Why is the Divorce Rate So High?

Only a few short decades ago, you might have suffered a social stigma as a divorced individual. Today, a happily married couple who stays together for life seems more like the exception to the rule. 

What happened in the last few decades that has turned marital statistics on its head?

Divorce is common

Divorce is common, but current statistics can’t really pinpoint how common it is. 

While it’s often repeated that “50% of all marriages end in divorce,” the reality of the U.S. divorce rate is less definitive than that. It depends on which records you’re citing and what you’re using as criteria.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has published that 41.6% of marriages end in divorce filings, based on data from the past two decades. Other sources suggest that 40 to 50% of first marriages end in divorce, with second-marriage and third-marriage divorce rates even higher.

But while the research is inconsistent, the reality isn’t: No matter what statistics you adhere to, divorce is still very common. Why?

Why is the divorce rate higher than it used to be? 

Society has shifted dramatically since our ancestors’ commitment to marrying young and staying married through thick and thin. The majority of women are now in the workplace, whereas before, a woman tended to stay home while her husband worked. Women have broad access to birth control now, too. 

Media and entertainment no longer shy away from sexual content or real life, for that matter. We now have the internet, social media, and access to other cultures’ mores and values. Life has fast-forwarded from the 50s at the speed of light, and comparing life today to life then is like the proverbial apples to oranges. 

Through their studies, researchers have identified some important social factors that create more risk for divorce. These include

  • Marrying young: Today, unlike our ancestors, marriage at a young age can factor into whether a marriage survives the long haul. 
  • The education level of the couple: Those with a post-secondary education or above are more likely to have a better chance at marriage survival.
  • The couple’s income level: Socioeconomic factors can play a role in a couple’s happiness together. Financial stress levels are higher for those couples with lower incomes, which can foster the risk of divorce.
  • Living together before getting married: While it seems counterintuitive, cohabitation before marriage is more likely to end in divorce. This is perhaps due to a more lenient personal view of divorce.
  • Having children or becoming pregnant before marriage: Couples who are already parents or get pregnant before gaining marital status are at a greater risk of divorcing. 
  • No religious affiliation: According to researchers, a greater number of divorces occur in couples with no religious affiliation.
  • Coming from a divorced household: Spouses who come from a family of divorce have higher divorce rates themselves. They are twice as likely to get divorced. 

But even couples without these risk factors face divorce. Couples navigating modern marriage face financial insecurity, infidelity, and other marital stressors each day. Without focused commitment to their marriage, a couple can be challenged from all corners of daily life today. 

Suggested: How Many Marriages End in Divorce?

FAQ about divorce rates in the U.S.

Has the internet increased the rate of divorce?

While the internet itself doesn’t cause divorce, it has given us access to the world beyond our personal social bubble. Has that access led to an increase in the number of marriages that end? This can be debated, and studies don’t always come to the same conclusions.

Research varies depending on whether researchers are looking at data from online dating sites or the use of social media when looking for a correlation to the risk for divorce. You also need to consider sites like Ashley Madison that are specifically designed for people looking for extramarital relationships. 

But does the internet cause more divorce? We believe that it’s unhappy couples who cause divorce. Has the internet made that easier? Definitely. 

Does living in a big city increase your chances of divorce?

While Scandinavian studies have shown an increase in divorce rates in urban areas, other studies have shown little statistical significance to those findings. Some studies have suggested that, whether urban or rural, divorce statistics are more affected by the context of the community where a couple lives. 

All these micro theories aside, break-ups are complicated, and the reasons that couples divorce can be as nuanced and complex as the couples themselves.

Bottom line: If you’re considering divorce – whether early in the relationship or after years of marriage – you’re not alone. But just as society has changed over the decades, so has the concept of the lawyer-driven divorce. Today, most divorcing couples simply want to get the legal entanglements over so they can go on with their lives. 

Divorce can be cooperative, fair, and inexpensive with the right guidance. At Hello Divorce, we know that the adversarial nature of divorce is not only outdated, but it is also unhealthy. Schedule a free 15-minute call to see how your divorce can be different.


Divorce Content Specialist
Mediation, Divorce Strategy, Divorce Process, Mental Health
Candice is a former paralegal and has spent the last 16 years in the digital landscape, writing website content, blog posts, and articles for the legal industry. Now, at Hello Divorce, she is helping demystify the complex legal and emotional world of divorce. Away from the keyboard, she’s a devoted wife, mom, and grandmother to two awesome granddaughters who are already forces to be reckoned with. Based in Florida, she’s an avid traveler, painter, ceramic artist, and self-avowed bookish nerd.