Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Divorce Rate Higher than Ever

How can that be? Everyone knows the divorce rate is down. Once boomers dumped spouse number one and settled down with spouse number two, divorce moved off their bucket list.

Not so, according to demographers Sheela Kennedy and Steven Ruggles. In their research paper, "Breaking Up Is Hard to Count: The Rise of Divorce in the United States, 1980-2010" (Demography, April 2014, $39.95), the researchers blame a "deterioration of the statistical system" for the "uncertainty about trends in union instability over the past three decades." Their analysis shows that rather than declining, the divorce rate in 2011 was at a record high.

When the National Center for Health Statistics ceased to collect data on marriage and divorce in the 1990s, there was little to go on except the Survey of Income and Program Participation, which has high nonresponse rates. Beginning in 2008, however, the American Community Survey began to ask respondents whether they had married or divorced in the past 12 months and the number of times they had married. What a difference data make. After analyzing the ACS data, Kennedy and Ruggles report a phenomenon missed by most observers—a 40 percent increase in the age-standardized divorce rate between 1980 and 2008. After a slight dip in 2009, the rate began to rise again and "2011 has the highest divorce rate of any year to date."

Divorce has been declining among adults under age 35, say Kennedy and Ruggles, largely because fewer are marrying and those who do marry are the most compatible. But among adults aged 35 or older, it's a different story—about half have experienced divorce or separation by their late fifties. "The Baby Boom generation was responsible for the extraordinary rise in marital instability after 1970," they explain. "They are now middle-aged, but their pattern of high marital instability continues."

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