Your Real Chance of Divorce

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NOTE: Newer information on the same topics is available on The Divorce Statistics and Studies Blog. But a lot of important, pre-2008 information is collected only on this site, the Divorce Statistics Collection. So you should check both this site and the blog.


[Taken from Barbara Whitehead and David Popenoe's The State of Our Unions (2004). Prepared at Rutgers University for the National Marriage Project. The full text of the study is available here.]

By now almost everyone has heard that the national divorce rate is close to 50% of all marriages. This is true, but the rate must be interpreted with caution and several important caveats. For many people, the actual chances of divorce are far below 50/50.

The background characteristics of people entering a marriage have major implications for their risk of divorce. Here are some percentage point decreases in the risk of divorce or separation during the first ten years of marriage, according to various personal and social factors: [a]

Percent Decrease

in Risk of Divorce
Annual income over $50,000 (vs. under $25,000)  -30
Having a baby seven months or more after marriage (vs. before marriage) -24
Marrying over 25 years of age (vs. under 18)  -24
Own family of origin intact (vs. divorced parents)  -14
Religious affiliation (vs. none)  -14
Some college (vs. high-school dropout)  -13

So if you are a reasonably well-educated person with a decent income, come from an intact family and are religious, and marry after age twentyfive without having a baby first, your chances of divorce are very low indeed.

Also, it should be realized that the "close to 50%" divorce rate refers to the percentage of marriages entered into during a particular year that are projected to end in divorce or separation before one spouse dies. Such projections assume that the divorce and death rates occurring that year will continue indefinitely into the future-an assumption that is useful more as an indicator of the instability of marriages in the recent past than as a predictor of future events. In fact, the divorce rate has been dropping, slowly, since reaching a peak around 1980, and the rate could belower (or higher) in the future than it is today. [b]

a Matthew D. Bramlett and William D. Mosher, Cohabitation, Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage in the United States, National Center for Health Statistics, Vital and Health Statistics, 23 (22), 2002. The risks are calculated for women only.
b Rose M. Kreider and Jason M. Fields, "Number, Timing and Duration of Marriages and Divorces, 1996," Current Population Reports, P70-80, Washington, DC: US Census Bureau, 2002.


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Originally posted and maintained by Americans for Divorce Reform; now maintained by John Crouch. You can call me at (703) 528-6700 or e-mail me through my law office's web site.