The Demographics of Divorce - United States and Missouri
Robert Hughes, Jr., Ph.D., Former Professor, Department of Human Development & Family Studies, College of Human Environmental Sciences, University of Missouri-Columbia
The demographics of divorce are routinely reported
wrong, calculated wrong or misinterpreted. Here are some
explanations of the different ways that divorce rates
are reported and what each of these rates means.
For every two marriages that occurred in the
1990s, there was one divorce. This does not mean
that the divorce rate is 50%. Although, it is correct
that in the United States during most of the 1990s,
there were about two marriages for every divorce in a
single year. But this does not mean that the divorce
rate is 50% because the people getting married in a
single year are not the same ones getting divorced. This
is a very common error and it results from the fact that
Vital Statistics reports the number of marriages and
divorces for each year. It is easy to think that some
type of divorce rate can be calculated from these
numbers, but it can't.
In 2003 there were 3.8 divorces for every 1000
people in the U.S. The "crude" divorce rate is
calculated on the basis of the number of divorces per
1000 population. This provides a better measure of the
divorce rate because this allows us to compare the rate
over time and across the country by taking into account
the size of the population (number of people). However,
this number has a problem in that it uses the entire
population (including children), some of which cannot
get divorced, for its calculation. Also, since different
communities and at different times in history there may
be more or less children in the population this number
may misrepresent the divorce rate.
In 2001, about 20% of adults over age 15 had ever
divorced. The number of adults who have ever been
married and later divorced is the preferred indicator of
the divorce rate. The rate varies for different age
groups. Among adults who were 50-59 years old in 2001,
39% of women and 41% of men (these percentages are not
statistically different) had ever divorced. This group
had the highest divorce rate in 2001.
In Missouri there were 3.9 divorces for every
1,000 people in 2003. The divorce rate in Missouri
peaked in 1979 and 1981 at 5.7 divorces per 1000 people
and has been going down slightly for the past two
decades. Despite this decline there were still 22,166
divorces in the year 2003.
In Missouri in 2003, 11,081 children were affected
by the divorce of their parents. About one-half
(51%) of all divorces in Missouri involve children. Here
is more information about helping children cope with
their parents' divorce.
In Missouri in 2003 the most common form of
custody was sole custody for mothers. In about 35%
of divorces in Missouri in 2003 joint legal custody was
granted. The most common custody arrangement was for
mothers to be awarded sole custody-about 55% and fathers
were awarded custody in 10% of the cases. There are a
few cases (2%) in which grandparents or other relatives
obtain custody. In Missouri parents are required to
develop a parenting plan to help them talk about the
care of their children. Here are some things to keep in
mind when developing a parenting plan.
In Missouri in 2003, about 6% of fathers were
awarded child support in the divorce process.
Mothers were awarded child support in 69% of the cases
and no support was awarded in 23% of the cases. Here is
the office of Child Support Enforcement.
Husbands and wives between the ages of 45-54 had
the highest number of divorces in Missouri in 2003.
The age group of 45-54 years of age had the highest
number of divorces-4,490 for men and 3,793 for women
(remember couples who get married do not have to be the
same age). There were 519 men and 267 women over the age
of 65 years of age that got divorced in 2000 in
Kreider, R. M. (2005). Number, Timing, and Duration of Marriages and Divorces: 2001, Tables 3, 9. Current Population Reports, P70-97. Washington, D. C.: U.S. Census Bureau. Available at: http://www.census.gov/population/www/socdemo/marr-div.html.
Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services.
2003. Missouri Vital Statistics 2003, Graph G,
Tables 39, 40, 41. Available at:
National Center for Health Statistics. (2004). Births, Marriages, Divorces, and Deaths: Provisional Data for November 2003. National Vital Statistics Report, 52 (20), Table A. (PHS) 2004-1120. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/pubs/pubd/nvsr/nvsr.htm.
Last Updated 05/11/2009