Do Half of All Marriages Really End in Divorce?
This outdated statistic has many young people hesitant to tie the knot.
Posted April 24, 2017 | Reviewed by Jessica Schrader
We have all heard the statistic: 50 percent of all marriages end in divorce. That particular statistic is burned into our brains, and has given an entire generation a bit of a complex about their potential marital success. I mean, if your chances of success were 50/50, that wouldn't instill a strong sense of confidence in a relationship, would it?
But, as with most things, the truth isn't that simple or straightforward. There are a few things you need to know if you are considering this statistic and your own relationship:
First, it isn't exactly correct. It used to be, but overall divorce rates have been falling for a few decades. The truth is, the average couple getting married today has more like a 75 percent chance of staying married. That means that only about 1 in 4 recent marriages are likely to end in divorce.
Second, the likelihood of divorce isn't the same for all couples. For some, the chance of a divorce is very slim, while for others, the chance of divorce is actually greater than 50 percent—for example, higher-order marriages have a higher divorce rates than we once attributed to all marriages. In other words, if you are entering into a second or third marriage, you face an approximately 75 percent chance of getting divorced, or possibly higher. Why is this? There are likely many possible reasons: If you have divorced before, you are statistically more likely to do it again. If your partner has also divorced before, then (as you might imagine) your joint risk of divorce is even higher. Studies show that those who consider divorce a viable option are more likely to choose it when times get tough. In addition, those who have previously divorced have ex-husbands and/or ex-wives, and often children from those earlier marriages in their circle. These additional people, and the issues they bring with them, can be "baggage" that puts a strain on a new relationship.
Finally, there are many factors that influence a couple's chance of getting a divorce, so for any one couple to blindly accept that the 50/50 probability applies to them is a misleading oversimplification that could potentially become disruptive. Going into a life-long commitment with the idea that you only have a 50/50 chance of staying together can be damaging. If you only truly commit half of yourself, it isn't likely to work. If you believe in your heart that the chances of success are a coin-flip, you might walk away when things get tough instead of putting in the work necessary for a successful marriage. Most important is what we call the self-fulfilling prophecy. Simply put, if you believe that your chances of failing are high, then you are likely to see signs that you are "failing" more readily, and then use those signs as a confirmation that you are in fact failing. (This is also known as the confirmation bias.) In this case, you may actually be sabotaging your marriage.
If you are considering marriage, educate yourself. Divorce rates are actually lower than you think, and many factors (including some over which you have control) help to determine how likely it is that you will get a divorce. Marriage is a big commitment, but if you go into it with clear expectations and good communication skills, and having done your research about what makes a relationship work, your likelihood of staying married can be much higher than 50 percent.
Of course, some marriages do not work out, and in those cases divorce may be the best option for all involved. It is a difficult personal decision, and never easy, but it may allow both parties to move on. While divorce is a possible outcome for any marriage, it's not one that can be easily "predicted." If you are going to commit your life to someone, do so whole-heartedly, and give it your all. Doing your best is all you can do.