Editor’s Note: This article was originally posted in 2019 on Karencovey.com, and was written by Karen Covey.
Divorce statistics are fascinating. You can find data that will supposedly tell you how likely you are to get divorced based on where you live, what you do, and what kind of wedding you had. You can also find data that will allegedly predict what will happen to your health, wealth and relationships after you’re divorced. Not only are some of these “divorce facts” surprising, but they may not all be what they seem.
If you look hard enough you can find statistics that supposedly show that you are more likely to divorce if you have girls rather than boys, if only you, but not your spouse, smokes, or if either you or your spouse gains 20% more than your body weight after marriage. Yet, with all due respect to the social scientists and statisticians who have devoted their lives to generating this kind of “data,” it is often hard to tell divorce facts from fiction.
What You Can Learn From Divorce Statistics
Divorce statistics can be fascinating — especially when you’re facing divorce yourself! The problem is that, by the time divorce is knocking on your door, all the divorce statistics in the world won’t help you deal with what you’re going through. (Sorry!)
Even still, it’s interesting to know what researchers have to say about marriage and divorce.
Just don’t take the divorce statistics you read too seriously.
While researchers undoubtedly mean well, human relationships are so complicated that trying to predict what will lead to divorce, or what will happen because of divorce, is like trying to predict what the weather will be like in Chicago six weeks (or sometimes even six hours!) in advance.
Yet, in the interest of supporting “scientific research,” as well as having a little fun, here is a slightly irreverent analysis of the divorce facts that the studies claim to reveal, and the lessons you can “learn” from them.
1. It is Better to Get Married Than to Live Together.
Couples who live together without marrying are less likely to stay together than couples who marry. The probability of a first marriage ending in separation or divorce within 5 years is 20%, but the probability of a cohabitation relationship breaking up within 5 years is 49%.
2. You Are More Likely to Get Divorced Than You Are to Get Hit By a Car.
3. If You Want to Be President, Stay Married.
The only two U.S. Presidents to have been elected to office after being divorced are Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump. I leave it to you to draw your own conclusions about what this says about Americans.
4. Your Divorce Will Never Be This Expensive.
The most expensive divorce in history is reportedly the divorce of the Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolevlev, from his ex-wife, Elena. Their six-year legal battle ended in an undisclosed settlement after a $4.5 billion divorce judgment awarded to Ms. Rybolevlev by a Swiss court was overturned. (There’s no word on how much either one of the Rybolevlevs spent on attorney’s fees either!)
5. If You Don’t Want to Divorce, Get Married on the Cheap!
You are 3.5 times more likely to divorce if you spend more than $20,000 on your wedding than you are if you spend between $5,000 – $10,000.
6. The United States is NOT Number One!
According to the United Nations, the country with the highest divorce rate is Maldives, with 10.97 divorces per 1,000 people per year. That is followed by Belarus, with 4.63 divorces per 1,000 people per year. The United States comes in third, with 4.34 divorces per 1,000 people per year.
7. Facebook is Bad for Your Marriage.
According to a survey done by Divorce Online, a British legal service, Facebook was mentioned in 1/3 of all divorce filings in 2011.
8. Beware of the Seven Year Itch!
The average length of a first marriage that ends in divorce in the United States is just under 8 years.
9. Being a Celebrity Doesn’t Make You a Good Person.
Phil Collins delivered the news to his second wife that he wanted a divorce via fax. Russell Brand told Katy Perry he wanted a divorce via text. Millionaire art collector Charles Saatchi bested both men. He didn’t tell his wife, celebrity chef Nigella Lawson, that he wanted a divorce at all – he just announced it in a press release!
10. Karma Happens.
75% of people who marry their affair partners after divorcing their spouse end up divorcing their affair partner too.
11. Even a Nobel Prize Won’t Help You Stay Married.
Einstein’s Nobel prize money went to his ex-wife as a divorce settlement.
12. For a Good Marriage, Work From Home.
A Swedish researcher found that couples who spend more than 45 minutes commuting to work are 40% more likely to divorce.
13. It’s Better to Be A Runaway Bride Than a Bride With Cold Feet.
Research shows that a bride with cold feet nearly doubles the chance of divorce.
14. 32 is the Charm!
It’s no secret that marrying young can cause divorce. But, if you haven’t married by age 32, your risk of divorce actually starts increasing.
15. The Hottest Divorce Trend is Not What You Think!
Americans over 50 are now twice as likely to get divorced as 50-year-olds were 20 years ago. 25% of divorcing Americans are now over 50.
16. Losing Weight Can Be Great for Your Health, But Bad for Your Marriage.
The divorce rate for people who were overweight or obese when they got married, and later had bariatric surgery and lost a lot of weight is between 80 – 85%.
17. Gaining Weight Can Be Just as Bad for Your Marriage.
Gaining a lot of weight can be just as bad as losing it! According to experts, if you’ve gained more than 20% of your body weight since your marriage, you may be headed for divorce. This can be especially problematic because both marriage and divorce can cause weight gain!
18. If You Want to Stay Married, Get a Degree.
College graduates tend to get married slightly later and are 10 – 20% less likely to divorce.
