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Divorce Rate Explained

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As American society has evolved in recent years so have divorce rates. The most recent report from the U.S. Census Bureau released in 2011 and utilizing 2009 data indicates that divorce rates have continued to rise in recent years. Below we review some of the numbers and discuss factors involved in this evaluation.

Here are some statistics from the CDC and U.S. Census Bureau:

US Divorce Statistics 2009

Number of marriages          2,077,000

Marriage rate       6.8/1000 Americans get married in any given year

Divorce rate          3.4/1000 Americans get divorced in any given year


Sources: U.S. Census Bureau, National Center for Health Statistics, Americans for Divorce Reform

Percentage of population that is married       50.3%     down from 59% in 2002,

       down from 62% in 1990,

            72% in 1970

Percentage of population that has never married        30.8%     Up from 24% in 2002,

Percentage of population that is divorced      10.4%     up from 10% in 2002,

      up from 8% in 1990,

      up from 6% in 1980

Percentage of population that is separated    2.2%      

Percentage of population that is widowed     6.35%     Down from 7% in 2002

Median age at first marriage              24.5        male

       22.3        female

Median age at first divorce                32           male

      30.1        female

Median age at second marriage        35.8        male

      33.3        female

Median age at second divorce          42           male

39.3        female


Married partners provide emotional support and intimacy to each other. Their marriage is recognized by the law as well as the society and both of them have clearly defined rights and obligations. Marriage also creates a warm and secure home where children can be reared into mature and emotionally healthy adults.

Despite the recognized benefits that a marriage provides the divorce rate continues to rise. In the U.S., half of all new marriages will end in divorce. This statistic raises the question of whether the institution of marriage on the decline. There are many reasons for the increase in divorce rates since the end of World War II. Several prominent reasons are addressed below.

Liberation of Women

Perhaps the most defining characteristic of modern age is the liberation of women. Women are no longer tied to home and hearth. Women have opportunities that are equal to men in terms of education and employment. This has made them financially independent. They are no longer dependent on men for their well-being and can take care of their own needs. Since they are empowered financially, they have a greater ability to end a bad marriage and live independently.

Rise of Individualism

Not very long ago, a person was considered an insignificant unit of the society. Personal wishes and aspirations had to be suppressed in favor of what the society or relatives demanded from the person. The individual had hardly any control on his or her life and self-sacrifice was the rule. About 50 years ago, a sea change occurred. The individual was recognized as a living independent unit of society and personal rights and one's own wishes and aspirations took on increasing importance.

The modern world is characterized by individualism. People today place increasing importance on the returns from their marriage, emotional and financial, and less importance on a sense of duty to suffer through a bad relationship. If a marriage fails to satisfy the needs of one or both parties, there is less resistance to filing for divorce and looking a new relationship that is better able to satisfy their needs.

Relaxed Divorce Laws

For centuries, marriage was considered a very powerful and sacred institution that was not be taken lightly or broken easily. The will of the society was represented in divorce laws which were draconian and made it almost impossible for married partners to break off the relationship. The judges were hostile to divorce cases and considered marital separation an assault on social conscience.

Over time, particularly since the 1970s, divorce laws have been relaxed in keeping with the increasing acceptance of marital separation by the society. California adopted no-fault divorce in 1974 and all 50 states now offer no-fault divorce. Today, it is possible to get a divorce in as little as six months if both the partners are willing.

Relaxation of Social Mores

With the rise of the individual in post-World War II America has come the relaxation of social mores. No longer are individuals expected to fully confirm to social mores or be ostracized. In the last few decades, social mores have relaxed and become liberal.

Society has become more accepting of those who are different and who do not confirm. Individuals are free to do as they wish as long as it is legal and does not interfere with the rights of others. Divorce is now a personal matter of between spouses and the society does not generally interfere in the process.

Availability of New Beginnings

Divorce does not raise eyebrows anymore. It has become normal and acceptable. Many people have been divorced and those who have not have a friend or family member who has. Because of all this, divorce no longer carries a stigma and has little impact on new relationships. Rather than just being the end of one relationship, divorce now truly represents a new beginning where anything is possible, including new relationships which are better able to satisfy the needs of both partners than the former marriage.

For a free one-hour consultation as to how divorce or legal separation might impact you personally, please contact The Law Office of Matthew J. Rudy at (408) 329-9300 or by completing the Request for Legal Services found in the Contact Us tab at the top of your screen.

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Guest Tuesday, 18 June 2024