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50% Percent of Marriages Do NOT End in Divorce

            Everyone says it.  Marriage has a 50% divorce rate.  Educators say it, books say it, every politician, preacher, and semi-educated person says it.  But it is not true. 


            Some things to be aware of when looking at the divorce statistics.


1.     Demographers break actual divorces down into five-year cohorts.  They may give an overall number to the public but for them, people are different from generation to generation, so a one-number-fits-all is worthless information.


2.     There is no easy way to determine the ‘divorce rate’ statistically. 


3.     Most marriages (97.5% men; 95.6% women) are very happy or happy, despite what you see in movies (see p. 12 of the reference).4


4.     The rate of divorce for young adults has been decreasing for a decade (see table).5 



There is a commonly used statistic that compares divorces in a year to marriages in that year.  Many people ooh and aah about how that number comes out to around fifty percent.  Yet it is a very bad statistic.  Let’s look at why. 


The “divorce rate” is a prediction of the future.  Predicting the future is a dangerous game.  Ask people who try to predict what the stock market will do next week or what the weather will be like three weeks from now.  Predictions fail all the time and they fail across all sciences. 


So why is the fifty percent “divorce rate” dangerous?  It is dangerous because it discourages marriage.  Many people believe that they don’t have much of a chance for success in marriage, so they settle for living together.  Yet we know that the dangers of living together are worse than marriage.


What is a better way to understand divorce?  Let’s look at the percentages of people who actually divorce.  In actual research, the percentage of people in each cohort group who divorce never reaches, much less exceeds, fifty percent. There is no research among the very old that has shown fifty percent divorces occurred. In fact, there is no research to show that any group of old people has suffered a fifty percent divorce rate. 


One racial group comes close in 2009 but is still under fifty percent (pp. 9, 10, 12, 13).2   In 2014 that racial group’s recorded divorces for people who were married 50 years actually decreased from five years earlier (p. 14).3   All other racial groups were much below fifty percent in both studes.2,3


Depending on a fifty percent divorce rate to decide whether you marry is not healthy.   Ignore it.  Making sure you do a good job of selecting the right person to marry is the best predictor of marriage success, and always has been.



Why do we hear so much about the fifty percent divorce rate?  It is because of the following:


1.     Media loves bad news and a fifty percent divorce rate is bad news.

2.     Fifty percent is an easy-to-remember number.  It sticks in your head.

3.     Bad, but false, news gets repeated over and over so that people believe it is a fact of life.

4.     No one fact-checks to see if the “prediction” of a fifty percent divorce rate had ever been correct. 

5.     Because it was so pervasively shared, even ‘experts’ and researchers don’t go back to examine the research to see if ever happened.  They just assume it is correct.


What does this mean for you?  If you are thinking about getting married sometime in the future, that is wonderful.  Most people marry and as I said above, are happy.  (Marriage after age 25 appears to be the age when cohort divorces go down significantly.) 


            So, feel good about marriage.  The odds are good that you will have a successful one.


I got most of this information from Shaunti Feldhahn’s book, The Good News About Marriage.  You should read it if you are interested in the correct information about divorce and your future success in marriage.  For those of you who have a statistical mind, the census websites below are about the divorce percentages.  Look up the page numbers mentioned above to see what they tell about the percentage of divorces and marriages successes.









1. Shaunti Feldhahn. (2014).  The Good News About Marriage: Debunking Discouraging Myths about Marriage and Divorce. Multnomah Books.






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