The Divorce Rate In The U.S. Keeps Dropping. A New Study Says We Can Thank Millennials.

“Marriage is more and more an achievement of status ...”

Depending on who you ask, millennials have killed everything from mayonnaise to chain restaurants in recent years. But, according to new data, Americans under the age of 45 may have also killed the country's divorce rate. That's right — millennials are staying married.

According to an analysis by University of Maryland sociology professor Philip Cohen, younger couples aren't following baby boomers' lead. Instead of marrying young, getting divorced, and marrying again, Generation Xers and Millennials are increasingly picky about who they marry, thereby tying the knot later than their predecessors. Most are waiting until their education, careers, and finances are stable, subsequently causing the U.S. divorce rate to drop 18 percent from 2008 to 2016.


"One of the reasons for the decline is that the married population is getting older and more highly educated," Cohen told Bloomberg. Fewer people are getting married, and those who do are the sort of people who are less likely to get divorced, he added. "Marriage is more and more an achievement of status, rather than something that people do regardless of how they're doing."

While demographers were already aware of the divorce decline, Cohen analyzed U.S. Census Bureau data to explore the "why" behind this nationwide drop.

Overall, the marriage rate has also fallen over the last several decades. However, because Cohen calculates the divorce rate as a ratio of divorces to the total number of married women, the divorce rate's decline doesn't reflect a decline in marriages. Instead, it serves as evidence that modern-day marriages simply have an even greater chance of lasting than commitments made a decade ago.

Unfortunately, poorer, less educated Americans aren't getting married at all. While they might live together or raise children together, they aren't making their union legal, essentially emphasizing that marriage has also fallen victim to the inequality gap, as only more wealthy, established individuals are entering into this time-honored — and increasingly exclusive — tradition.

"The change among young people is particularly striking," Susan Brown, a sociology professor at Bowling Green State University, told Bloomberg. "The characteristics of young married couples today signal a sustained decline [in divorce rates] in the coming years."

But, as Andrew Cherlin, sociology professor at Johns Hopkins University, told The Atlantic, "In order to get divorced, you have to get married first."

Data supports the fact that college graduates, who typically have the financial independence to postpone marriage, are responsible for these declining divorce rates. In response, Cherlin said, "If you're older, you're more mature … you probably have a better job, and those things make it less likely that you'll get into arguments with your spouse."

Thus, looking at married couples alone cannot begin to capture an accurate reflection of American partnerships today. "If you were to include cohabiting relationships [in addition to marriages], the breakup rates for young adults have probably not been going down," Cherlin said. 

Yet, regardless of whether or not this study accounts for all types of unions, we must recognize that marriage isn't easy, especially during the early years, and that those who choose to enter into such unions shouldn't do so lightly. Declining divorce rates suggest that younger generations know what they want and they're willing to wait until they find their happily ever after.

(H/T: Bloomberg)

Cover image: IVASHstudio /


Subscribe to our newsletter and get the latest news and exclusive updates.