Marriage Facts

It has been said that "statistics do not lie....but statisticians lie like crazy!" That is probably more true in marriage statistics than in any other field. Of course, many folks are not lying, they are just mistaken. Take for example the oft quoted statistic that 50% of all marriages end in divorce. Quite simply it is not accurate. That stat first came into being in the late 70’s and early 80’s when someone looked the census data and saw that there were X number of marriages in one year and X divided by 2 number of divorces. They made the mistaken assumption that ½ of all marriages ended in divorce. Now, some twenty years later, we can see the flaw in that logic. Those were not the same marriages. When a more longitudinal study is undertaken the percentages drop to 25% to 35% depending upon who you read. However, you look at it the fact remains that at least a quarter of first marriages end in divorce. The numbers who remain married, but are in a very unhealthy relationship is totally unknown and percentages would be nothing more than guesswork.

Although statistics are all over the place it seems, here are some comments that are helpful the discussion and the realization of the need facing marriages in our culture.

  • A third of all babies were born to unmarried women (33%), as compared with 3.8% in 1940.
  • Households headed by unmarried partners grew by almost 72% in the last 10 years.
  • Households headed by single mothers grew in number by over 25%, while those led by single fathers grew by almost 62%.
  • Cohabitation without marriage skyrocketed by nearly 1,000% between 1960 and 1998.
  • Roughly half of today’s children will spend at least part of their childhood in single-parent households.
  • The U.S. leads the industrialized world in percentage of single parents.

Marital status, it appears can be one of the most important predictors of happiness:

  • 40% of married people said they are very happy with their life in general, compared to just under a quarter of those who are single or cohabiting.
  • Married people are 1/3 as likely to commit suicide as widowed or divorced people.
  • Married men and women report less depression, less anxiety, and lower levels of other types of psychological distress than do those who are single, divorced, or widowed.

Marriage even seems to be a factor in building wealth it seems.

  • On the verge or retirement, the typical married couple had accumulated about $410,000 (or $205,000 per person), compared to about $167,000 for the never-married, just under $154,000 for the divorced, about $151,000 for the widowed, and just under $96,000 for the separated.

Marriage creates an annuity value that is equal to increasing one’s wealth by 12 to 14% at age 30 and by 30% at age 75, compared with remaining single.

The average white married mother who experiences a divorce in her child’s teen years sees her family income plunge from $62,000 to less than $37,000 a few years after the divorce. Meanwhile, her stably married counterpart’s family income continues to rise over the same period from $61,500 to $67,000. Marriages are good for children:

  • Almost half of black children living with one parent are poor, compared to less than one-fifth in two-parent families.
  • 11.5% of children younger than six who live in a married-couple family were poor, compared to almost 59% of young children living with a single mother.
  • 81% of children in two-parent families said that they get homework help from their fathers, compared to just 56% in single-parent families and 68% in stepfamilies.
  • Children from one-parent families got about nine hours less from their mother and about 13 hours less from either parent per week than did children in two-parent families.
  • 29% of children in one-parent homes dropped out of high school, compared to 13% in two-parent homes.
  • Boys raised in single-parent homes are twice as likely to have committed a crime that leads to incarceration by the time they reach their early thirties.
  • Parents’ divorce knocked four years off the life expectancy of their adult children, and 40-year olds from divorced homes were three times as likely to die from all causes as 40-year olds whose parents stayed married.
  • Children from high-conflict intact families, where parents had thoughts of divorce, had an average GPA of 3.6, while teens from divorced high-conflict families had an average GPA of just 2.4.

About those who are divorcing:

  • Less than a third of parental divorces involve highly conflicted marriages.
  • 81 percent of divorced and separated Americans believe that marriage should be for life.

86% of those who rated their marriage as unhappy in the late eighties and who were still married five years later said their marriages had become happier.

