Nearly half of all marriages end in divorce.
Table of Contents
I. The Decline of the American Family
II. The Cost of Fatherlessness
III. The Increase in Single-Parent Families
More Births Out of Wedlock
High Divorce Rate
IV. Guiding Principles for Strengthening Traditional Families
V. The Need to Strengthen Traditional Families
Even for children born into a home with a married mother and father, divorce appears to be an increasingly common hazard. During the first half of the 20th century, the U.S. divorce rate, defined as the number of divorces per 1,000 married women aged 15 and over, was less than one marriage in five. The rate then began to rise sharply starting in the early 1960s. By the end of the 1970s, the national rate had more than doubled. It peaked in 1979 and then declined somewhat, but has since remained well above the levels of the 1960s.68
In Massachusetts divorce trends have followed a similar pattern over the last half-century, though divorce rates were lower in the Commonwealth than in the nation as a whole, and peaked later, in the mid-1980s. Between 1980 and 2011, the annual number of divorces in Massachusetts declined by 24 percent, from almost 18,000 to less than 13,000 per year. Because the annual numbr of marriages also declined over that period, the ratio of divorces to marriages did not decline but fluctuated between a low of 35 percent and a high of 50 percent.69
The ratio of the divorce rate to the marriage rate gives a rough indication of the proportion of marriages in Massachusetts that will end in divorce. That ratio has risen from 17 percent in 1960 to 47 percent in 2015.70 This is in line with demographers’ low-end estimate that, for the nation as a whole, 44 percent of first marriages will end in divorce.71
Many of the married couples that break up have had children who must go through the painful experience of having their parents fight, separate, and become divorced. Children in Massachusetts today are three times more at risk of this than children two generations ago.