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The Agenda

NRO’s domestic-policy blog, by Reihan Salam.

Wait, So the Divorce Problem Is Actually Getting Worse?



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You know how people say, “well, yes, almost everything is going to hell, but the divorce rate has gone down.” Kay Hymowitz has bad news for you:

In their paper, [Sheila] Kennedy and [Steven] Ruggles rely on an entirely different source of information: the American Community Survey, an ongoing sampling of population in every state. Here is what they find: far from going down about 20% since 1980 as researchers had previously concluded, the overall divorce rate has declined only 2.2%. Worse, when you control for the change in the age of the population between 1980 and today—the population of married men and women is considerably older now—the divorce rate has actually risen 40%. By these measures, after a brief pause in the recessionary year of 2009, the divorce rate peaked in 2011. “By 2010,” they write, “almost half of ever married Americans had divorced or separated by the time they reached their late 50’s.”

Younger married couples appear to be more stable than older married couples (phew), but part of the reason appears to be that younger couples are increasingly substituting cohabitation for marriage, and cohabiting unions are substantially less stable than marriage:

“Our results document striking growth in…turbulence since the 1980s,” the authors conclude. “Divorce at age 40 or higher is much more common than it was,” and “because cohabitation makes up a rapidly growing percentage of all unions…they have an increasing impact on overall union instability.”

If there were no children involved, I’d be more inclined to see these developments as harmless. But of course children are often the product of cohabiting unions, particularly among those with low or modest levels of educational attainment.
 



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