American marriages and cohabitating unions are less stable than ever, according to a study from the University of Minnesota. “Breaking up is Hard to Count: The Rise of Divorce and Cohabitation Instability in the United States, 1980-2010”, the new research reveals that previous reports on dropping divorce rates since the 1980s have been based on incomplete records and misinterpreted data, which led to grossly inaccurate findings.
Researchers Sheela Kennedy and Steven Ruggles at the Minnesota Population Center at the University of Minnesota have determined that several factors led to previous studies misinterpreting divorce data, which led to the false belief that divorce rates were declining in the U.S.
With data adjusted for “basic changes in the composition of the married population”, the new report reveals that divorce rates have risen “substantially” since the early 1990s. The “striking” results show that “the age-standardized divorce rate rose 40% between 1980 and 2008[…], and 2011 has the highest divorce rate of any year to date.”
On one hand, the baby boomers are largely responsible for the rising divorce rates, since many of them remarried after their first divorce, and second or third marriages are at an even greater risk of breaking up. “The baby-boom generation was responsible for the extraordinary rise in marital instability after 1970” Kennedy and Ruggles point out. “They are now middle-aged, but their pattern of high marital instability continues.”
On the other hand, the data recognizes that young couples are divorcing less, but the decrease can be attributed to the fact that couples in their teens and early twenties are choosing cohabitating partnerships without marriage or are marrying later in life. “Although divorce rates among younger cohorts are stable or declining, the rapid increase in cohabitating unions – which are more unstable than marriages – means that overall union instability is rising among all age groups.”
The younger generation of cohabitating couples are still experiencing significant breakups; however, most of them were never married in the first place.
Overall, divorce risk has increased significantly from 1990 to 2008. Although the U.S. divorce rate is now at “an all-time high,” the study suggests that the divorce risk may level off or decline over the coming decades. However, this decline will be “offset by the increase in the number of dissolutions of cohabitating unions” and result in an “overall union instability.”
To read the full study online, click here.