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Is the Divorce Rate in the United States Really 50%?

Today, it is not uncommon to hear the phrase, “50% of all marriage in the United States end in divorce.” This phrase has caused much concern over whether the institution of marriage in the United States is declining. However, many are starting to question this phrase and whether the divorce rate in the United States is indeed as high as 50%. As it turns out, an analysis of the marriage and divorce statistics in the United States reveal that the divorce rate in the United States may not be as high as many believe it to be.

Upon examination of the divorce rates in the United State, it seems that the common misconception regarding the U.S. divorce rate may stem from a misreading of the yearly marriage to divorce ratio. In the United States, the marriage to divorce ratio has hovered around 2:1 since 2000. It is easy to see how some would misread this ratio as proving that the overall divorce rate in the United States is 2 to 1, or 50%. However, this is not so. What this yearly marriage to divorce ratio simply shows is that for every two marriages entered into in a given year, one divorce occurred. For example, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Vital Statistics System, in 2000 there were approximately 2.3 million marriages and approximately 1 million divorces. At first glance, that would seem like a 50% divorce rate. However, what must be considered is that this statistic only takes into account the marriages and divorces that occurred in a given year. The divorce rate, or marriage to divorce ratio, does not take into account the marriages that were in existence prior to 2000, or the marriages that continued to exist after 2000. In order to derive the true divorce rate in the United States, it would be necessary to compare the number of individuals who obtained a divorce in a given year to the total number of marriages in existence.

A better estimate of the divorce rate in the United States may be ascertained by looking to an article published by the United States Census Bureau. This article, entitled Number, Timing, and Duration of Marriages and Divorces: 2009, provides data concerning marriage and divorce rates across various populations. According to this study, of the men surveyed, 20.5% reported ever being divorced. Of the women studied, 22.4% reported ever being divorced. Although this study does not represent the entire U.S. population, the results were based in part on data collected by the U.S. Census Bureau, and provides a closer representation of what the U.S. divorce rate may actually be. What is certain after an examination of the information provided by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the United States Census is that the divorce rate in the United States maynot be nearly as high as commonly believed.

By A. Latrese Martin, Associate Attorney, Meriwether & Tharp, LLC

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