A few years ago, I was sitting in my doctor’s waiting room and staring at a poster she’d put up on the wall. It was a list of rules to live by for a happy life. One of the things on that list that stayed with me was this old quote from author H. Jackson Brown:
“Choose your life’s mate carefully. From this one decision will come 90% of all your happiness or misery.”
There’s no denying that marriage and divorce have a significant impact on our lives. People go into marriage feeling happy and hopeful, and there’s no telling if it will go the distance or end in tears.
Not surprisingly, these two important milestones can determine a person’s degree of life satisfaction.
Whether you’re single and looking to tie the knot or have already been through a divorce, it’s important to understand the latest patterns and trends in these events.
In this article, we’ll dive into the latest statistics on marriage and divorce and what they tell us about the state of relationships today.
- The marriage rate dropped to a 50-year low in 2020 and continues to decline.
- More people are opting for cohabitation instead of marriage.
- The US ranks 6th among countries with the highest divorce rates in the world.
- 45% of Americans are married, down from 50% in 2015.
- Nevada and Montana have the highest marriage rates in the US, while Louisiana has the lowest.
- Younger generations are getting married at a later age.
- More people now approve of same-sex and interracial marriages.
- Married people are typically happier than unmarried people.
- The average duration of a marriage in the US is eight years.
- Gaming and bartending jobs have the highest divorce rates.
- Basic incompatibility and infidelity are the most common causes for divorce.
Marriage Statistics: The changing landscape of relationships
One of the first things that stands out when looking at marriage statistics is the changing landscape of relationships.
Historically, marriage rates have fluctuated over time, with some periods seeing a high number of marriages and others seeing a decrease.
Today, we’re seeing a similar trend, with marriage rates remaining relatively stable but still declining overall as more and more people opt to live together instead of tying the knot.
As you can see in the graph, there has been a steady decline in the rate since the 1990s.
Today, only six per 1000 people get married. That’s much lower compared to 1990 when the rate was nearly ten per 1000 people.
There was a brief blip in the trend during the years 2013 to 2016, which showed a slight rise in the marriage rate.
However, it was quickly reversed by the global pandemic, which had quite an impact on people’s decisions to get married.
Thus, in 2020, the marriage rate hit a 50-year low.
The next year showed more promise, owing to the fact that the people who had planned to get married in 2020 simply postponed their weddings to 2021.
Still, the decline in the marriage rate looks like it’s here to stay. Even the fact that married couples enjoy more financial and legal benefits no longer seems enticing enough.
There’s no one reason why the marriage rate is dwindling.
However, research firm Ibis World offers two possible factors.
First, women have been enjoying higher wages in recent decades, and this could affect some women’s desire to marry.
And second, the younger generations simply view marriage differently compared to older generations. In fact, the number of adults who’ve never been married has hit a record high of 20%.
That’s a stark contrast from its counterpart in 1960, when only 9% of adults had never been married.
A 2019 YouGov study by LendKey Technologies might shed further light on the decrease in marriage rates in the country.
The study surveyed 20- to 30-year-olds about the state of their student loans and low wages. Surprisingly, a third of the respondents said they would rather pay off their student loans before considering getting married.
So, clearly, economic reasons and financial insecurity play a role as well.
Another possible reason: shifting perspectives.
According to Mechele Dickerson, law professor at the University of Texas, Austin, fewer people are choosing traditional nuclear families because, well, society is evolving.
Many of the old views about marriage, gender, and other social mores have been replaced with more diverse views of what life should be.
It’s not surprising, then, that the share of married Americans has fallen to 45%, down from 50% in 2015, according to the Deseret News 8th annual American Family Survey.
Which states have the highest and lowest marriage rates?
A quick look at the Statista data on state marriage rates would show that Nevada has the highest marriage rate at 21 marriages per 1000 people.
This is probably due to its reputation as the nation’s prime venue for quickie marriages since couples can walk into a chapel and get married in as quickly as ten minutes.
Montana follows with a marriage rate of 10.4 marriages per 1000 people. It’s the only state that has shown an increase in the number of people getting married since 1990.
Other states with high marriage rates are Utah, Arkansas, and Hawaii.
Meanwhile, California takes the spot for the lowest marriage rate, at only 3.2 marriages per 1000 people.
It’s not really clear why, but it seems that the high cost of living in California might be a factor.
