Millennials are causing the U.S. divorce rate to drop
Americans under the age of 45 have found a novel way to rebel against their elders: They’re staying married.
New data show younger couples are approaching relationships very differently from baby boomers, who married young, divorced, remarried and so on. Generation X and especially millennials are being pickier about who they marry, tying the knot at older ages when education, careers and finances are on track.
The result is a U.S. divorce rate that dropped 18 percent from 2008 to 2016, according to an analysis by University of Maryland sociology professor Philip Cohen.
Demographers already knew the divorce rate was falling, even if the average American didn’t. Their question, however, was why?
One theory is that divorce rates are falling largely because of other demographic changes especially an aging population. Older people are less likely to get divorced, so maybe mellowing boomers were enough to explain the trend. Cohen’s analysis of U.S. Census Bureau survey data, however, suggests something more fundamental is at work. Even when he controls for factors such as age, the divorce rate over the same period still dropped 8 percent.
The marriage rate has also fallen over the last several decades. But Cohen calculates the divorce rate as a ratio of divorces to the total number of married women. So, the divorce rate’s decline isn’t a reflection of a decline in marriages. Rather, it’s evidence that marriages today have a greater chance of lasting than marriages did 10 years ago.
“The change among young people is particularly striking,” Susan Brown, a sociology professor at Bowling Green State University, said of Cohen’s results. “The characteristics of young married couples today signal a sustained decline in divorce rates in the coming years.”
Young people get the credit for fewer divorces because boomers have continued to divorce at unusually high rates, all the way into their 60s and 70s.