Divorce Rates are Way Up?

On behalf of Ronald H. Kauffman, P.A. posted in Divorce on Sunday, March 30, 2014.

The accepted wisdom is that divorce rates have dropped since the 1980s, and have been declining since. I recently blogged about how more people are divorcing. Now there is a new report confirming that divorce rates have actually risen by a whopping 40%!

Part of the problem with counting divorces is that collecting divorce statistics in the United States is not consistent. Some counties keep good track of finalized divorce cases, others don’t. Also, different states and the federal Census Bureau have had a rocky history of collecting the data from across the country.

In fact, the federal government has stopped providing financial support for detailed state collection, and some states, especially California, have stopped reporting divorce rates entirely.

A new paper has looked to a different source of information: the American Community Survey, which is an ongoing sampling of population in every state. Here are some of their findings:

– Since 1980 the overall divorce rate has declined only 2.2%.

– Controlling for the change in the age of the population the divorce rate has actually risen 40%.

– The divorce rate peaked in 2011.

By the year 2010, the report notes, “almost half of ever married Americans had divorced or separated by the time they reached their late 50’s.”

The increase in the divorce rate is being blamed on the Baby Boomers, those born between 1945 and 1954. In the 1970s, Baby Boomers, who were then in their twenties, were equally likely to divorce.

But by 1990, couples in their twenties were more stable, but the Baby Boomers, who were entering their forties, continued to divorce “at unprecedented rates.” Since then, the biggest rise in divorce has the “massive increase” in divorce among women in their fifties.

The report also finds that younger married couples are actually enjoying more stable marriages than Baby Boomers did at their age. However, the reason divorce is lower for younger married couples today is that most younger couples are not getting married; instead they’re cohabitating.

Cohabitation has always been far less stable than marriages.

Our results document striking growth in…turbulence since the 1980s. Divorce at age 40 or higher is much more common than it was and because cohabitation makes up a rapidly growing percentage of all unions they have an increasing impact on overall union instability.

One point to keep in mind is the source of their data. Remember, Kennedy and Ruggles, relied on the American Community Survey for their data. the American Community Survey is just a household survey filled out by a single individual, and may not be the most reliable source of divorce reports.

An abstract of the Report can be found here.