State of Marriage
While headlines swirl about another high-profile celebrity breakup, statistics show the divorce rate in America has hit its lowest point in a decade.
What To Know & Why It Matters
What The Data Says
Stats from the U.S. gov’t:
- Divorce rates have dropped.
- Marriage rates have also dropped.
- One data point that increased? The age of Americans at their first marriage. Some believe being “older and wiser” (and more financially stable) is a factor impacting lower rates for both marriage and divorce.
“Where there was a crack, there is now a rupture.”
Family therapist Dr. Kathryn Smerling on the impact of COVID-19 on marriages. Initial data shows divorce filings and marriage licenses have dropped even further during the pandemic, but it's unclear if that's simply a filing issue (i.e. gov't resources shut down or delayed due to COVID-19) and whether pent-up demand *for both* will lead to different statistical conclusions.
“The U.S. is progressing toward a system in which marriage is rarer, and more stable, than it was in the past.”
Dr. Philip Cohen authored a study called "The Coming Divorce Decline" and writes divorce will continue to decline – in part because marriage is becoming "increasingly selective." Divorce & marriage rates differ state to state. The Census Bureau updated data in 2019; Wyoming had the highest marriage rate. The highest divorce rate? Arkansas. See the interactive map on our source page.
Kim Kardashian and Kanye West filed for divorce after more than 6 years of marriage. Is there anything statistically true about the "7-year-itch"? One psychologist says 4 years is, historically, a critical intersection in marriage. Read more about the "evolutionary" explanation on our source page.
Is the 7-Year Itch a Myth or Reality?
Although people talk about seven years, divorce rates have historically peaked at around four years (Fisher, 1989). Biological anthropologist Helen Fisher argues that this four-year peak makes sense from an evolutionary perspective.
In the course of human evolution, women who changed partners after four years together (enough time to co-parent through the early hard years of having a couple of kids) may have had an adaptive advantage. By engaging in “serial pair-bonding,” they could vary the genetic make-up of their offspring. The timing of today’s peaks in divorce rates may reflect the ingrained drive towards variation.
More recent research (Kulu, 2014) suggests that divorce rates rise after marriage and then peak at about five years. Rates of divorce then steadily decline as years together increase. This rising-falling pattern is reminiscent of the seven-year-itch argument but occurs slightly earlier (a five-year itch?) than the phrase suggests.
by Jenna Lee,