Recent reports from the U.S. Census Bureau have confirmed that divorce is on the decline, which sounds like good news; but technically it’s been on the decline for quite awhile now. In the United States, the divorce rate peaked in the early 1980s and has been falling ever since. According to the National Marriage Project, the average couple who marries today has between a 40 and 50 percent chance of their marriage succeeding. But here’s the rub—exactly what constitutes an “average” couple?
That’s the dark and uncomfortable truth about divorce statistics—while the overall divorce rate for the country may be at 50 percent, it doesn’t mean that each and every marriage has an equal chance of success or failure. Some marriages have a better shot than others.
Take, for example, the marriage of two college graduates in their late twenties. Neither have been married before, neither have children; they make decent salaries, come from stable families, and are moderately religious. Now contrast that with the marriage of two eighteen-year-olds who have just discovered the woman is pregnant. They both come from single-parent families and live below the poverty line; one partner has a high-school diploma, and one has a GED.
One marriage has an extremely low chance of divorce, while one is virtually guaranteed to end quickly. Consider the following circumstances, all of which dramatically increase a couple’s risk of divorce:
- Marrying while one or both partners is a teenager
- Marrying because of an unplanned pregnancy
- Marrying when one or more partners has children from another relationship
- Having divorced parents
- Earning less than $50,000 per year
- Having only a high-school diploma
- One or both partners smokes
- One or both partners drinks two or more alcoholic drinks per day
- The woman is an active member of the military
For the highest-educated and most affluent segments of our society, regardless of race, marriage is strong and thriving, with divorce rates far down and happiness way up. People are marrying later, when they are already settled in careers, and they’re choosing better partners. Among the working class and least-educated members of the population, fewer people are entering into marriage in the first place, preferring instead to cohabitate or have children outside of marriage.
Marriage has changed a lot in the past few generations, and like many parts of American life, successful marriages are increasingly becoming a privilege enjoyed by the rich and educated. But even if you’re not a banker or an Ivy grad, as long as you’re a grownup who’s entering into your first marriage as a well-considered decision, your odds are likely better than the cheerful assholes lead you to think.