Why fewer and fewer Americans are getting divorced

Fewer and fewer Americans are getting divorced, with the rates falling 18% between 2008 and 2016.

Among American adults, there is support for divorce when couples do not get along. Women, people from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups, and adults who have experienced divorce personally or among friends and family are especially likely to be accepting.

Despite this growing acceptance, the divorce rate dipped again in 2018. The decline began in 1980 or 1990, depending on the data source and experts. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the number of divorced persons per 1,000 Americans fell from 4.7 in 1990 to 2.9 in 2016.

Who is driving this downward trend? Adults age 45 and younger.

Younger adults

Young adults are being more decisive – in not only the timing of their nuptials, but also their choice to marry.

Many of these younger adults choose to marry after they have achieved their desired levels of education, established careers and stabilized their finances. They also want to be “bonded” with a mate based on love, friendship and common interests, not social obligation.

In the U.S., the average age at marriage has risen, from 26.1 for men and 22 for women in 1890, to 29.8 for men and 27.8 for women in 2018.

I am a human development and family studies scholar who has spent 20 years studying intimate relationships. In one study, I examined the perspectives of 52 married black men. Achieving their goals relative to education, work and finances was a significant factor in deciding when to marry their wives.

Men praised how the unions with their wives afforded them secure attachment and emotional support, as well as enhanced life success. Nearly one-quarter emphasized the role of individual development and being ready for the type of commitment that a successful marriage requires.

These considerations promote the likelihood of long-term, happy marriages in a culture that values fulfilling one’s goals and happiness.

Gray divorce

Meanwhile, older adults are actually becoming more likely to get divorced.