The U.S. divorce rate is the lowest it has been in 50 years, according to Census data

Rachel Grumman Bender
·4-min read
The U.S. divorce rate is at a record low. (Getty Images)
The U.S. divorce rate is at a record low. (Getty Images)

The divorce rate in the U.S. is the lowest it has been in 50 years, according to U.S. Census Bureau data analyzed by the Institute for Family Studies.

“For every 1,000 marriages in the last year, only 14.9 ended in divorce,” Wendy Wang, the director of research at IFS, wrote in a post to explain the findings. “This is the lowest rate we have seen in 50 years. It is even slightly lower than in 1970, when 15 marriages ended in divorce per 1,000 marriages.”

“According to the new census data, the median duration of current marriages in the U.S. has increased almost one year in the recent decade, from 19 years in 2010 to 19.8 years in 2019,” she added.

Despite the pandemic, which has presented emotional, physical and financial challenges for many families, Wang stated that “the drop in the divorce rate is likely to continue in 2020.”

The IFS’s analysis of census data also revealed that fewer people are getting married — in fact, the marriage rate in the U.S. is at an all-time low. “For every 1,000 unmarried adults in 2019, only 33 got married,” she wrote. “This number was 35 a decade ago in 2010 and 86 in 1970.” Wang did not respond to Yahoo Life’s request for comment.

That likely stems from the fact that there’s “less pressure” and societal “expectation” to get married than in years past, psychologist Barbara Greenberg, tells Yahoo Life. (In addition, per the report, the pandemic is forcing some couples to delay marriage: “The initial state-level data suggest that [there's been] a dramatic decline in marriage certificates filed during the COVID-19 crisis.”)

Theresa DiDonato, an associate professor of psychology at Loyola University Maryland, agrees, telling Yahoo Life: “We know that many couples are not choosing to enter the marriage institution, whereas perhaps in previous generations, the idea of engaging in cohabiting, committed relationships was not as socially sanctioned.” As DiDonato puts it: “A lot can change in 50 years.”

With people getting married later in life, Greenberg says they’re more likely to make “a more informed decision, and if it's a more informed decision, it’s more likely to work out.”

Of course, DiDonato explains that the lower divorce rate may “simply [be] an effect of fewer people entering marriage. Or those who do may be older and they know what they’re looking for and enter marriages that have more potential for more stability.”

Despite lower divorce rates, DiDonato says that “the pandemic has not affected couples equivalently,” noting that those who were already vulnerable in terms of their socioeconomic status before the pandemic or families with essential workers who are putting their lives on the line, have a “completely different dynamic than a quarantining couple who have money and are safe.”

The added stress of the pandemic, including financial instability, managing childcare and health concerns, can have a profound impact on relationships. “They affect the ability to engage in responsive, quality interactions with our partner,” says DiDonato. “If we’re at our wits’ end and are tired and have nothing left, it’s very hard to be the responsive, supportive partner that promotes relationship stability.”

For some, being in lockdown with their spouses has only amplified fractures in a marriage. From what Greenberg has seen in her practice, “there’s a subgroup of people who are getting closer and are weathering the crisis together,” she says. “Everybody gets to use their skills and have each others’ back. But there’s also a subgroup who are having a hard time with it because they’re together much more frequently and in each other’s space too much, depleting each other. We all have a need for space. It may be the couples who are doing well are honoring each other’s need for space and defining roles more clearly.”

But for couples whose relationships have remained strong throughout the pandemic, that may be because when there's cultural stress — something we’re all going through right now — “people start appreciating their families more,” says DiDonato. “Maybe people needed that time with their partner to rekindle that relationship and are relying on each other more and that could potentially lead to more intimacy and closeness.”

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