I had always assumed that the often-quoted “50% of marriages end in divorce” statistic was one of those bunkum urban-legend stats, akin to “75% of communication is non-verbal” and “you only use 10% of your brain.”
But it turns out the Center for Disease Control actually keeps stats on this issue. There’s a lot of interesting stuff in this survey, which was obtained by face-to-face interviews in 1995 with more than ten thousand women (a representative sample of the US).
In particular, Table 21 (on page 64 if you’re following along) lists “probability of first marriage disruption by duration of marriage.” It includes both divorces and separations without formal divorces, separated into columns by years and into rows by different characteristics, such as education, income, and religion.
If I’m reading this chart right, 43% of marriages fail in the first 15 years, which makes the often-stated 50% estimate for all marriages sound pretty reasonable.
More interesting is the breakdown by categories. It looks like if you want a long-lasting marriage, the best thing for you to do is to be an Asian. 23% of Asian marriages failed by the 15 year mark, compared with 42% each of white and Hispanic marriages and 55% of black marriages.
Religion does play a role, but not as much as you’d think given how much the Religious Right bangs on about the sanctity of marriage. 40% of “Fundamentalist” marriages marriages broke down before the 15 year mark, compared with 37% of Catholic marriages, 44% of “Other Protestant” marriages, and 56% of those claiming no religious affiliation.
How seriously you take your religion makes a difference too. 39% of those who claim religion as Very Important to them had a broken marriage by the 15 year mark, compared with 45% of those claiming it as Somewhat Important and 54% of those claiming it as Not Important.
There’s a lot of other factors that they track, and not just about marriage breakdowns. There are tables about the likelihood of first marriage by age (75% of women are marriage by age 30), probability of cohabitation transitioning into marriage, and probability of remarriage after divorce. It’s fascinating stuff to explore.