How Common is Divorce and What are the Reasons?


“How common is divorce?” Divorce is very common in the United States with almost half of all marriages ending in divorce or permanent separation.  Commitment has been shown to be a clear factor in why some couples stay together.  There are times when divorce is necessary, but those in other circumstances often later indicate they wish they would have tried harder before divorcing.  There are many factors that place a couple at higher risk for divorce.  It may be helpful to know some of the statistics and findings outlined below.

What percentage of marriages end in divorce?

Researchers estimate that 40%-50% of all first marriages will end in divorce or permanent separation and about 60% – 65% of second marriages will end in divorce.  Although divorce has always been a part of American society, divorce has become more common in the last 50 years.  Changes in the laws have made divorce much easier.  The highest divorce rates ever recorded were in the 1970s and early 1980s.  Divorce rates have decreased since that time, but still remain high.

What factors are associated with a higher risk for divorce?

Over the years, researchers have determined certain factors that put people at higher risk for divorce:  marrying young, limited education and income, living together before a commitment to marriage,  premarital pregnancy, no religious affiliation, coming from a divorced family, and feelings of insecurity.

Young age Marriage at a very young age increases the likelihood of divorce, especially in the early years of marriage.

Less education.  Research shows that those with at least some college education (vs. high school or not finishing high school) have a lower chance of divorce.   

Less income.  Having a modest income can help couples avoid stress that may lead to divorce.   

Premarital cohabitation.  Couples who live together before marriage appear to have a higher chance of divorce if they marry, but the risk is mostly true for those who have cohabited with multiple partners.  A common belief is that living together before marriage provides an opportunity to get to know each other better, but research has found those that live together before marriage have already developed some leniency towards divorce.   This leniency towards divorce is what leads the couple to become high risk. However, there are some caveats to these findings.  Research suggests couples who get engaged and then move in together are no longer at a high risk for future divorce.   Their commitment towards marriage reduces the risk of a future divorce.

Premarital childbearing and pregnancy.  Childbearing and pregnancy prior to marriage significantly increase the likelihood of future divorce.

No religious affiliation Researchers have estimated those with a religious affiliation compared to those who belong to no religious group are less likely to divorce.

Parents’ divorce.  Unfortunately, experiencing the divorce of your parents doubles your risk for divorce.  And if your spouse also experienced their parents’ divorce than your risk for divorce triples.  This does not mean you are predisposed to having your marriage end in divorce, only that you may need to be more aware of your marriage trends and work harder for a successful marriage.  For more information on what a healthy marriage entails click here.                                                                                                                  

What are the most common reasons people give for their divorce?

Research has found the most common reasons people give for their divorce are lack of commitment, too much arguing, infidelity, marrying too young, unrealistic expectations, lack of equality in the relationship, lack of preparation for marriage, and abuse.  Many of the common reasons people give for their divorce can fall under the umbrella of no longer being in love.  Research suggest the nature of love changes over time.  If you feel as if you have fallen out of love, marriage counseling may help offer a new perspective that will help you rediscover that love.

Why is commitment so important?

Dr. Scott Stanley, a prominent marriage researcher and therapist, defines commitment as “having a long-term view of the marriage that helps us not get overwhelmed by the problems and challenges we experience day to day.”  Having a personal dedication to your marriage involves a real desire to be together with one’s spouse in the future and having an identity as a couple.   When there is a high level of commitment in a relationship, we feel safer and are willing to give more.  Developing this level of commitment can take time as you learn to change your mindset.  When your level of commitment seems to be fading it can be helpful to remember the good times in your relationship.

Are there clear valid reasons for divorce?

Some couples are faced with very difficult situations, such as abuse, infidelity, or addictions. Each of these situations deserves special consideration:


  • When there is a pattern of abuse in a marriage or in a family, not surprisingly there is evidence that ending the marriage is usually best for all involved. While some spouses are able to end and overcome abuse, abused spouses and children are usually better off when the marriage is ended.
  • Sometimes, ending a marriage with an abusive spouse can be dangerous, however. It is probably a good idea to work with a domestic violence shelter in your community to help you end the relationship safely.
  • If you suspect that you (or someone you know) is in an abusive relationship, you may want to look at this webpage on Signs of Abuse. Also, for more information and help, you can access the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233, or visit their website at


  • Most Americans say they would end their marriage if their spouse cheated on them.  However, many couples (50-60%) who have dealt with infidelity in their marriages find the will and strength to stay together.
  • An excellent resource to learn more about recovering from marital infidelity is the book, Getting Past the Affair: A Program to Help You Cope, Heal, and Move On—Together or Apart.
  • Also, consider getting help from a well-trained marriage counselor and/or a dedicated religious leader who will help you heal, decide what to do, and repair the marriage, if you decide to stay together. Recovering from infidelity can be very difficult to do without some help.


  • Addiction can come in many forms, such as alcohol, drugs, gambling, or pornography.
  • If you are faced with addictions or a spouse is suffering from addictions, you can find help from organizations such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous.
  • In some cases, the addict can recover and the marriage can be repaired. In other cases, it is best for the spouse and children to separate from the addict to see if progress can be made. Each person has unique circumstances and must decide what is right for her or him. Again, consider turning to a trained professional and/or a religious leader to help you know how best to handle your situation.

Find the research support here.