Other states with low marriage rates are New Mexico, Louisiana, Illinois, and Massachusetts.
Source: Billings Gazette
How do men and women view marriage?
What does the idea of marriage look like when seen from a gender-based perspective?
Well, it’s no secret that women are the gender that’s more interested in getting married. Men are generally seen as “scared of commitment.”
But you know what? It’s not that they’re actually scared of commitment. It turns out that men typically like taking more time and getting very selective because they consider a lot of things.
According to clinical psychologist Saldin Kimangale, men think about economic factors, too, aside from physical appearance. They’d rather have a partner who can financially contribute to the union than someone who’s completely dependent on them.
It’s kind of a curious situation.
Because finding men who are ready for marriage is difficult, women seem to be even more bent on getting married. So, if they find someone who seems like a good candidate for a spouse, they’d do everything they can to secure that commitment.
True enough, a new Pew Research survey suggests that women who have never been married place a high value on finding a man with a steady job. Unfortunately, the changes in the labor market have made the pool of available employed men much smaller.
Source: Pew Research Center
Women also tend to be more prone to getting influenced by social pressure. When they see friends getting married, they tend to start making comparisons and feeling that desire to get married themselves.
But times are changing; as women become more independent and better educated, they stop looking to marriage as a solution to their problems. Instead, they see love as the main reason for getting married.
So, that shows a shift, not in marriage rates, but rather in the lens through which one views marriage.
To add to that, as the next section shows, educational attainment plays a huge role in decisions related to marriage.
How does educational attainment affect marriage?
It seems that the higher the educational attainment, the more likely a person is to get married.
As the chart below from Pew Research Center shows, nearly two-thirds, or 64%, of people with a college degree are married.
That’s a much higher rate compared to only 48% of those with some college education, and 47% of those with a high school education.
Source: Pew Research Center
Being better educated also bodes well for the marriage. The more educated one is, the lower the chance of their marriage ending in divorce.
Does social class matter?
When it comes to marriage, does social class matter, too?
Apparently, just like educational attainment, yes, it does.
According to these numbers by the Institute for Family Studies, the middle and upper classes are more likely to get hitched and stay hitched.
Source: Institute for Family Studies
As you can see above, the majority of middle and upper-class Americans are married, in contrast to the minority of working-class and poor Americans.
Simply put, being married and having high incomes reinforce each other over time
Once again, this points to the role of economic status in couples’ decisions to get married. Currently, poor and working-class Americans are more likely to live together instead of actually getting married.
What does marriage look like by age?
Now let’s take a look at how marriage trends vary by age group. This is important because different generations have different attitudes about relationships and marriage.
Young adults, middle-aged adults, and seniors usually have distinct differences in terms of their marriage rates.
Younger generations tend to have lower marriage rates compared to older generations.
Source: United States Census
Apparently, millennials and Gen Z have a completely different view of where marriage should figure in terms of timelines.
Marriage is no longer seen as a must-do in your 20s, as the older generations did.
Today, young adults focus on achieving their goals and establishing their careers.
What does that mean for marriage?
According to The Knot 2021 Real Wedding Study,
- The average age of marriage is now 34 years, compared to the average age for 2019 and 2020, which was 32.
- The average age of marriage for men is 35 and 33 for women.
While it’s a huge leap from the average age of past decades, it does bode well for the future of couples.
New research has now shown us that the brain doesn’t completely develop until the age of 25 years. This means that by the time people get married in their 30s, they are more mature and capable of making better decisions.
The rise in interracial marriages
The concept of interracial relationships is another area that shows our views are changing – for the better!
Here’s one of the most significant statistical changes in American opinion: According to a Gallup poll, approval of interracial marriage among Americans is at a new high of 94%.
To show you why this is a big deal, think about this:
Gallup first asked the same question in 1958, and results at the time showed that only 4% approved of interracial couples.
So, no matter which angle you look at it, that 94% approval rating is extraordinary.
Here’s a closer look:
- Age: 98% of 18- to 29-year-olds approve; 97% of 30–49; 91% of 50+
- Race: 96% of non-white Americans; 93% of white Americans
- Region: 94% East; 93% Midwest; 93% South; 97% West
The actual number of interracial marriages has also increased.
Back in 1967, just 3% of married couples were interracial. Now, 50 years after Loving v. Virginia, it’s 17%, according to Pew Research Center.
