To the surprise of many, the precise rate of divorce in the United States is not so easy to get at. Do we measure the number of divorces per 1,000 people in a population in order to determine the “crude” divorce rate? Do we use the “percentage of adults ever divorced” in a population? Do we look at the number of divorces per 1,000 married women in order to come up with a “refined” divorce rate? Or maybe we should project the likelihood of a marriage today ending in divorce by looking at cohorts of people marrying within a particular measure of time and relating them to general life tables to get the “cohort measure rate?”
All four methods mentioned are used by enumerators to try and come up with accurate divorce rate numbers, and all four methods produce contrasting and varied results. And so one can see why there is some argument as to the true divorce rate in the United States. However, the most conspicuous and widely circulated reports are based on cohort measurements, which all converge on the common claim that a U.S. marriage today stands a 40-50% likelihood of failure, and this is through the cohort method.
One point rarely contested in all of this is that whatever the number, it’s too high, especially when one ruminates on the likely outcomes of divorce for many of those affected by it, such as financial strain, social isolation, loss of filial-parental access, and a heightened potential for decline in one’s physical and mental health to name a few. Divorce is immensely impactful on both adults and children, and carries with it great potential to be among life’s most painful experiences.
Divorce is a problem, and the best way to combat this problem is for federal, state, and local governments to work together to implement mandated premarital education courses in our high schools, because doing so would increase awareness of the pitfalls of youthful marriages, provide single people with a framework for healthy expectations inside of a marriage relationship, and give our young people useful insight into what the consequences of a failed marriage might mean for them.
The Three Leading Causes of Divorce
According to the Institute for Divorce Financial Analysts website, a survey of 191 certified divorce financial analyst professionals from across North America found that the three leading causes of divorce reported to them are “basic incompatibility” (43%), “infidelity” (28%), and “money issues (22%). Everywhere one looks for information explaining the main causes for divorce, the top two reasons given are nearly always something along the lines of incompatibility and infidelity. Conversely, simply waiting to marry increases the chances of marital success exponentially until around age 32, according to a data analysis performed by University of Utah Sociology Professor Nicholas Wolfinger.
While more research would be needed in order to prove a correlation between age, compatibility, fidelity, and financial stability specifically, it doesn’t take much empirical evidence to convince any serious person that there must be a link between waiting to marry until one is older and an increase in one’s self-awareness, proclivity for genetic monogamy, and financial stability.
Premarital Education: A Solution to the Divorce Epidemic
For this reason, an obvious solution to the divorce epidemic in this country is compulsory premarital education in the public school system which would provide young people with scientific and evidence-based information to better enable them to make decisions that are most likely to contribute to successful marriage relationships, such as abstaining from marriage until a more appropriate age, and thus lowering our nation’s divorce rate. As it stands, none of the U.S.’s 50 states mandate premarital education courses in order to obtain a marriage license, and a negligible amount of public schools mandate premarital education courses as a prerequisite for graduation, if any.
There is some irony in the fact that 17 states do, however, require divorce education classes for parents filing for divorce. This harkens back to a quote by Benjamin Franklin asserting that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” This information can be found on the www.divorcerwriter.com website, which also asserts that states’ requirement of divorce education classes rests on the assertion that “courts have found that parental conflict related to divorce is a societal concern because children suffer potential short-term and long-term detrimental economic, emotional, and educational effects during times of family transition due to divorce.” It is of some note that courts have thus far only seen fit to require education on the back end and not on the front end, which if done may well prevent many cases of divorce and the “societal concern” that comes along with them.
It appears one of the main contentions faced by schools wishing to implement premarital education classes is the assertion that such classes have no place in public schools, insomuch that these things are better left for parents, churches, and whoever else, and schools instead ought to focus on the old adage of teaching “reading, writing, and arithmetic.” Well, what business does a public school have teaching reading, writing, and arithmetic? If one can come up with an answer that does not allow room for any other subjects to be compulsory, such a person will find themselves disappointed to learn that nearly all public schools now mandate that students take courses in a myriad of subjects aside from literacy and mathematics. The Granite School District in Utah, for example, requires high school students to acquire a minimum of 1.5 credits in fine arts, 1.5 credits in P. E., 3.5 credits in social studies, 3 credits in science, and so on (Granite School District, 2015).
And while the compulsory teaching of these other subjects may be accepted as mainstream today, some may still attempt to draw a distinction between them and a course such as premarital education, by arguing that there are certain moral, political, or other opinions that are sure to be woven into discussions on marriage, and therein lies the problem with government mandating such courses and then teaching them. Fine. Sounds like a valid concern. In that case, call the courses “Marriage Science” class and employ only human biology and sociology textbooks in their teaching.
