Fact Sheet on Divorce in America

Glenn T. Stanton

The following data is taken from Stanton's book, Why Marriage Matters: Reasons to Believe in Marriage in Post-Modern Society, September 1997, Pinon Press with permission.

"[T]he fastest growing marital status category was divorced persons. The number [of] currently divorced adults quadrupled from 4.3 million in 1970 to 17.4 million in 1994."
-Arlene Saluter, Marital Status and Living Arrangements: March 1994 , U.S.. Bureau of the Census, March 1996; series P20-484, p, vi..

In 1970, 3% of all people over 18 years of age were divorced. In 1994, that number had climbed to 9%.
Ibid. ,table A-1

The Journal of Marriage and the Family reports that "no-fault divorce law had a significant positive effect on the divorce rate across the 50 states." ensuring America's place as the unrivaled leader in the worldwide divorce race.
. Paul A. Nakonezny, Robert D. Schull and Joseph Lee Rodgers, "The Effect of No-Fault Divorce Law on the Divorce Rate Across the 50 States and Its Relation to Income, Education and Religiosity," Journal of Marriage and the Family , 1995, 57:477-488; Ailsa Burns and Cath Scott, Mother Headed Families and Why They Have Increased , (Hillsdale, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers, 1994), p. 5,9.

Divorce and Alcoholism

Marital Status % of Lifetime Prevalence

Intact Marriage 8.9
Never Married or Cohabited 15.0
One Divorce or Separation 16.2
More than one Div. or Sep. 24.2
Cohabited only 29.2

Lee Robins and Darrel Regier, Psychiatric Disorders in America: The Epidemiologic Catchment Area Study (New York: Free Press, 1991), p. 103.

Divorce and Suicide

The relative risk of suicide for each marital status falls as follows:

Marital Status Relative Risk

Married 1.0
Never Married 1.9
Widowed 2.8
Divorced 2.9

Jack C. Smith, James A. Mercy and Judith M. Conn, "Marital Status and the Risk of Suicide," American Journal of Public Health , 1988, 78:78-80.

Divorce and Depression

The National Institute of Mental Health found that women in cohabiting relationships had much greater rates of depression than women in married relationships (second only to those twice divorced). The numbers fall as follows (annual rate of incident of depression per 100):

Married (never divorced) 1.5
Never married 2.4
Divorced once 4.1
Divorced twice 5.8
Cohabiting 5.1

Lee Robins and Darrel Regier, Psychiatric Disorders in America: The Epidemiologic Catchment Area Study (New York: Free Press, 1991), p. 64.

Divorce and. General Mental Illness

Robins and Regier found that the prevalence of suffering from any psychiatric disorder over a lifetime was significantly lower for those in a legal marriage.

Marital Status Lifetime Prevalence

Married, never div/sep 24
Single, never cohabit 33
Divorced/Separated 44
Unmarried Cohabiting 52

Robins and Regier, 1991, p. 334.

Divorce and Loneliness

One random sample of over 8,600 adults revealed the specific percentages of those who felt less lonely:

Marital Status % Lonely
Married 4.6
Never Married 14.5
Divorced 20.4
Widowed 20.6
Separated 29.6

This finding is even more striking given the author's definition of loneliness being the "absence of satisfying social relationships" as opposed to merely the close presence of other people.

Randy M. Page and Galen E. Cole, "Demographic Predictors of Self-Reported Loneliness in Adults," Psychological Reports , 1991, 68:939-945.

Divorce and Child Well Being

A. High-School Drop-out:

According to each of the four surveys analyzed by Drs. Sara McLanahan and Gary Sandefur, with each data set adjusting for race, sex, parental education, number of siblings and place of residence, the percentages of risk for high school drop out according to family type are as follows:

Source Two-Parents Single Parent

National Longitudinal
Survey of Youth
(NLSY) 13% 29%

Panel Study of
Income Dynamics
(PSID) 15% 25%

High School and Beyond
(HSB) 9% 16%

National Survey of
Families and Households
(NSFH) 9% 17%

Sara McLanahan and Gary Sandefur, Growing Up With a Single Parent: What Hurts, What Helps , (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1994), p. 41.

B. Idleness (a precursor to crime)

The percentages for males and females at risk of being out of school and out of work fall as follows and all the differences were statistically significant:

Study Population Two-Parent Families Single Parent

NLSY 12% 17%

PSID 19% 29%

HSB 9% 12%

NLSY 16% 28%

PSID 26% 41%

HSB 18% 24%

McLanahan and Sandefur, 1994, p. 50.

C. Pre-Marital Births

The risks for teen births for unmarried women are as follows:

Study Population Two-Parents One-Parent
NLSY 11% 27%
PSID 14% 31%
HSB* 14% 19%
NSFH 20% 30%

* [Adolescent girls who became pregnant in school are less likely to finish high school. This accounts for the smaller disparity between the two family forms in a school-based survey like The High School and Beyond Study (HSB).]

McLanahan and Sandefur, 1994, p. 53.

D. General Health Measures

Dr. Dawson found among the different family types:

* ...health vulnerability scores from 20% to 35% higher than those for children living with both biological parents.

* ...predicted risk of injury was about 20% to 30% greater for children from disrupted marriages than for other children.

* Children living with formerly married mothers had a 50% greater risk of having asthma in the preceding 12 months.

* ...an increased risk of speech defects among children living with never-married mothers.

* ...the observed proportion reported to have received professional help for emotional or behavior problems in the preceding year varied from 2.7% for children living with both biological parents to 8.8% for children living with formerly married mothers. For children living with never-married mothers or with mothers and stepfathers, the respective proportions were 4.4% and 6.6%.

Deborah A. Dawson, "Family Structure and Children's Health and Well-Being: Data from the 1988 National Heath Interview Survey on Child Health," Journal of Marriage and the Family,1991, 53:573-584.

E. Divorce and Adolescent Mental Health

Relying on data from the 1988 National Health Interview Survey on Child Health, Deborah Dawson found that the percentage of children receiving professional help for emotional or behavioral problems in the year preceding the health interview were as followed:

Children living with % receiving help

Both biological parents 2.7%

Formerly married mothers 8.8%

Never married mothers 4.4%

Mothers and Stepfathers 6.6%

Dawson, 1991, p. 578.

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