few disincentives for, and relatively little stigma against, moving on. Moreover, with the high divorce risk (nearly 50 percent of first marriages can be expected to end in divorce), there are many post-divorce opportunities for remarriage or re-partnering.
Q. That 50 percent divorce risk figure surprises me. How can that be true when most of my friends are still married?
A. The 50 percent figure is a national average. For many readers of this magazine, the actual risk of divorce is far lower than that. For example, people whose average income is over $50,000 have a 30 percent lower divorce risk than people who make under $25,000. People who married after 25 years of age have a 25 percent lower divorce rate than those who marry under age 18. For a college graduate with a decent income who married around the average age of first marriage (25 for women and 27 for men), the risk of divorce is probably below 25 percent.
Q. I have heard that the divorce rate has been dropping in recent decades. Is that true?
A. Yes, the rate has been gradually dropping since 1980, and the main reason seems to be that fewer people are marrying while they are still teenagers. Marrying as a teenager, which used to be common, carries a particularly high risk of divorce. It may also be that -- to a moderate extent -- people are working harder to save their marriages than they did 30 years ago.