The Divorce Rate Is Falling. Shouldn’t That Mean the Sky Isn’t?

Claire Cain Miller of the New York Times Upshot blog dismantles the myth of the 50% divorce rate (emphasis mine):

It is no longer true that the divorce rate is rising, or that half of all marriages end in divorce. It has not been for some time. Even though social scientists have tried to debunk those myths, somehow the conventional wisdom has held.

Despite hand-wringing about the institution of marriage, marriages in this country are stronger today than they have been in a long time. The divorce rate peaked in the 1970s and early 1980s and has been declining for the three decades since.

About 70 percent of marriages that began in the 1990s reached their 15th anniversary (excluding those in which a spouse died), up from about 65 percent of those that began in the 1970s and 1980s. Those who married in the 2000s are so far divorcing at even lower rates. If current trends continue, nearly two-thirds of marriages will never involve a divorce, according to data from Justin Wolfers, a University of Michigan economist (who also contributes to The Upshot).

This should be fantastic news for conservative Christians, who often blame the decline in “traditional marriage” on divorce.

In 2010, for example, the Southern Baptist Convention denounced “the rampant divorce rate in our culture,” claiming it has caused “great social and economic cost, with women and children suffering disproportionately in ways that are incalculable.” Albert Mohler, president of the SBC’s Southern Seminary, has lamented the “post-marriage culture,” claiming at the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission’s recent conference on “The Gospel, Homosexuality, and the Future of Marriage” that “the divorce revolution has done far more damage to marriage than same-sex marriage will ever do.” (UPDATE: Mohler addresses the article today in his daily podcast, The Briefing.)

But what if marriage, overall, isn’t on the rocks because of the so-called “divorce culture,” but is actually more stable precisely because of the very factors the Christian right frequently points to as causes of the “decline” of marriage: feminism, the broadening of reproductive rights and options, and cohabitation?

Miller explains that while the rising divorce rate of the 1960s and 1970s may have been due to the social changes brought by the feminist movement, today feminism provides the groundwork for a lower divorce rate:

[M]arriage has evolved to its modern-day form, based on love and shared passions, and often two incomes and shared housekeeping duties.

The people who married soon before the feminist movement were caught in the upheaval. They had married someone who was a good match for the postwar culture but the wrong partner after times changed. Modern marriage is more stable because people are again marrying people suitable to the world in which we live.

“It’s just love now,” Mr. Wolfers said. “We marry to find our soul mate, rather than a good homemaker or a good earner.”

Of course, people still get divorced, and they still stay in unhappy marriages, in some instances owing to economic factors. But the notion that easier access to divorce has continued to cause half (or close to it) of all marriages to crumble, and that’s the fault of a more permissive, less “traditional,” and/or less pious culture seems simply not to be the case. Rather than more divorces, these trends have produced different kinds of marriages (including long-term and life-long relationships that may not be marriages in the legal sense).

Love in lasting marriages, brought to you by the feminist movement.


  •' Craptacular says:

    “Even though social scientists have tried to debunk those myths, somehow the conventional wisdom has held.” – Claire Cain Miller

    If by “conventional wisdom” she means “beliefs trump facts,” then yes, the religious have repeatedly told the rest of us that facts don’t matter, only beliefs. They don’t hide this anymore, either, which is why it surprises me when someone points this out. FACTS DON’T MATTER TO THE RELIGIOUS…that is why they are religious and not skeptics.

    So as long as a “50% divorce” rate puts people in the pews and money in the church coffers, our culture will “have” a 50% divorce rate. And a “war on christmas.” And a “war on religion.” And the “US is a christian nation.” And .

  •' Jim Reed says:

    We might end up needing at least a war on Christianity if we want to save the world.

  •' Craptacular says:

    I’ve noticed that your recent posts seem to use a more belligerent tone…is there something you want to talk about, Jim? 🙂

  •' Jim Reed says:

    Is this a multiple choice question?

  •' Jim Reed says:

    One thing I think it would be good to talk about is what happens to Christianity as we move into space. There might soon be multiple space stations, and launches every week or so to take people up and down to the space station ring. We might soon be able to establish a colony on Mars, and if we can do that, we can spread across the solar system. There could end up being more people in space and other planets or moons than there is on earth. Christianity is a religion looking for an earth based end times. I think the implications of space travel will be more than anyone is currently thinking about (regarding Christianity). I would like to see what happens when Christianity starts to face the meaning of what is to come.

  •' Rmj says:

    “A Canticle for Leibowitz” saw it as the salvation of the Church and humankind.

    It’s never occurred to me that all of Xianity is represented by the groups claiming to expect or even foresee and “end time.” The prophetic proclamation is closer to what Dr. King quoted: the arc of the universe bending toward justice.

    Which is not the same thing as saying history ends on earth when “they” get their “just desserts.” I know some Christian groups claim that; but most of us don’t.

  •' Rmj says:

    Regarding “the religious” and facts, I’ll pass your comments on to George LeMaitre, the Jesuit who formulated the Big Bang theory.

    Oh, didn’t you mean those kinds of facts? Or perhaps you didn’t mean that kind of “religious”?

    And last I looked, opinions like a “war on christmas,” or on religion, or that the “US is a christian nation,” were not being espoused by any church or denomination as “religious beliefs.”

