Why are divorce rates decreasing?

Updated: Sep 27, 2020

The overall divorce rates are declining, particularly for today’s young adults, for two specific reasons.

The first reason stands because marriage tends to be more common among economically advantaged couples. Moreover, greater stability is observed among marriages relative to other couple relationships. Secondly, the long-run trends in relationship stability, defined as marriages or cohabitation, can affect the divorce rates. At least in the United States, cohabitation unions are becoming more stable over time but remain distinctly less durable than marriages.

American's remarriage rates have been high for decades. This shows the strong attachment they have to the institution of marriage. However, between 2008 and 2016 alone, remarriage rates dropped from 33 to 28 remarriages per 1,000 divorced or widowed adults. However, in recent years, about 40% of all new marriages were remarriages for one or both spouses. The share of individuals available for remarriage has also began to decline. 32.6% of women and 26.8% of men, aged 35 to 39, were eligible for remarriage in 1996, whereas, from 2008 to 2012, these numbers fell to only 28.5% of women and 22.0% of men.


Young adults are waiting longer to marry. It is noteworthy stating that declines in divorce rates may reinstate marriage as a lifelong commitment among those who can marry and might keep marriage desirable.

Moreover, marriage continues to be gendered, with a lot of women having consequences from a divorce. Whereas, women’s earnings, even when they are higher than their husbands’, are no longer associated with an increased risk of divorce. But on the other hand, husbandsfull-time employment remains essential to stable marriages.

By the age of 46, in the United States, roughly 21% of men and 32% of women with a bachelor’s degree will have been divorced at some point. In contrast, 44% of men and 52% of women who have less than a high school diploma have lower divorce rates. Among married or cohabiting mothers in the United States, the risk of separation is exceptionally high for those without a college degree compared with their counterparts in many Western European countries.

Lastly, in 2009, 7.5% or 5.6 million of U.S. children younger than age 18 lived with a cohabiting or married stepparent.

Source: Divorce, Repartnering, and Stepfamilies: A Decade in Review.
Journal of Marriage and Family 2020
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