Why Is Divorce In Decline?

About 70 percent of marriages that began in the 1990s reached their 15th anniversary (excluding those in which a spouse died), up from about 65 percent of those that began in the 1970s and 1980s. Those who married in the 2000s are so far divorcing at even lower rates. If current trends continue, nearly two-thirds of marriages will never involve a divorce, according to data from Justin Wolfers, a University of Michigan economist

Yet, it’s still conventional wisdom that half of marriage end in divorce. David Watkins largely blames that myth on social conservatives:

Obviously, one reason the myth persists is that is serves the purposes of social conservatives, and they promote it. First, in their search for a reason to deny marriage rights to same sex couples, they largely settled on “marriage is a fragile institution in crisis, and worked to make it immune from new evidence.

Second, though, and more importantly I suspect, it demonstrates rather clearly that to the extent that they were narrowly correct about a relationship between feminist advances and rising divorce rates, more recent trends show that those same advances are a big part of the story of the subsequent decline in divorce.

Dougherty focuses instead on how “marriage patterns are becoming more narrowly class-based than before”:

The data shows that people who already succeed in many aspects of their life are making successes of their marriages. Far from a progressive dream, we may be returning to the two worlds of aristocracy. A married upper class and an unmarried peasantry is exactly what you see when you look at the British Isles in the early 20th century. Those living in converted Abbeys could keep their marriages together, but 65 percent of Ireland’s population was unmarried at the same time, the highest portion in the Western world of that era. There’s just more incentive to hold together the “estate of marriage” when the married couple have property that might qualify as an estate.

It’s a downer, I know. But far from a trendline of unqualified marital bliss, the prospects for marriage look bleak. And the improved prospects for a certain class of married person may not be caused by liberal values at all, but may be a side effect of concentrated inequality.