The fact is, public high schools with courses on biology and social studies are already teaching all of the information pertinent to this discussion, and all that is left to do is mingle them together within the framework of marriage relationships in order to provide young adults with the evidence and science-based information necessary to allow them to compare and contrast their studies with whatever they are learning through Disney movies, pop culture, social media, movies, TV, music, parents, clergymen, and all the rest. And let’s not forget that these non-science-based influences have had their way so far, without being hindered by any requirement for a science-based education on our youth; and here we sit with marriages failing at rates so staggering, one might do better to stay in Vegas after the bachelor party, forego the ceremony, and try their luck at becoming a professional blackjack player. The odds of success are similar enough.
Lastly, it may be of interest to note that sociologist Michael Handel conducted a survey that found that only about 22% of Americans utilize math skills beyond a middle school level, such as multiplying, dividing, and fractions, in their day to day at work. And yet, as of 2012, Pew Research Center analysis of census data indicates that 80% of adults over the age of 25 are or have been married. A clearer picture of which subjects are of most use to our citizens throughout their lives compared to what our society insists be taught in our public schools would be hard to come by.
Premarital Education or “Marriage Science”
And so, if after reading the foregoing, the idea of a course such as “marriage science” being taught to all 12th graders throughout the United States doesn’t sound too unsettling, what impact might we expect to see it have on our high divorce rate once implemented? Well, it’s never been done, and so the answer is not definitively yet known. However, if premarital counselling studies and surveys are any indication, the impact could be enormous. The American Psychological Association website cites numerous studies supporting the idea that marital education programs prevent divorce, and one survey of adults in Arkansas, Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas found that couples who go through premarital counseling are less likely to divorce by as much as 31%.
One fact that is known, is that each year a person waits to marry up until age 32 reduces the risk of divorce by 11% according to Wolfinger’s 2015 study. Do our young single people know this? Is this statistic rapped about on MTV? Do any of YouTube’s stars VLOG about this fact? Has Disney yet made a cartoon in which any prince and princess have divorced after riding off into the sunset? Do clergymen, intent upon seeing the ranks of their parishioners swell, do enough to discourage youthful marriage? Does society do or say anything noticeable to dissuade 22-year-olds from tying the knot? When and where do we expect our young people to pick up on this little gem of information? Just teaching this fact alone to our youth holds tremendous potential for impact. It needs to be tried, and our youth deserve to be taught this fact.
Humans Are ‘Socially Monogamous’
Another fact that is known, is that humans are animals and belong to one of four extant species of hominids, encompassing the family of great apes, namely orangutans, gorillas, chimpanzees, and humans. Those familiar with biology may well know that none of the great apes are naturally “genetically monogamous;” however, humans, like chimps and gorillas, are found to be naturally “socially monogamous.” The distinction between these two forms of monogamy is significant, inasmuch that both amount to a natural proclivity for pairing off and living together for the purposes of companionship, co-parenting, protection, resource pooling, etc., but genetically monogamous mammals only mate with their partners, while socially monogamous mammals, by definition, are naturally inclined to cheat on their partners. More information on this topic can be found in the book The Myth of Monogamy by David P. Barash, PhD (New York: W H Freeman/Times Books/Henry Holt & Co. 2001).
As humans endowed with metacognition, we are in a unique position to override these natural tendencies, but pretending they don’t exist, or ignoring evidence that we are better able to overcome our biological predispositions through the phenomenon of metacognition serves no purpose, and is counterproductive when we seek to take preventative measures. And again, the question is begged, where is Kanye West’s rap on this information? Which season of Jersey Shore addresses this topic? Which parent is sitting down with their 17-year-old and assuring them that they have innate urges for promiscuity that are completely natural, while providing them with information about why such urges no longer benefit our species in any way and how metacognition can be used to overcome natural proclivities which now only amount to an affront to successful marriage relationships?
Premarital Education: Teaching Our Youth About Marriage
And finally, divorce in the United States is particularly suited to inflict enormous amounts of financial ruin, emotional pain, mental anguish, and proprietary depredation upon our population. And that’s just the toll on parents. Children of divorce suffer in entirely new ways that need no enumeration here, but suffice it to say the research on the life-mangling effects of divorce on parents and children is well documented and readily searchable online and elsewhere. But are young, single people searching out this information? Are they being taught this information at any time or in any institution prior to engaging in marriage? Or are they Googling this information for the first time as their own marriages are spiraling out of control?
It is submitted to the reader that the youth of our nation undergo no mandated, uniform, consistent, fact-based, science-based, and evidence-based education concerning the institution of marriage prior to engaging in it themselves, and as a result we are essentially finding ourselves stunned at our divorce rates. This is much like throwing 16-year-olds into automobiles and out onto highways prior to undergoing a driver’s education course and then finding ourselves aghast at what would no doubt be a spike in auto-collision rates as a result. Anyone who has learned to drive and also been married for five or more years knows for themselves which endeavor takes more skill to be successful at.
Eric Pratt is a Utah police officer of 13 years, husband of 11 years, and father of 10 years. His life and specifically work experiences have influenced him to study and write on topics specific to marriage, law enforcement, and religious problems intrinsic to modern U.S. society.