Millennials staying married at a higher rate

A happy couple holding hands. Credit: BATMANV_Shutterstock
A happy couple holding hands. Credit: BATMANV_Shutterstock

.- A recent study from the University of Maryland has shown that members of the generation born in and after the mid 1980s are divorcing at a lower rate than older cohorts.

Philip Cohen, a sociology professor at the University of Maryland, released an analysis Sept. 15 which drew on census data to show that the divorce rate in the United States had dropped by 18 percent between the years 2008 and 2016. The drop was credited in large part to millennials staying married--even if they are marrying at lower rates than previous generations did at the same age.

Dr. John Grabowski, associate professor of moral theology and ethics at the Catholic University of America, told CNA that he believes the report is “kind of good news and bad news.”

“The good news is: the divorce rate is falling, particularly among millennials. The bad news is less people are getting married, especially poorer people. Many people are just choosing to cohabit."

While it had been thought that a drop in the divorce rate could be credited to an aging population less likely to divorce, the study showed that even when controlling for age the divorce rate still dropped by 8 percent, and that the millennials who do marry tend to stay married more than older demographics.

Slightly more than 10 percent of people between the ages of 18 and 34 are divorced, a number which has stayed relatively stable since 1980. In contrast, over a quarter of people over the age of 44 are divorced, a 10 percent rise since 1980.

According to a separate study from Bowling Green’s National Center for Family and Marriage Research, the divorce rate for people aged 55 to 64 almost doubled between 1990 and 2015.

In calculating the divorce rate, Cohen compared the number of divorces to the number of married women so that the divorce rate would not be positively impacted by fewer marriages overall.

Grabowski hypothesized that the lower divorce rates among millennials could be partly explained by marriage no longer being considered a social an expectation or requirement among their generation.

This means that those who do marry are being “much more intentional” about the process, he said. “In some ways they're swimming against the tide a bit culturally by doing that.”

Additionally, Grabowski suggested that the sexual revolution of the 1960s and 70s had led to an increased exposure to the negative effects of divorce on men, women, and children.

“People are more aware now of the resources and practices that they need to have a healthy marriage--in other words, to keep a marriage working,” he explained. It also helps, he said, that people are better informed about what it takes to keep a marriage working, and that there are more resources available to aid a troubled marriage. 

While the news that millennials are increasingly shunning divorce can be read as a positive development, the decreasing number of millennials who marry at all may indicate cause for concern, Grabowski said.

Cohabiting couples often cite disincentives to marry--such as the high cost of a “fairytale wedding”--but Grabowski told CNA that he believes the benefits of married life clearly outweigh any cost. 

“We have decades of social scientific research that shows that people who do get married do better economically, health-wise, and emotionally than people who remain unmarried or who simply cohabit or serially cohabit with different people,” he said.

The largest group of people living in poverty in the United States are single-parent households with children, “usually headed by women,” Grabowski added.

“People who remain unmarried but have children are at a huge economic disadvantage compared to their married counterparts.”

Many millennials, Grabowski theorized, may be afraid of entering a marriage after watching their parents or relatives divorce. Still, he said that the analysis showed “a little bit of good news” about marriage as a whole.

“And if the millennials kill divorce, or kill the divorce rate, well, that's a good thing. If only we could convince maybe more of them to enter into marriage, we'd be doing really well.”

Tags: Marriage, Divorce, Millennials