Falling divorce rates

MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s Tuesday, the 30th of October, 2018. Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. First up on The World and Everything in It: falling divorce rates.

Millennials take the blame for a lot of blameworthy trends: things like selfies, student loan debt, avocado toast.

But their latest accomplishment seems reason to celebrate.

REICHARD: It does. A recent study examined divorce rates across the United States. And it concluded that fewer couples are calling it quits. Who’s leading that trend? You guessed it.

AUDIO: “Millennials are driving down the divorce rates in America, according to a new study from the University of Maryland…” “Now it seems Millennials are getting credit for something good.” “That’s right, Millennials coming to the rescue of that great institution of marriage…”

REICHARD: That’s good news, right? Well, maybe. To answer that question, we asked Anna Johansen to analyze the cause and the effect.

ANNA JOHANSEN, REPORTER: The study examined U.S. census data from 2008 to 2016. It showed an 18 percent drop in divorces. That seems pretty spectacular, right? Well, not according to Marsha Vaughn.

VAUGHN: They have actually been on the decline since 1980, so in some ways this is not new news.

Vaughn is a licensed family and marriage counselor in Elgin, Illinois. She notes that several factors influence the divorce rate, including the age at which people get married.

VAUGHN: The median age of first marriage is on the increase. In 2016, the median age for first marriage was around 29 for men, and around 27 for women. That is up from 1990 when those numbers were 26 and 24 for men and women.

Most millennials delay marriage because they want financial stability. They want to get a college education, find a job, and make some money before they tie the knot.

Statistically speaking, that leads to fewer divorces.

VAUGHN: The divorce rate tends to be higher if you marry younger. If you have a higher education level, college grads tend to have lower divorce rates. Lower income tends to have a higher divorce rate.

But Vaughn says there’s more to it than that. Millennials are the children of baby boomers. And that’s the generation with the highest rate of divorce.

VAUGHN: And so that might be another reason why millennials are shying away from marriage is because they don’t want to go through what their parents went through. They had a front row seat to a divorce, and no thank you, I don’t need that; I would rather not take that chance.

After suffering the fallout from their parents’ failed marriages, many millennials have opted to avoid marriage altogether. But couples are still forming relationships, which means cohabitation is at an all time high.

BRICKER: I was using Tinder because like as a researcher and as an academic, like I did not have time to go out and meet people.

That’s Autumn Bricker. She’s a first-wave millennial from the U.S., who went to Australia to work on her Ph.D. That’s where she met her boyfriend. They moved in together after dating for a year. I asked her what she thought about marriage.

BRICKER: Uh—okay. [laughs] It’s not like a thing I feel I need to do. However, I think—you know obviously relationships involve two people. So I’ve made it clear to my boyfriend that if he wants to get married, I’d say yes. I would be excited about that.

But she doesn’t think it’s necessary.

BRICKER: It would make my mother happy. But, honestly, it probably wouldn’t make much of a difference.

Scott Phelps couldn’t disagree more.

PHELPS: It’s simply untrue. It’s not true that marriage is simply a nice idea without any tangible benefits.

Phelps runs a non-profit called the Abstinence and Marriage Partnership. Its goal is to educate teens on the benefits of abstinence to prepare them for healthy marriages.

PHELPS: All the data show that the cohabiting relationships are far less stable. (more here) And certainly cohabiters are far more likely to break up than married couples. Sort of, that’s the point, right? We’re not committed to each other. 

All of this has a direct impact on divorce rates in the U.S. The people who have a high probability of divorce just aren’t getting married in the first place.

Still, the study provides one positive takeaway: Although fewer people are getting married, the ones who do are more likely to stick it out.

Reporting for WORLD Radio, I’m Anna Johansen.

(Photo/Ted Rabbitts, Flickr)

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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