Could it be that marriage has been piled on in the media to the point that marriage is not cool anymore? It might seem like if you take the plunge to get married you are getting on a sinking ship. As we talked about in my last post, I have been reading Shaunti Feldhahn’s, The Good News About Marriage, and it turns out that marriage really does work out for most people. Shaunti Feldhahn set out to find out the truth about the stat that 50 percent of marriages end in divorce. What she found was that that number was just a myth developed from projections from research conducted some 30 years ago. Divorce rates have actually decreased since that study took place and the original numbers at that time were nowhere near 50 percent.
Let’s try to look at some facts about marriage in this post.
According to one of the most recent Census Bureau surveys, 72 percent of people who have ever been married are still married to their first spouse. Of the 28 percent that are not still married, the number includes those that are divorced and widowed. Other data in this survey suggest that around 10 percent of women have been widowed. Shaunti makes the educated guess from this that one can assume that “25 percent of first marriages may have ended because of divorce rather than widowhood.” Another study by FamilyLife concluded that 8 percent of those listed in the category of not married to their first spouse are from the spouse dying. So, one could conclude that the rate of divorce for a first marriage may be closer to 20 percent.
Shaunti also took a look at statistics that showed divorce rates per 1000 people. She found that in 1981, 5.3 people out of every 1,000 got divorced. Over the years that number has gradually decreased and in 2011 the divorce rate per 1000 people was 3.6. That is a 32 percent drop in divorces per 1000 people from 30 years prior.
So, that’s the good news. Let’s look at how several things can be risk factors for divorce.
A recent Bowling Green State University study summarized that “among women about three-quarters of first unions formed in the late 2000s were cohabiting before marriage compared with 58% 20 years earlier.” Shaunti points out that “since sociologists have found that cohabiting before marriage increases the risk of divorce later, they speculate that those who cohabit would be the type to break up more easily if they had gotten married.” So, there is some thought that the divorce numbers are what they are because some people just are not getting married in the first place.
Another potential reason for the decline in divorce rates is that people are more career oriented than in the past and this has caused people to get married later than they used to. Studies show that people who get married a little older tend to stay married.
What are the factors that reduce or increase a couple’s chance of getting divorced?
Age at Marriage – Couples in midtwenties or later have greater chance of staying together for life.
College Education – College-educated people get married later and stick with their marriages.
First Marriage – First marriages have higher success rates than second or third marriages.
Length of Marriage – Most marriage failures are within first five years of a marriage.
Attend Church Together – Couples who are active believers have higher success rates for marriage.
What does that mean? It does not mean that if you don’t fit one of these categories your marriage will not succeed. It means that marriages within these categories may have divorce rates in the 5 to 10 percent range. In my previous post, I mentioned that in my circles at work, church, and community it seemed like the divorce rate was around 1 in 10 at most. This is very probably correct and for a lot of the same factors.
So, before I leave you with only a super bright skies picture of marriage, I would like to point out that today there is a certain percentage of people that have in all aspects except a legal marriage document decided to live together. There are not good ways for researchers to document how successful their relationships are. They may have decided not to go through a traditional marriage path because of fear, peer pressure, commitment issues, or various other circumstances. It is possible that since this population group has decided to sit out the legal marriage route altogether that they have had some impact on the rate of divorce as well.
Shaunti Feldhahn used an example she received from a woman to illustrate why having hope in your marriage can be such a strong factor. The lady said that when she was pregnant with her first child she had great fear about the unbelievable pain that all of her friends had described during child birth. It was only when she thought about all of the women all around the world for all time that had successfully given birth that she was able to convince herself that she could make it through it. In the same way, most couples have been successful in having marriages last and they have been from all around the world and from all time. “If so many others have succeeded, I’ll keep trying and I will probably also succeed!”
As a takeaway, I think that one could say that hope for your marriage could start with commitment and investment. As I have seen with my wife’s ministry if one spouse is committed and invested in making the marriage work that marriage has hope to survive. A marriage where there is commitment and investment can get over bumps along the way.