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Why the Divorce Rate is Going Down in the U.S.

The divorce rate in the U.S. has been in sharp decline since 2000. Here's why.

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Divorce is on the decline in the United States. The states most exemplary of this trend are Iowa and Hawaii, where divorce rate figures suggest that as few as 20 percent of marriages end in divorce. Part of the reason for the plummeting divorce rate is that Americans, on the whole, seem less accepting of divorce as a solution for marital problems. According to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data, in 2013 fewer than 40 percent of men and women agreed that “divorce is usually the best solution when a couple can’t seem to work out their marriage problems.” That was down from nearly 50 percent only a decade earlier.

Here are more numbers behind these conclusions.

The U.S. Divorce Rate Is On The Decline

The CDC has been keeping tabs on the marriage and divorce rate in the United States since 2000. Across nearly two decades, the number of marriages in the U.S. has declined from about 8.2 to 6.9 per 1,000 citizens and, with that decline, the divorce rate has dropped off as well. In the year 2000, there were 944,000 divorces out of about 233 million American citizens. As the above chart shows, that figure had dropped to 827,000 per 258 million citizens by 2016.

Different States (And Countries) Have Different Divorce Rates

It’s a myth that half of all marriages end in divorce—the truth is closer to 40 percent, across the board—but some states have higher divorce rates than others. Ditto with non-U.S. countries. To put those figures into perspective, we collected the state-specific divorce rates from the CDC and mashed them up with data from Eurostat, the European Union’s statistical branch. The result is a map that shows the divorce rate by state, and one country that boasts a similar divorce rate. The map shows that couples living in Iowa and Hawaii both have divorce rates close to 20 percent, on par with that of Saudi Arabia. Oklahoma (and Luxembourg) had the highest divorce rate, at 65.7 percent, or two out of every three marriages.

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Americans Are Less Accepting Of Divorce

It’s hard to say why the divorce rate has decreased in the United States. Perhaps the main factors that contribute to divorce (money problems, infidelity, and addiction) are less of an issue in 2019 than they were in 2000. Perhaps we have become more tolerant of poverty, cheating, and drug abuse. But another possibility is that the rise of couples counseling has convinced warring partners that they can work through their differences. Indeed, data from the CDC suggests that Americans are less willing than ever to accept divorce as a solution for marriages that just are not working out. When couples were asked whether “divorce is usually the best solution when a couple can’t seem to work out their marriage problems” in 2002, nearly half answered in the affirmative. As of 2013, that figure is closer to 40 percent.