Recognition of Crisis

I. Dismal Statistics

1960 1997 % Increase
Children born out of wedlock 224,000 1.2 million 436%
Couples cohabiting 430,000 4.1 million 855%
Abortions 745,000 1.5 million 101%
Divorces 393,000 1.2 million 205%

Other Related Statistics

  • Child poverty increased 42% since 1970
  • 70% of juveniles serving in long-term correctional facilities did not live with both parents when growing-up
  • "Adults get over divorce, but unlike adults, children's suffering does not reach a peak at divorce. The impact increases over time, throughout the first three decades of life and in all developmental stages" - Judith Wallerstein, Second Chances, after following 60 divorced families over 25 years

II. Message to Our Young People

The percentage of couples getting married has dropped by 41% since 1960. By our example our young people are being conditioned to understand that:

  • Marriage no longer holds its time-honored value in our society
  • Marriage may just be one of several options in couple relationships
  • It is acceptable in today’s society to have a "non-committal test" relationship (cohabitation) before considering marriage
  • The marriage commitment may not be relevant for raising children

III. Trend

Outcome of cohabiting couples:

  • 40% of cohabiting couples break-up before marriage
  • 45% of cohabiting couples will marry and divorce or separate
  • 15% of cohabiting couples will marry and remain married

Marriage & Divorce

  • More than one million children are involved in new divorces each year.
  • Over 40% of first marriages in America end in divorce.
  • The number of divorced adults in the U.S. grew from 4.3 million in 1970 to 20 million today.
  • The average duration of a first marriage ending in divorce is eight years; second marriages ending in divorce last six.

Below is the average total household wealth of people ages 51-71 by marriage status:

  • married couples - $132,200
  • divorced - $33,700
  • widowed - $42,300
Time, Vol. 156, No. 13, September 25, 2000, p. 77.
1 Barbara Kantrowitz and Pat Wingert, "Unmarried, with Children," Newsweek, 28 May 2001, p. 46.
2 Ibid.
3 Kantrowitz and Wingert and "Nuclear Family Fading," The Gazette, 15 May 2001, p. A1.
4 David Popenoe and Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, "The State of Our Unions 2000," The National Marriage Project, Rutgers University.
5 "Breakdown on Family Breakdown," The Washington Times, 25 March 2001, p. B2.
6 Ibid.
7 Tabulations by Linda J. Waite from the General Social Survey, 199-6 waves.
8 James A. Davis, "New Money, an Old Man/Lady, and ‘Two’s Company’: Subjective Welfare in the NORC General Social Surveys, 1972-1982," Social Indicators Research 15 (1984): 319-50.
9 John Mirowsky and Catherine E. Ross, Social Causes of Psychological Distress (New York: Aldine De Gruyter, 1989).
10 Lingxin Hao, "Family Structure", 269-92.
111 Laurence Kitlikoff and Avia Spivak, "The Family as an Incoomplete Annuities Market," Journal of Political Economy 89 (1981): 372-91.
12 Sara McLanahan and Gary Sandefur, Growing Up with a Single Parent: What Hurts, What Helps (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1994), 24.
13 McLanahan and Sandefur, Growing Up with a Single Parent, 82.
14 Leatha Lamison-White, "Poverty in the United States: 1996" in Bureau of the Census, Current Population Reports, Series P60-198 (Washington, D.C., September 1997), 60-198.
15 McLanahan and Sandefur, 105
16 McLanahan and Sandefur
17 Cynthia Harper and Sara McLanahan, "Father Absence and Youth Incarceration" (paper presented at the annual meetings of the American Sociological Association, San Francisco, August 1998).
18 Joan S. Tucker, Howard S. Friedman, Joseph E. Schwsartz, Michael H. Criqui et al., "Parental Divorce: Effects on Individual Behavior and Longevity," Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 73 (1997): 381-91.
19 Rex Forehand, Gene Brody, Nichola Long, Jerry Slotkin, and Robert Fauber, "Divorce/Divorce Potential and Interparental Conflict: The Relationship to Early Adolescent Social and Cognitive Functioning," Journal of Adolescent Research 1 *1986): 389-97.
20 Amato and Booth, A Generation at Risk, 220.
21 Dennis K. Orthner, "The Family in Transition," p. 98.
22 Linda J. Waite’s tabulations from the National Survey of Families and Households, 1987/88 and 1992/94.