Utah divorce decline mirrors national trend

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The good news is that the rate of divorce is down in both America and Utah, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

The bad news, however, is that decline is likely due at least in part to a nationwide and statewide dip in the number of marriages.

Census statisticians Lydia Anderson and Zachary Scherer report that the number of divorces in the United States declined by more than 20 percent in the past decade, from 9.7 marital break-ups per 1,000 women age 15 and older in 2009 to 7.6 divorces in 2019.

Once again, the Census data confounds the pop-culture myth that 50 percent of American marriages end in divorce.

That misconception is a holdover from the 1970s and 1980s, when divorce rates hit historic highs, according to analysis from the National Center for Health Statistics. Those decades were an era when perceptions about the role of women in society and the economy changed significantly and demographers say the resulting rates of failed marriages were an anomaly.

Divorce rates in the U.S. actually began to decline in the 1980s and have continued to do so ever since.

Demographers suggest that the most accurate way to estimate divorce rates is by counting the percentage of marriages that last at least until their 15th anniversary. Using that yardstick, nearly 70 percent of U.S. marriages from the 1990s were successful and marriages begun since the year 2000 have been 85 percent successful.

Census data indicates, however, that the rate of marriage in America has been declining for much of that same period. For example, the rate of marriage declined nationally by about 7 percent in the past decade, from 17.6 unions per every 1,000 women age 15 and older in 2009 to 16.3 marriages per capita in 2019.

Thanks to population growth, the actual number of married couples continues to grow in the United States. Recent figures from the market and consumer data source Statista indicate that there are now 62.34 million married couples in America, which represents about 3.3 percent growth in legal unions in the past decade.

But demographers say factors unrelated to population growth influence the declining marriage and divorce rates.

The first of those is the fact that young Americans, citing career and financial concerns, are now waiting longer to get married. That means fewer teenage and impulsive unions that are more likely to end in divorce.

American couples are also more likely to live together prior to marriage nowadays. A 2010 study by the National Center for Family and Marriage Research found that 66 percent of modern women lived with their significant other prior to marriage. Lessons learned during co-habitation, relationship experts say, help to avoid subsequent mistakes at the altar.

While those trends don’t necessarily apply to Utah where traditions emphasizing family vales are particularly strong, marriage and divorce rates are still declining even here.

Census data indicates that the rate of marriage in Utah dipped by about 22 percent in the past decade, from 26.7 unions for every 1,000 women age 15 or older to 20.7 in 2019.

During the same period, the number of divorces in Utah declined by nearly 13 percent, from 10.8 marital break-ups per 1,000 women age 15 and older in 2009 to 9.4 divorces per capita in 2019.

While admirable, the decline in the Utah divorce rate pales by comparison to that recorded in some other states. In Alaska, for example, the divorce rate declined by nearly 60 percent over the past decade.

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