19. Your Job Matters More Than You Think.
According to a recent study, divorce rates are the highest for dancers (43.055), bartenders (38.43%), massage therapists (38.22%), gaming cage workers (34.66%), extruding machine operators (32.77%), gaming services operators (31.34%) and factory workers (29.78%). Divorce rates are lowest for media and communication equipment workers (0%), agricultural engineers (1.78%), optometrists (4.01%), transit and railroad police (5.26%), and clergy (5.61%).
20. You Might as Well Be Nice to your Ex From the Start.
Canadian research has shown that, within two years of a separation, the majority of parents establish polite (although not necessarily warm and fuzzy) communication with their ex. By that time, their children have usually adapted to their new living arrangement.
21. Marriage May Not be Forever, But Neither is Divorce.
Approximately 6% of Americans marry, divorce, then remarry each other!
22. If You Want to Stay Married, Move to the Northeast.
The Northeastern part of the United States has the lowest divorce rate. The South has the highest divorce rate.
23. If You’re Having Marital Problems, Be Careful in the Spring and Fall.
University of Washington sociologists who studied divorce court records in the state of Washington found that divorce filings follow a bi-annual pattern. More people file for divorce in March and August than in any other months.
24. “Booze Compatibility” Matters.
It’s no surprise that heavy drinking can affect your marriage. But, according to a study in the Journal of Alcoholism, whether you and your spouse have similar drinking behavior matters too. Women who are heavy drinkers with husbands who are not heavy drinkers have three times the divorce rate than that of non-drinkers.
25. To Avoid Divorce, Smile!
People who frown in photos are 5 times more likely to divorce than people who smile.
26. Sharing Behaviors is Just as Important as Sharing Values.
If only one spouse in a marriage smokes, that marriage is 75 -91% more likely to end in divorce.
27. What You Fight About Matters.
Fighting over money is a bigger predictor of divorce than arguing with your spouse over other things.
28. Having Kids Can Keep You Together.
“Staying married for the kids” is definitely a thing. The divorce rate among couples with children is 40% lower than the divorce rate among couples without children.
29. You May Remarry, But Not Right Away.
30. You’re Less Likely to Get Divorced Now Than You Have Been for Decades.
In spite of the popular notion that the U.S. divorce rate is rising, the opposite is true. In 2015, the divorce rate was at its lowest point in the last 40 years.
How “Factual” Are “Divorce Facts”?
Fortunately or unfortunately, in today’s information age, it’s easy to find a mountain of divorce statistics on the internet. The problem is that it’s often hard to tell divorce facts from fiction.
With all due respect to the social scientists in the world, some of the “conclusions” floating around about divorce may not be nearly as “scientific” as they seem.
For example, a highly publicized Duke University study famously concluded in 2015 that divorced people have an increased lifetime risk of having a heart attack. A later study in 2018 supposedly reached a similar conclusion. (It also found that being single and never married, and being widowed, increased the risk of heart attack and/or stroke as well.)
But if you actually read the research you’ll find that what it really says is that 80% of the risk of heart attack is due to factors like age, sex, high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, smoking and diabetes! What’s more, none of the research evaluated the quality of anyone’s marriage.
While being in a good marriage may be good for your health, being in a bad marriage may disastrous for your health!
The bottom line is that, contrary to what you might think, getting a divorce does NOT necessarily mean that you’re going to go to an early grave!
The Problem With Divorce Statistics
When it comes to any divorce statistics, drawing accurate conclusions is tough.
Social scientists can never control every single variable in their subjects’ lives. What’s more, a multitude of variables can lead a couple to divorce. Because of that, it’s difficult to know if something that appears to be correlated with divorce actually causes divorce. In short, it’s hard to separate correlation (divorced people have heart attacks) with causation (divorce causes a higher risk of having a heart attack.)
For example, more people may have a heart attack between 4 – 10am. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that the morning sun causes heart attacks.
To complicate matters even further, even a brief review of the scientific studies shows that the conclusions that the researchers draw aren’t necessarily the same as those the media reports.
For example, the Duke University study did find that the divorced people in their study had a higher incidence of heart attacks than those who were not divorced. But, the researchers also said:
… the cumulative association between divorce and risks for acute myocardial infarction (heart attack) is unknown.
The bottom line is that taken out of context, “divorce facts” can be misleading.
The Real Divorce Facts
If you are facing a divorce, especially a divorce you didn’t see coming, it’s tempting to try to scour the internet to look for information that will help you figure out what happened.
You want answers.
So you look for divorce statistics that may explain why your marriage failed. You want to know whether you were doomed from the start. You want to know whether you accidentally did something (like gain weight) that caused your marriage to go down the tubes.
After all, if you did something wrong, maybe you could still un-do it.
Most of all, when you find yourself scouring the internet looking for divorce facts at 2 am, you want to know that you are not alone.
What you need to remember is that no matter how comforting (or discomforting) they are, divorce statistics are just numbers. They may tell a story, but they don’t necessarily tell YOUR story.
The truth is divorce happens.
It happens to a lot of good people all over the world.
It happens to people who never thought it would happen to them. And it happens for every reason under the sun.
If divorce is happening to you, it’s normal to want to know why it’s happening. But in the end, all you can really do is deal with it.
When you do, remember one thing. No matter what the statistics say, you are much, much more than a divorce statistic.