Though most people like to point out how high the divorce rate is, it’s actually been steadily falling for the past few years. Today, it’s the lowest it’s been in 35 years, and the median length of a marriage is 11.7 years—which isn’t too shabby.
Overall, it seems that divorce rates are following a curve; for many years, the divorce rate climbed higher and higher, but now divorces have tapered off and have begun to decline—and even marriages that end in divorce are lasting longer. So what does this mean about the state of marriage (and divorce) in the United States?
Motivations for the Trend
First, it’s important to realize why these rates are changing. These are some of the most impactful motivations influencing these trends:
- Cultural perceptions of divorce. First, divorce rates likely rose in the first place because cultural perceptions about divorce grew to be looser; divorce wasn’t a taboo, and instead was a viable option for couples who weren’t happy. Then, at the peak of divorce popularity, our population might have grown accustomed to the idea of divorce; the novelty wore off, and more couples started getting them as needed, rather than delaying the inevitable.
- Marriage pressure. There’s significantly less pressure in our culture to get married in the modern era than there was even 10 years ago. Younger generations don’t value marriage as much as older generations, and there aren’t as many economic or cultural benefits to marriage as there used to be. Along similar lines, there’s significantly less pressure to stay involved in a marriage that isn’t working.
- The convenience of divorce. It’s much easier to find a divorce attorney these days than it was 30 years ago. Divorce has become an industry unto itself, and getting a divorce is relatively easy. While that may seem like a motivating factor for increased divorce rates, it may actually serve as a deterrent to getting married in the first place; knowing that divorces are both popular and easy makes people think twice about who they want to marry in the first place.
Is It a Good Thing?
Lower divorce rates seem like a reason to be optimistic about our society; it means people are more discerning when marrying, are getting together for longer periods of time, and are engaging in healthier relationships, right? That may not necessarily be true.
So are the falling divorce rates a good thing for society?
- Marriage has almost no effect on happiness. It’s true that marriage tends to have a net increase on someone’s happiness—if that happiness benchmark is compared to someone who isn’t in a relationship. However, an almost identical happiness benefit can be realized by couples who live together in a passionate romantic relationship. If the only difference between couples is marriage, there’s no objective increase in either partner’s happiness or satisfaction. Empirically, marriage isn’t an important designation—so neither marriage rates nor divorce rates should affect your happiness, so long as you have a partner you love.
- Marriage can be practically useful. Though marriage doesn’t have an effect on happiness, it can have an effect on your income and tax responsibilities. Some people may get married purely for the financial advantages it provides, which could increase success in married couples, but ultimately doesn’t say much about whether it’s a healthy thing for individuals or relationships between them.
- Good divorces are better than bad marriages. Divorce can be hard on children, and even hard on friends and family, but ultimately, a good and finalized divorce is far better than an unhealthy marriage.
Your personal feelings about marriage and divorce may lead you to believe that the current divorce rate is good or bad for society, but empirically, it doesn’t have much of an effect. Marriage doesn’t bear much impact on the health or happiness of a relationship, and some divorces are a good thing.
So while it’s interesting that divorce rates are falling, it could be an indication that our population is realizing the insignificance of marriage as a cultural institution (from an objective standpoint), rather than an indication of the state of our relationships as a whole.