You’ve likely heard the often-cited statistic that roughly half of all marriages end in divorce. In reality, that number is misleading and has likely never exceeded 41 percent.
Although the divorce rate peaked in the 1970s and early 1980s, it has been declining in the decades since.
Sociologists have long been aware of the link between a couple’s chances of divorcing and the age at which they marry. However, now researchers are beginning to examine the relationship between cohabitation and divorce rates.
Millennials are marrying later, divorcing less and also living together prior to getting engaged at a much higher rate than any other generation. According to the National Center for Family and Marriage Research, 11% of women who first married between 1965 and 1974 cohabited before marriage. By 2005-2009, that percentage skyrocketed to 66%. Moreover, in the last 50 years there has been a 900% increase in the percentage of couples living together before marriage.
Initially, researchers suggested living together before marriage actually increased a couple’s risk for divorce, but other sociologists contend that’s a misinterpretation of the data. More recent research indicates that premarital cohabitation reduces the risk of separation.
Of course extrapolating meaning from all these trends is exceedingly difficult and a lot of the information, at least on the surface, seems contradictory. The fact is attitudes and societal norms regarding marriage, divorce and premarital cohabitation are constantly evolving. It is nearly impossible to predict what direction the divorce rate will trend as millennials age.
What is interesting to consider is how cultural factors have always impacted couples’ decisions regarding marriage and divorce. For example, a quick look at the marriage and divorce rates through U.S. history shows how world events such as World War I and II and the Great Depression greatly affected the number of people marrying and splitting up.
More recently, the economic recession in the mid-to-late 2000s likely caused many couples to delay marriage for financial reasons and that could potentially have an effect on the divorce rate for years to come.
Every couple likes to think they’re in complete control over whether their marriage succeeds or fails, and to some extent that is true. But hundreds of years of data shows the effect that real-world events have on relationships. Any decisions regarding something as monumental as marriage or divorce should never be made without first considering all the possible ramifications.