Source: Pew Research Center
17% might not seem like a huge number, but let’s put it in practical terms: that means one out of ten married people is in an interracial marriage. That translates to 11 million people! It truly is a sign of progress.
Which races have shown the most inclination to intermarry?
Apparently, it’s Asian and Hispanic newlyweds. In 2015, about three in ten, or 29% of Asian newlyweds intermarried, while Hispanics followed closely at 27%.
These numbers are even higher for those born in the US, coming up to 46% for US-born Asian newlyweds, and 39% for US-born Hispanic newlyweds.
It’s interesting to see that Black singles are also slowly changing their perspectives on interracial marriage. Currently, 18% of Black people reported being in an interracial marriage.
While that number is much lower than those of Asians and Hispanics, it’s still a big jump from their rate back in 1980, when only 5% were in an intermarriage.
You’ll also find stark gender differences among these interracial marriages.
For one, Asian women are far more likely to intermarry than their male counterparts. The latest research shows that 36% of newly-married Asian women had a partner of a different ethnicity, compared to 21% of newly-married Asian men.
This huge gender difference also shows up among Blacks, although it’s the other way around. This time, it’s Black men who are twice as likely to marry someone of a different race compared to Black women (24% vs 12%).
Source: Pew Research Center
In contrast, there’s practically no gender difference among white and Hispanic newlyweds:
- Hispanic: 26% men, 28% women
- Whites: 12% men, 10% women
What’s driving the rise of intermarriage?
It’s pretty simple: as the population becomes more diverse, attitudes around race and romance are also shifting.
What about same-sex marriage?
Times are definitely changing, and this section shows even more of that.
Same-sex marriage used to be a no-no, but today, 33 countries, including the US, have legalized it. That goes to show how LGBTQ+ advocates have gained so much traction in terms of their legal right to marriage.
This is perhaps due to the more accepting attitudes of younger generations. Take a look at this chart:
See how opinion has dramatically shifted in favor of same-sex marriages over the years?
Back in 1996, when Gallup first asked the same question, only a small minority of Americans (27%) expressed their support.
But today, more than half – 70% – view same-sex marriage in a favorable light. That’s seven out of ten Americans!
In fact, in 2021, even Republicans, who have always been the political party least in favor of gay marriage, showed majority support (55%) for the first time.
Why do people get married?
You would think that love is the sole reason why people get married. But for some, it’s merely for companionship or a way to have kids.
Let’s take a look at this data from Pew Research:
Source: Pew Research Center
Does being married really make you happy?
According to the Institute for Family Studies, if you were to ask people this question, fewer of them think married people are happier than those who are single.
The chart below shows a decline in American views of marriage over time.
Source: Institute for Family Studies
But does reality reflect this? It seems not.
A study in PubMed Central tracked the life history of the participants and found that the consistently-married folks were happier. They had greater life satisfaction compared to those who were consistently single or divorced.
On top of that, across nearly five decades of surveys, data from the General Social Survey (GSS) tells us this:
36% of people who’ve been married (that includes separated, divorced, and widowed people) say they are “very happy.”
Meanwhile, only 22% of unmarried people would say they are happy. I guess it’s true what they say – it’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.
Source: Fling or Love
In fact, a Michigan State University survey also offers the same conclusion. Researchers tracked men from the time they were single to the point after they got married and stayed married.
You know what they found? Men, on average, aren’t happier after marriage than they were before it. But they’re happier than they would have been if they’d stayed single.
So, it’s safe to say that there’s a definite link between marriage and well-being.
And what exactly keeps a marriage intact?
- 64% of married adults say that shared interests keep their marriage strong
- 64% say it’s all about having a satisfying sexual relationship
- 54% say that sharing household chores contributes to a strong relationship
Here are some more interesting tidbits about the success rate of marriage:
- Marriage has a greater chance of survival if the spouses have a closer age gap between them. (Business Insider)
- The happiest marriages are between those who are close friends with their spouse. Friendship really makes marriage more fulfilling! (Nber.org)
Sadly, not everyone lives happily ever after.
Just as marriage statistics give us a glimpse into the start of relationships, divorce statistics offer us insight into the end of relationships.
In fact, the divorce rate might give us a better idea of the real state of marriage across regions.
Divorce Statistics: Understanding the end of relationships
Like marriage rates, divorce rates have also fluctuated over time, with some periods seeing a high number of divorces and others seeing a decrease.
