There are still preachers proclaiming that the divorce rate is up, but all the data say otherwise. This week the United States Census released a new report entitled "Number, Timing, and Duration of Marriages and Divorces" (P70-125). It provides several important facts:
The divorce rate peaked in the cohort that was born in the 1950s and got married in the 1970s. From 1996 to 2009, the percentage of divorced people has gone up for Americans over 50 years of age, while it has gone down for those younger than 50. In fact more than 80 percent of married couples today are still in their first marriage. It appears that the divorce surge was particular to one generation, the early wave of Baby Boomers.
But, the decrease in divorces may simply be the result of a change in patterns about getting married. The age at which Americans get married has increased significantly in recent decades. Most now get married in their late 20s and early 30s, instead of in their late teens and early 20s. The majority are married by the time they are 35; two-thirds of men and three quarters of women. (Yes, women are more likely to marry than are men.) The percentage of women still unmarried at age 30 has nearly doubled since 1986.
There has been a large increase in the percentage of inter-ethnic marriages. The portion of Americans in a marriage where each partner is of a different race or ethnicity has more than tripled in the last four decades.
What Does This Mean?
Divorce is less of a problem, but a much larger percentage of young adults are delaying marriage and living together as if they were married for several years before the wedding. Even in conservative, Evangelical churches, two-thirds or more of church-member young adults engage in sex before marriage. (Although a much smaller percentage actually cohabit before the wedding.) This has become such a well-established pattern that most pastors now say privately they are afraid to ask couples who come to them to prepare for a wedding about their situation in terms of sexual activity. Those religions that have historically taught that sex is reserved for married couples must now face a new reality among their own members, furthermore among nonbelievers. Sexuality, family and faith are such basic things in the lives of almost all people that this is not a situation can simply be ignored.