What Percentage of Marriages End in Divorce?

The divorce rate is a statistic that gets thrown around a lot these days. With divorce being more socially acceptable now than in decades past, it may seem like the percentage of marriages ending in divorce is higher than ever before. But what do the actual numbers show? Let’s take a closer look at the current divorce rate in the US and factors that impact it.

What Percentage of Marriages End in Divorce in the USA?

The divorce rate in America has been a subject of speculation for many years. With divorce now being more socially acceptable than in previous generations, many wonder what percentage of married couples actually end up divorcing. The answers are complex, as the divorce rate has fluctuated significantly over the past several decades. Examining the current divorce statistics, historical trends, and factors like demographics and socioeconomics can provide more nuance and insight into this issue.

Current Divorce Rate

According to the latest American Community Survey data, for every 1,000 married persons in 2021, 14.9, or roughly 15%, were divorced. This has become the widely accepted statistic for the overall divorce rate in the country. However, this number only looks at current marital status and does not account for historical trends. It also does not factor in variables like age at marriage, education level, and other demographics.

A few key factors are driving today’s rates. Americans are getting married later in life, which is associated with more stable marriages. The median age at first marriage is now over 30 for both men and women. ring the 1970s, it was in the early 20s. Living together before marriage has also become far more common and reduces risk of divorce. Social acceptance of divorce also promotes higher rates, as unhappy spouses are more likely to split up than stay in a marriage.

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Historical Divorce Rates

For a more complete understanding of American divorce statistics, it helps to look at how the rates have fluctuated over the past several decades:

  • 1960s-1970s – The divorce rate doubled during this time, with the 1970 rate hitting 15.3 per 1,000 married persons. The adoption of no-fault divorce laws contributed to higher separation rates.
  • Peak in 1980 – The U.S. divorce rate hit an all-time high of 22.8 divorces per 1,000 married couples in 1980. Sociologists attribute this peak to the broad social changes brought on by the 1960s counterculture revolution.
  • Decline since 1980s – After hitting its peak, the divorce rate has generally been declining over the past three decades. The downward trend is due to factors like higher ages at marriage and more acceptance of alternatives like cohabitation.

Demographic Differences

There are also significant variations in divorce rates across different demographics in America:

  • Age at marriage – Couples who marry in their teens are 2-3 times more likely to divorce within 10 years than those who marry in their 20s or older. This is due to maturity and economic factors.
  • Education – Around 31% of marriages end in divorce within 10 years if the spouses are high school graduates. This drops to just 16% for couples with a college education. More education is linked to higher income and economic stability.
  • Region – The Bible Belt states in the South have above average divorce rates, while states like Massachusetts and New York have lower than average rates. Regional values and norms likely contribute to these divides.
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Causes of Divorce

Scholars have identified various factors that put major strain on marriages and contribute to the breakdown of relationships:

  • Lack of commitment – Partners who go into marriage without fulLy committing to the union are significantly more likely to split up when hard times arrive.
  • Infidelity – Cheating remains a leading cause of divorce. Affairs often permanently damage the trust and secure attachment between spouses.
  • Financial problems – Money issues and economic stress, especially in low-income couples, are frequently tied to divorce. Arguments over finances are a major source of conflict.
  • Poor conflict skills – An inability to effectively communicate, compromise, and resolve conflicts prevents couples from reconciling differences and leaves them prone to divorce.

Divorce Rate Over Time

Up until the mid 20th century, divorce was much less common for several reasons. First, social stigma around divorce kept many unhappy couples together. Second, spousal abuse was not yet grounds for divorce in much of the country. And third, women lacked financial independence that would enable them to leave marriages.

Peak Divorce Rate

Once all states passed no-fault divorce laws and women entered the workforce en masse in the 1970s and 80s, the divorce rate shot up to around 50% by the 1980s. Some studies showed rates as high as 60% for those marriages.

Societal acceptance of divorce coincided with the peak rates. However, since then the rate has steadily declined as we’ve achieved more gender equality in relationships and emotional intelligence has risen.

Factors Affecting Divorce Rates

While 50% is the average, certain demographics have higher or lower divorce rates. Here are a few of the leading factors:

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Age at Marriage

Getting married young is a significant risk factor for divorce. People who marry under age 25 have a 24% chance of divorce within 5 years, compared to just a 9% rate for those marrying over age 25. Immaturity and lack of self-knowledge exacerbate the challenges all couples face.

Education Level

Couples with college degrees have more marital stability with a divorce rate around 30%. Those without college degrees divorce at nearly double that rate. More education correlates with higher incomes and emotional intelligence.


The Northeast and Midwest have lower divorce rates, around 30%, while the South and West approach 45-50%. Sociologists point to more traditional values in the Midwest and greater family support in the Northeast as helpful factors.


While divorce rates have dropped over the past 30 years, around half of first marriages still end in divorce. But rates vary widely based on demographics. Working actively to maintain intimacy, communication, respect, and partnership can go a long way toward marital fulfillment. With care and intention, lifelong marriage is an achievable goal for many.


What is the #1 cause of divorce?

Lack of commitment, often stemming from infidelity or poor communication. Money issues, different values, and lack of intimacy also rank highly.

What profession has the highest divorce rate? Doctors have a divorce rate around 30%, while police officers are near 50%. High stress jobs with irregular hours contribute to marital strain.

What state has the highest divorce rate? Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Alaska top the list, with divorce rates around 14-15 per 1,000 residents. Northeast states like Massachusetts and Pennsylvania have the lowest rates.

Do people regret getting divorced? Research shows around 20% of people regret getting divorced a few years later. However, most maintain it was the right decision in the long-run.

How long does the average marriage last? The average first marriage that ends in divorce lasts about 8 years. Overall, the average marriage length is around 19 years, buoyed by remarriages that last longer than first marriages.

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