Comparing divorce rates across different countries and regions, we see a similar pattern to marriage rates, with some countries having higher rates of divorce compared to others.
Divorce rates differ significantly around the world, since cultural values, religion, economic stability, and the availability of divorce as an option all play a big role in these differences.
For instance, in a Western country like the US, divorced couples make up nearly 40% of all married couples. But in Japan, it’s only 1.2%.
But as large as that 40% sounds, the US actually sits somewhere in the middle of the global divorce rate ranking.
Currently, the country with the highest divorce rate is Maldives, with 5.5 divorces per 1000 people.
Which countries are doing better? Here are the lowest ten (rates per 1,000 people):
- Vietnam – 0.2
- Sri Lanka – 0.2
- Peru – 0.2
- Saint Vincent and the Grenadines – 0.4
- Malta – 0.5
- South Africa – 0.6
- Ireland – 0.6
- Guatemala – 0.6
- Venezuela – 0.7
- Uruguay – 0.7
How do US states fare with divorce?
According to Divorce.com, these states have the highest divorce rates per 1,000 people as of 2022:
- Arkansas: 10.7
- Oklahoma: 10.4
- Nevada: 10.2
- New Mexico: 10.2
- Kentucky: 10.1
- Wyoming: 10.0
- Delaware: 9.4
- Utah: 9.4
- Kansas: 9.2
- Alabama/Missouri: 9.1
Arkansas leads the pack, and curiously, it’s also a good example of what happens when people get married too young. That’s because it’s one of several states with the youngest age at the first marriage. (Later, I’ll show you how that impacts divorce.)
How long do most marriages last?
On average, the typical US marriage that ends in divorce lasts just eight years.
Globally, the average length of a marriage can vary widely by country or region. In Europe, for example, the typical couple stays married for a little less than 20 years.
Source: Gecertifierde Mediators
Meanwhile, in Qatar, the divorce rate is 69.5%. Marriages there last less than 5 years on average.
Who’s getting divorced?
So, we now know that young adults aren’t in a rush to get married. But the good news is that when they do, they aren’t quick to divorce either.
In 2018, only 9% of 30-year-old Americans had been divorced.
Source: Business Insider
But here’s a curious development: Divorce among baby boomers is at its highest rate.
Apparently, the idea of growing old together doesn’t mean as much as it used to. Today, the so-called “Gray Divorce” is on the rise – more and more older married couples are deciding to part ways.
According to data from Pew Research, the divorce rate for people 50 years and older has doubled over the past 25 years.
It’s also more likely among those who’ve been married multiple times.
Source: Pew Research Center
This trend reflects the rise of economic independence available to women and the reduced stigma around divorce.
Having a spouse in prison is also a strong indicator of divorce. In this type of scenario, 80% of men and nearly 100% of women end up calling it quits.
Now let’s take a look at what’s happening on the other end of the age spectrum – teenage marriages.
(No) surprise – nearly half of them end within 10 years!
Young love can get a person all caught up in the idea of happy-ever-after, but real life has a way of knocking that down on its knees.
The numbers show that a whopping 48% of couples who marry in their teen years file for divorce within ten years.
Remember when I said that the brain doesn’t fully develop until the age of 25 years? I guess it does pay to wait.
Because, if you look at the numbers, only 25% of people who marry after the age of 25 get divorced in the same time frame.
Also, women who lost their virginity as a teenager? They were twice as likely as other women to get divorced in their 20s.
So, people who get married because of an accidental pregnancy are likely to make an appearance at a divorce court down the road.
Here’s another interesting trend: Gender-wise, women are more likely to file for divorce than men.
There are many reasons for this.
Aside from increased economic independence, this trend may also be due to the fact that for many women, the reality might not match the high expectations they had upon entering a marriage.
In short, they are more likely than men to feel disappointed post-wedding.
Another reason is that women tend to have higher emotional intelligence than men, and it can be a double-edged sword.
What do I mean by this?
This high emotional intelligence enables women to provide emotional support to their spouses. However, it also makes them more attuned to problems and issues.
On the other hand, men are typically socialized to have lower emotional intelligence and may not reciprocate the level of emotional support their wives give them.
Add the burden of child-rearing and household responsibilities to that, and it’s easy to see why women, especially those who work, are left feeling stressed and overwhelmed.
How does race impact divorce?
