50% Divorce Stat Under Scrutiny

There’s different research out there regarding marriage with and without kids and divorce. Some studies have said that childfree marriages are happier, thus more likely to go the distance.  Others have indicated that marriages that include parenthood are more likely to last longer.  Overall though, kids or not, we seem to buy the notion that half of all marriages end in divorce.

A recent Time.com article, “Are Marriage Statistics Divorced from Reality?”by Belinda Luscombe discusses this stat as a myth ..

..and fleshes out factors that help predict whether couples will stay together and not.

Age and education seem to be predictors. Tara Parker-Pope, author of For Better, debunks the 50% stats, and indicates that because since the 70s more women have been going to college and delaying marriage “marital stability appears to be improving with each decade.”  Of college grads who wed in the 70s, 23% split within 10 years. Of college grads who wed in the 90s, however, only 16% split within 10 years.

According to the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, in the 80s 81% of college grads who got married at 26 or older were still married 20 years later. 65% of grads who got married before they were 26 were married 20 years later.

Income comes into play too. Studies show that less educated, lower income couples divorce more than college grads and may be doing so in higher numbers. According to Penn State sociologist Paul Amato, “The people who are most likely to get divorced have the least resources to deal with its impact, particularly on children.”

It’s interesting that there’s no mention of kids and their influence on marriages lasting longer or not.  We do know however, that the higher the education, the fewer children a women has. So if marital stability has to do higher education, one could surmise that there will be fewer children involved if any.

Of those couples who stay together, it seems they are more likely to have a college education, marry a bit later, and not be lower income.  Two demographic characteristics relate to childfree folks as well—they tend to have higher education and incomes.

Questions I am left with:

Who tends to get married later—the childfree or those who end up becoming parents?

Where is parenthood (or not) on the predictor list after age, education, and income?

To you: Do you think the 50% stat is a myth? Do you see childfree marriages or marriages with parents as more likely to divorce?

2 thoughts on “50% Divorce Stat Under Scrutiny

  1. I still quote the 50% myth but I know it’s probably not true. I think the repeat offenders might skew the number, so even if raw data were to say 50%, I’d guess there were people getting divorced for the second or third time added in somewhere. Actually, I know a gal who, at age 37, is on her *4th* divorce. (Obviously she’s not good at marriage and I wish she’d stop trying. Too much drama!)

    As for who stays married longer, even if parents stayed married longer, it wouldn’t necessarily prove marital happiness. Lower class couples might break up any time the situation isn’t ideal, but middle-to-upper-class couples are more likely to stay together for reasons not related to marital happiness.

    Example: People with kids may be staying together solely for the kids, so if their marriage lasts 25 years, that could just be how long it takes for the oldest kid to be out of college. (These days, the non-custodial parent could get slapped with a bill to pay for college, but parents who stay married aren’t forced to pay for college, so that’s a great incentive to stay together at least through college!). Even if it’s not a monetary incentive, fathers who really love their kids might be miserable at the idea of only seeing them every other weekend and thus stay, unhappily, just to have more time with them.

    I would also venture a guess that people with children are move likely to be religious and thus might stay together for religious reasons. I have a childhood friend who is married to a total bum who is useless and not all that nice of a guy, but she won’t leave him because her church and family frown on divorce. A couple of my super-religious sisters have rather lousy husbands, but are still married 20+ years later because their religion and social snobbery.

    By contrast, a childfree couple obviously isn’t staying together for the kids, and in general, I find childfree people to be less religious and the ones who are religious are less likely to be in the more restrictive religions that would make you feel bad for divorcing (since those religions are also less likely to tolerate childfreedom).

    One could also factor in that childfree women are more likely to have a career of their own, so they don’t feel so trapped in a bad marriage as, say, a woman who has no career or income of her own and wouldn’t have an easy time of leaving. Childfree men might have an easier time leaving, too, knowing they won’t get hit up with child support.

    Since the marriages are in no way equal, the divorces would be in no way equal, thus it’s pretty difficult to compare.

    If you showed me two couples celebrating their 20th wedding anniversary today and one had kids and one didn’t, I’d guess that the childfree couple was still happy or they wouldn’t still be together. The other couple? I couldn’t even venture a guess if they were happy or not.

    1. Agreed that just because the couple is still married does not mean they are happy…interesting that it focuses more on whether the couple is still married 20 years later, but doesn’t report the levels of marital satisfaction. Adding that variable a well as the kid factor or not would make for richer information. So would asking Why the couple divorce. There’s of course a lot of stuff out there on that…something interesting I just found that has to do with what can predict divorce:

      Anneli Rufus of the Daily Beast recently cites 15 specific studies on factors correlating with higher divorce rates. Thelink is at http://www.thedailybeast.com/blogs-and-stories/2010-05-19/15-ways-to-predict-divorce/ for details, but in brief:

      You live in a red state
      Frequent arguments about money
      Parents divorced (40% higher); Parents divorced & remarried others (91% higher)
      Smokers marrying nonsmokers
      Having daughters, not sons
      Religion: Evangelical, Catholic, non-Christian, or atheist
      You live in a highest-divorce county
      Second (or more) marriage for both spouses=90% more divorce
      Wife 2 years older than husband or more
      Below-average IQ
      Certain reproductive organ cancers
      Multiple births (twins or triplets)
      Cohabitation — having lived with more than one partner before first marriage
      Same-sex marriage

      Interesting that only one on the list involves kids–the multiple births. From what I see out there, with kids or not, if the couple does not make the relationship a top priority it is less likely to go the distance. For parents it means keeping this as #1 as they raise kids, not the other way around. For childless, it’s the same. I have seen childfree couples that put their careers first and it is a major contributor to the demise of the relationship. Commitment and devotion to each other has go to be #1… ~L

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