Here's What The Divorce Rate Actually Means

Photographed by Winnie Au.
We've been told for decades now that half of all marriages end in divorce — and that it's only getting worse. But, as is the case with most "facts" that get repeated (and repeated and repeated), that's not quite true. And it turns out that divorce rates are actually falling, not rising.

Yep, researchers have found that the rate of divorce in the U.S. actually peaked at about 40% around 1980 and has been declining ever since. And, according to data from the National Survey of Family Growth, the probability of a first marriage lasting at least a decade was 68% for women and 70% for men between 2006 and 2010. The probability that they would make it 20 years was 52% for women and 56% for men, so that percentage is closer to the frequently-cited "half," but still not there.

Other estimates show that three-quarters of those married in the 1990s would make it at least 15 years (compared with just 65% of those married in the 1980s). And if that current trend continues, the vast majority (about two-thirds) of marriages will never divorce.

So how did we even get that half-n-half stat to begin with? Well, we can trace that original claim — that the divorce rate is at 50% and climbing — back to a 1980 census report. That report predicted that half of the couples married between 1976 and 1977 would eventually end up divorced and that rates would only increase from there.

But it's clear that things haven't really played out that way. And today, our picture of divorce is much more complicated — it's one that changes based on your education level, income, location, and a whole bunch of other factors. Plus, of course, your decision to divorce (and get married in the first place) is an incredibly complex and personal one.

All of this means that no single percentage is ever going to apply to everyone. Ahead, we've collected a few of those factors that can increase — and lower — your chances of divorce.