The Risks and
Rates of Divorce
The risk of divorce is tied directly to factors in one's Family
background and such other factors as the divorce or cohabitation of
one's parentsa and being born to a
very young mother.b
The research also shows that divorce is linked to level of
education. In general, the more educated a person, the less likely
he or she will be to divorce. Divorce rates are one-third lower
among women who have completed high school, and 80 percent lower
among women who have completed college, than among those who have
not completed high school.a,f Divorce also is linkedto lower intelligence
The risk of divorce is greater among marriages of mixed faiths1 and among those who do not attend
religious worship regularly.d
The risk doubles for those who live together before marriage,
and doubles yet again if the person cohabits with someone other
than the current spouse.e
Other risks for divorce include a prior divorce;f marrying into a step Family;g getting married as a teen (divorce
rates are two-thirds lower among women married after age 25 than
among those married as teenagers);a
and, especially, getting married as a pregnant teenager.h
In general, the greater a man's income relative to his spouse's,
the higher the marriage rate and the lower the divorce rate. For
women, marriage rates are highest in local areas that offer the
fewest economic alternatives to marriage.i The more women earn, the less
attractive marriage appears to be in general.j As University of Wisconsin professor
Larry Bumpass said in his 1990 presidential address to the
Population Association of America, "If marriage assures neither a
two parent Family for the child nor lifetime economic security for
the woman, the importance of marrying to 'legitimate' a birth is
much less compelling."e This seems to
apply to marriages in general, not just to "shotgun" marriages.
The divorce rate doubles for young married couples if the
husband is unemployed at any time during the first year of
marriage, and is 50 percent higher again if both are unemployed.a If the unemployment is due to
continuing education, however, there is no increased risk to the
marriage.a Data from the 1980 census
showed that one of every four wives earned more or only slightly
less income than their husbands earned. Forty percent of wives who
had five or more years of college education earned more or slightly
less than their husbands did.f
The rate of wives' participation in the marketplace has
accompanied a rise in the divorce rate: The number of wives
participating in the marketplace jumped from 18 percent in 1950 to
64 percent in 1992.k During the same
period, the divorce ratio jumped from one in every four marriages
to one in every two.l
In 1989, Sara McLanahan, professor of sociology at Princeton
University, reported that women in troubled marriages were more
than twice as likely as men to report that they wanted a
separation.e Wives working full-time
are twice as likely to report having trouble in their marriage if
they regard the division of laborin the household unfair.e
aLarry L. Bumpass, Teresa
Castro Martin, and James A. Sweet, "The Impact of Family Background
and Early Marital Factors on Marital Disruption," Journal of
Family Issues, Vol. 12, No. 1 (March 1991), pp. 22-42.
bTom Luster and Harriette
Pipes McAdoo, "Factors Related to the Achievement and Adjustment of
Young African American Children," Child Development, Vol.
65, No. 4 (April 1994), pp. 1080-1094.
cCharles Murray, Income
Inequality and IQ (Washington, D.C.: American Enterprise
dDarwin L. Thomas and
Gwendolyn C. Henry, "The Religion and Family Connection: Increasing
Dialogue in the Social Sciences," Journal of marriage and the
Family, Vol. 47 (May 1985), pp. 369-370.
eLarry L. Bumpass, "What's
Happening to the Family? Interactions Between Demographic and
Institutional Change," Presidential Address to the Population
Assocation of America, Demography, Vol. 27, No. 4 (November
1990), pp. 483-498.
fPaul C. Glick, "Fifty Years
of Family Demography: A Record of Social Change,"J. of marriage
and Family, Vol. 50 (1988), pp. 861-873.
gLarry L. Bumpass, James
Sweet, and Andrew Cherlin, "The Role of Cohabitation in Declining
Rates of marriage," Journal of marriage and the Family, Vol.
93 (1995), pp. 913-927.
hF. Furstenburg, J.
Brooks-Gunn, and P. Morgan, Adolescent Mothers in Later Life
(Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1987), and
"Adolescent Mothers and Their Children in Later Life," Family
Planning Perspectives, Vol. 19, No. 4 (July/August 1987).
iDaniel T. Lichter, Felicia
B. LeClere, and Diane K. McLaughlin, "Local marriage Markets and
the Marital Behavior of Black and White Women," American Journal
of Sociology, Vol. 96, No. 4 (January 1991), pp. 843-867.
jSteven L. Nock, "Commitment
and Dependency in marriage," Journal of marriage and the
Family, Vol 57 (1995), pp. 503-514.
kJune O'Neill, "Can Work and
Training Programs Reform Welfare?" J. of laborResearch,
Vol. 14, No. 3 (1993), pp. 265-281.
lBureau of the Census,
Statistical Abstract of the United States, 1996, Table No.