The 50% Myth

For a long time we’ve heard this saw repeated again and again: “Fifty percent of marriages end in divorce.” Like so much other bad news, this is no longer true. Since peaking in the 1980s, the divorce rate has been falling. Even so, news outlets like Fox and ABC still say things like “the divorce rate is going up” or it’s “50 percent and climbing.”

What has really happened? According to a recent New York Times article by Claire Cain Miller, “The Divorce Surge Is Over but the Myth Lives On,” the divorce rate will probably fall to about one in three. But isn’t that worse than divorce rates from the “good ole days?” Maybe so. However, over time the institution of marriage has changed, and this may be why divorces became much more common in the 60s, 70s and 80s. For most of its history in the Industrial Age, marriage has been, in many respects, an economic institution. The husband left home to work and make money; the wife worked at home and ran the household. (Of course this wasn’t true for all women, especially poor woman, who have often had to work to make ends meet.)

By the end of the 60s, attitudes changed a great deal. Many people felt less compelled to conform to a role and more motivated to carve out a life that transcended societal strictures. Today most people marry for love. And millions of committed couples who start families choose not to marry.

I doubt we will ever return to a time where divorces are extremely rare. Life is too good nowadays for most people to bear a bad marriage. In this era of equality, a match, to a greater degree, must be made in heaven for it to be made. As marriage becomes more of a life option and not an expectation, I think we’ll have more happy marriages and fewer divorces.

The institution of marriage continues to change as gay marriage has become legal. Innovation happens at all levels of society, and I look forward to emerging forms and types of marriage, partnership and family structure.