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Divorce Doesn't Last

More than a quarter of adult Americans, according to a recent Gallup Poll*, have been divorced at some time in their lives, but only 10% are currently divorced. This means that more than half of divorcees, 63% to be exact, have remarried. And chances are that many of those who have yet to remarry, eventually will. So while marriages may fail, the will to be married endures.

Overall, 27% of all Americans have been divorced. Naturally, the divorce rate is quite low among young adults, many of whom have never been married. Only 6% of 18- to 29-year-olds have ever been divorced. This rises to 28% of 30- to 49-year-olds and peaks at 46% of 50- to 64-year-olds. It drops back to 27% among seniors aged 65 and older.

The proportion of people who are currently divorced follows a similar pattern by age, but the figures are much lower.

Middle-aged divorcees are the most likely to have tied the knot again. About 7 in 10 30- to 49-year-olds who have been divorced at one time are currently married. This figure is 63% for 50- to 64-year-olds. By contrast, only about half of previously divorced young adults and seniors have remarried.

Will Marriage Survive?

Population trends show that people are increasingly delaying the age at which they marry for the first time. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that "the proportion of women 20-24 years old who had never married doubled between 1970 and 2000, from 36% to 73%." This, coupled with a rising divorce rate since the1970s, means that fewer people are married today than in the past.

So is marriage in the United States passé? Is it going the way of Europe, and particularly northern Europe, where cohabitation and having children outside of marriage are becoming the norm? Today, just 56% of U.S. adults are married. According to Census estimates, this is down from 72% in 1970.

Perhaps more relevant to the future of marriage in the United States than the divorce rate, is the percentage of people who choose to live together outside of marriage. Overall, only 8% of all domestic couples in America are unmarried. But this figure is 28% among 18- to 29-year-olds, compared with just 7% among 30- to 49-year-olds and 3% among those 50 and older. The future of marriage may depend upon whether young people simply delay marriage, or sidestep it altogether.

Bottom Line

One might think that the institution of marriage is becoming outdated. Statistics show that half of all marriages that occur today will end in divorce, and more people are choosing to live together as partners or delay marriage. But, marriage must have its attractions, because most of those who have failed at it once try again. And now gay couples are clamoring for their right to enter into matrimony.

*Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,005 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted March 5-7, 2004. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.

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