    But maybe I’m not keeping up with the latest doctrinal pronouncements.

  •' Jim Reed says:

    That is all true. It might take 50 or 100 years, but things will change. The rapture/end times segment of Christianity will become obsolete. I don’t think this can be understood quite yet, but that change will reverberate across Christendom. Was there a Jesus? Does it matter? Christianity will think they can make any necessary adjustments as they always have. That is what the future will show. Personally, I think the changes will be put in motion and won’t stop until everything has changed. Those who are young enough will probably live to see it all play out. The rest of us, about all we can do is discuss it. And the more it is discussed, the more significant everything looks. Exactly what is Christianity? It has been discussed for a few years now here. At first, people thought they knew. Now they don’t sound so sure.

  •' Jim Reed says:

    The more times per week that people go to church, the more likely they are to vote republican. The Republicans are winning, and it is the Christian’s fault.

  •' Greg jones says:

    I don’t have the stats to back it up but isn’t the marriage rate falling? If so, then of course the divorce rate is as well….

  •' Tony Adams says:

    Shouldn’t that NYTimes piece have included stats showing the decline in number of those electing to get married? When no one gets married, no one gets divorced.

  •' Jim Reed says:

    They were looking more at percentages than totals.

  •' Rita Nakashima Brock says:

    I suspect a major factor in the decline in divorce rates correlates to the decline in military service. Why? The draft ended in 1975 and currently fewer than 1% of people serve in the military. Yet, in the county of Ft Hood TX, the largest military base in the world, the divorce rate is 80%. I would suspect similar rates elsewhere in the military, but since this is less than 1% of all marriages, the divorce rates have been falling since the 1990s because military service rates have been falling on top of the rise in co-habitation rates before marriage (“trial” marriages) and feminist changes in what women will accept in a marriage partner. As more women have careers and their own income, they are less likely to stay in a harmful marriage, but I think the change in military service is the most important factor–military service is just very hard on families.

  •' phatkhat says:

    Eh, I don’t think you hang out with the Teavangelicals much, do you?

    Jesuits don’t tend to be ignorant rednecks, last I checked, but the fundy churches are FULL of them. Go through any small town in the South, and you will see marquee after marquee filled with slogans supporting Craptacular’s comment.

  •' phatkhat says:

    Maybe a war on fundamentalist Abrahamic religion in general. It’s the fundy Muslims, Jews and Christians that are causing most of the unrest worldwide.

  •' phatkhat says:

    The far right fundy fringe probably only accounts for about 20% or so of Christians, but they are much louder than the other 80%, and very, very determined to take over politics in the US. Actually, they are doing a damn good job of it. And the rest of the country is still unaware.

  •' Craptacular says:

    “But maybe I’m not keeping up with the latest doctrinal pronouncements.” – Rmj

    So you are saying that the only thing the religious believe in are doctrinal pronouncements? Or are you merely being obtuse?

    Either way, it is typical religious behavior to ignore what you don’t believe, so feel free to ignore or belittle my comment. And thank you for illustrating my point.

  •' phatkhat says:

    That would be Bell County, and you might add Coryell County, as the fort extends into it. Besides the base, there is a pretty large population of permanent residents, many of whom work in government/contractor jobs. I was stationed there for a couple of years, and can tell you that the whole area is, aside from the government/military, pretty impoverished and full of fundy Xtians. Actually, the military is full of fundy Xtians nowadays, when you get down to it. And fundies actually have a high divorce rate.

    The civilian divorce rate stands at about 3.6 percent as of 2010, according to the most recent data. Military and civilian divorce rates cannot be accurately compared due to how they are tracked.

    While the divorce rate in the military is based on personnel data used to distribute benefits, the civilian rate is calculated on a per-1,000 person basis by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC’s calculation, however, only accounts for 41 states because several states, including California, do not track or report their rate.

    According to the article cited, military women have a higher divorce rate than military men. I found this interesting, but not surprising. As a female veteran, I can say that going through military training is a great confidence builder, and perhaps many women find out that they don’t “need” a husband.

    I would also think that many of the younger families are financially stressed, plus deployments are hard. As you get older, you learn to deal with it, but young recruits not so much. Then toss in PTSD, where the combat vets come home totally effed up and acting weird.

    Military service may be a small factor in the overall divorce rate, but hardly the most important one.

  •' phatkhat says:

    I think another factor is the economy. Maybe the biggest factor. A lot of people can’t AFFORD to get a divorce. And the economy has been downhill for regular people since Reagan. People are waiting later and later to marry – a lot of it for financial reasons – and those who marry later have kind of gathered enough life experience to know what they really want in a partner.

    Feminism has played a role, for sure. But I’m not sure it’s the primary influence. I think there are a lot of factors at play.

  •' Chuck Martel says:

    This is an totally deceptive article. Marriage rates are at all time lows. So yes, the sky is falling. See how well you liberals do in the Islamic Republic of Amerika.

  •' jaydeon02 says:

    A lot of couples are living together as spouses without being legally marriage. This sinful way of cohabitating allow couples to separate without a record of divorce like in marriage.

  •' Kev Hurls says:

    The falling diverse-rate is a sign of the powerlessness of the misguided right-wing ding-bats. Americans are more accepting of each other, thanks to the Liberals.

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