The divorce rate is highest for Black women. In fact, in 2018, they were the only group that had a higher divorce rate than marriage rate, with nearly 31 divorces per 1,000 women.
Here are some data on how divorce varies by race:
- Asian women between 25 and 29 years old are the least likely to get divorced.
- Aside from Asians, the divorce rate is lowest among foreign-born Hispanic women.
- Race continues to be associated with economic disadvantage, so as economic factors have become more relevant to marriage and marital stability, the racial gap in marriage has grown.
How do same-sex marriages fare after the wedding?
With more same-sex marriages happening, is it all sunshine and rose-colored days?
If you compare them with heterosexual marriages, it seems that they are doing slightly better.
According to a study by UCLA School of Law Wiliams Institute, the divorce rate for same-sex marriages is only 1-1.6%, slightly lower than that of hetero couples.
It may indeed be a lower number, but same-sex couples face unique challenges and stressors that could affect their union. These include employment discrimination or lower family support, which can impact the stability of their relationship.
Which jobs are great for marriages and which ones are not?
Speaking of stability, we can’t deny that while careers might not be the main factor affecting a marriage, they really impact financial stability and overall life satisfaction.
According to Monster Jobs, these are the careers where people tend to have stronger marriages:
Source: Monster Jobs
Obviously, these careers have an edge because they have relatively predictable schedules and routines, as well as fair and reliable wages.
On the other hand, some jobs do tend to lead to unhappy marriages that eventually end in divorce. Let’s take a look at this list:
Source: Monster Jobs
Looking at the last list, it’s easy to see why the top four professions tend to stumble in marriages.
Jobs in the gaming and food industry come with their own stressors. These include odd and erratic work hours, low wages, and the likelihood of engaging in substance abuse.
A career as a flight attendant can likewise take a toll on a marriage, with mental and physical stress playing a huge part, especially with the constant traveling away from their spouses.
What about the lower half of that list? Those are professions that are low-paying or in declining industries – economic factors that can put a strain on a marriage.
Factors influencing Marriage and Divorce: Why relationships succeed or fail
As the data suggests, divorce can affect practically anyone. The next question that begs to be asked is, what’s leading those couples to throw in the towel? Why do some marriages succeed while others fail?
Many factors can impact the success or failure of a relationship, including:
- economic factors like unemployment and income
- social and cultural factors like religion and values
- psychological factors like personality traits and relationship satisfaction
The Institute for Divorce Financial Analysts states that three main categories encompass the main causes of divorce:
- Basic incompatibility
- Money issues
Surprisingly, financial issues ranked only third on the list. When it comes to money, couples cite disagreement on financial goals, money management, financial infidelity, and too much debt as specific issues.
In fact, according to an article on Finder, the amount of debt creates such a huge rift that 33.78% of dating couples say excessive debt is a dealbreaker for committing to a relationship.
Incompatibility is a much broader discussion. It can be any point of difference, such as political or religious views, that can cause such polarity between couples and be impossible to reconcile eventually.
Or it can even be something superficial, like an annoying habit that one partner just can’t accept.
And, of course, infidelity is a factor that we all expect to figure in many divorces. While some couples can move past this and rebuild their marriage, there are just as many who can’t.
A study on the reasons for divorce seems to confirm this, albeit with a few differences.
Interviews of 52 divorced participants revealed that the most commonly reported major contributors to divorce were: infidelity (59%), conflict or arguing (57%), and domestic violence (23%).
These were considered the most common “final straws” – the deciding factor for partners to finally throw in the towel.
Interestingly, the study added a few more insights:
First is that a whopping 73% say that lack of commitment played a major role in why their marriage didn’t work.
It also showed the importance of receiving relationship education before making a commitment to marry.
Source: National Library of Medicine
What the statistics tell us about relationships today
The latest statistics on marriage and divorce offer us a valuable window into the state of relationships today.
From declining marriage rates to the impact of economic and social factors, these statistics help us better understand the trends and patterns of modern relationships.
I hope that these numbers don’t scare you away. If there’s anything you should take away from them, it’s that every marriage is different. A high divorce rate doesn’t mean it will also happen to you.
Remember, when it comes to marriage, and life in general, it is what you make it. And if there’s one thing I’d like to stress, it’s that every couple can benefit from going through relationship education before tying the knot.
As they say, knowledge is power. Relationships are no different. When you’ve got a strong foundation and a firm commitment to each other, there’s no reason to fear the great “I do.”