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What Does D-I-V-O-R-C-E Spell for Teens?

What Does D-I-V-O-R-C-E Spell for Teens?

by Heather Mason Kiefer

Divorce is far more prevalent in America today than it was 60 years ago. According to the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), the divorce rate in the United States in 1940 was 2.0 per 1,000 people. By 1977, the divorce rate had skyrocketed to 5.3. The rate of divorce has stabilized over the past few years to around 4.0 -- still double what it was in 1940. Social scientists and policy-makers debate the reasons for the dramatic rise in the late 20th century: Is it simply easier to get divorced than it used to be, or has the social stigma surrounding divorce dissipated, making couples more likely to call it quits when the going gets tough? And what about kids? Are married couples less likely than they used to be to stay together "for the sake of the children"?

Given the multitude of specific circumstances, these are tough questions to answer. But one thing is clear -- American teens would like to see fewer divorces. According to the Gallup Youth Survey, a substantial majority of teens think divorces are too easy to get; this sentiment has remained relatively unchanged among teens for the past 15 years.

Teens Think Divorces Are Too Easy to Get

The most recent Gallup Youth Survey* asked teens, "Generally speaking, do you think it is too easy or not easy enough for people in this country to get divorced?" More than three-fourths of teens (77%) answered that it is too easy, while 21% said it's not easy enough. When Gallup first asked teens this question in 1977, only 55% of teens said it was too easy. The number continued to rise and fall irregularly from 1977 to 1986, but spiked to 79% in 1986. In recent Gallup teen polls, the percentage of teens who think that divorces are too easy to get has hovered around 75%.

While teens of all different backgrounds generally agree that divorces are too easy to get, teens who say they will likely be Republicans when they are old enough to vote are somewhat more likely to say divorces are too easy to get (89%) than teens who say they will be Democrats (75%). Similarly, teens who regularly attend church or synagogue are somewhat more likely to hold this view (82%) than teens who don't (74%). These differences are relatively unstartling, given that, among adults, Republicans and church-goers tend to be more socially conservative than Democrats and those who don't attend church or synagogue.

Bottom Line

Morality issues aside, it is not hard to speculate as to why teens are so likely to believe that divorce comes too easily in American society. As the NCHS statistics would suggest, a huge percentage of today's teens are growing up with divorced parents. Many teens with divorced parents probably dream of having a "traditional" family in which their parents are still together, and teens with married parents are unlikely to enjoy the thought of their parents divorcing.

According to NCHS estimates, there has been a slight decrease in the divorce rate in recent years, from 4.2 per 1,000 population in 1998 to 4.0 per 1,000 population in 2001 (the most recent year for which statistics are available). Will the negative attitudes among today's teens regarding divorce lead to lower divorce rates in the future? It's impossible to say, but those opinions certainly don't portend a liberal view of the issue among the young adults in the coming decades.

*The Gallup Youth Survey is conducted via an Internet methodology provided by Knowledge Networks, using an online research panel that is designed to be representative of the entire U.S. population. The current questionnaire was completed by 1,200 respondents, aged 13 to 17, between Jan. 23-Feb. 10, 2003. For results based on the total sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3%. For a complete description of the sampling and weighting procedures used to conduct the survey, click here.

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