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Relationships Quick Answers



What is the current divorce rate in the United States? Has the divorce rate changed much over the past 5 to 10 years?

The divorce rate in the United States has generally been going up throughout the 20th century until its peak in the late 1970s. The rate of divorce has been slowly declining since that peak. In the most recent data, there were about 20 divorces for every 1,000 women over the age of 15. This number is down from about 23 divorces per 1,000 women in 1978, but it is still significantly greater than the rate of divorce during the 1950s. At that time, the rate of divorce was about 5 per 1,000 women.

The divorce rate has been climbing in every industrialized country in the world. There are two significant factors affecting the rising divorce rate in the United States and elsewhere: (1) men and women are less in need of each other for economic survival, and (2) gains made in birth control allow men and women to separate sexual activity from having children.

A variety of factors are producing the current leveling off of the divorce rate. We may be at the end of the effects produced by the emergence of reliable birth control in the 1960s, but there are also other factors. Our population is aging, and in general longer marriages are more likely to remain intact. Also, more young people are cohabiting rather than getting married. The breakup of this kind of relationship does not get recorded as a divorce.

For a more complete description of divorce statistics go to: The Demographics of Divorce in the 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





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Last update: Wednesday, August 20, 2008




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