Historical Divorce Rate Statistics

Divorce rates change over time.
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Attorney

Not surprisingly, divorce rates have only increased over time. There are a variety of factors that contribute to this, including general attitudes towards divorce and marriage in society. While statistics reveal a steady increase in divorce rates, it wasn't until the 70s that divorce became statistically prevalent.

United States Divorce Rates Through History

According to the CDC's report 100 Years of Divorce and Marriage Statistics, divorce rates went from less than 3% to almost 7% from the late 1800s to the late 1960s. There were a variety of factors that influenced divorce rates. The statistics below show the percentage of divorces that occurred out of the total number of marriages for a given year.

Divorce Rates in the Late 19th Century

Prior to 1867, divorce statistics were not recorded. While there certainly was a stigma attached to divorcing a spouse in the 1800s, divorce still happened on occasion. One factor that influenced divorce statistics at this time was the fact that women, outside of marriage, had very few economic opportunities. The statistics below show the percentage of divorces that occurred out of the total number of marriages for a given year.

  • 1867 - 1879 - 3%
  • 1880 - 1886 - 4%
  • 1887 - 1890 - 5%
  • 1891 - 1897 - 6%
  • 1898 - 1900 - 7%

Divorce Rates from 1900-1930

While divorce rates still were not that high compared to later years, divorce began to slowly increase. It's important to note that many places didn't even keep track of divorce statistics until the turn of the century, which may have caused at least some of the increase in the overall divorce rates. Comparatively, divorce rates during the early 1900s were still low because you could not obtain a divorce without proving significant cause of abuse, adultery, or abandonment.

  • 1901 - 1906 - 8%
  • 1907 - 1910 - 9%
  • 1914 - 1915 - 10%
  • 1916 - 1925 - Between 10% to 15%
  • 1925 - 1930 - 16%

Divorce Rates During the 30s

While the trend thus far in history had been for the divorce rate to increase, this isn't quite the case with the 30s. Due to the depression in the 30s, many couples stayed together because they couldn't afford the aftermath of divorce. It wasn't until the unemployment rate went down that the increasing divorce rate trend continued. Unemployment was at its highest in 1933, and as the unemployment rate declined throughout the late 30s, the divorce rate increased.

  • 1930 - 16%
  • 1931 - 15%
  • 1932 - 13%
  • 1933 - 16%
  • 1934 - 17%
  • 1935 - 17%
  • 1936 - 18%
  • 1937 - 19%
  • 1938 - 19%
  • 1939 - 19%

Divorce Rates During the 40s

The 40s saw a distinctive spike in divorce rates right after World War II. Some have suggested that many families were strained under the burden of living with a man who may have been incapacitated during the war, or that many women had a new found freedom in working and didn't want to give that up. Regardless, the spike in statistics suggests that the end of the war definitely put a strain on family life.

  • 1940 - 20%
  • 1941 - 22%
  • 1942 - 24%
  • 1943 - 26%
  • 1944 - 29%
  • 1945 - 35%
  • 1946 - 43%
  • 1947 - 34%
  • 1948 - 28%
  • 1949 - 27%

Divorce Rates During the 50s and 60s

The 50s saw a decrease in divorce, and the rate remained relatively static until after 1967 when divorce laws begin to change.

  • 1950 - 26%
  • 1951 - 1953 - 25%
  • 1954 - 24%
  • 1953 - 25%
  • 1954 - 24%
  • 1955 - 1956 - 23%
  • 1957 - 22%
  • 1958 - 21%
  • 1959 - 1963 - 22%
  • 1964 - 24%
  • 1965 - 1966 - 25%
  • 1967 - 26%

Divorce Rate Jumps in the 70s

Divorce continued to rise steadily, taking a big jump in the 1970s. This may have been because no-fault divorce was first made available in the 70s. It was the first time a spouse could also cite irreconcilable differences as a reason for divorce, making a divorce much easier to obtain. Prior to this point, anyone wanting to end their marriage had to prove the presence of adultery or cruelty in the marriage.

According to a 2011 report by the Census Bureau, divorce rates rose steadily during the 60s, 70s, and 80s.

  • 1970: 33%
  • 1975: 48%
  • 1980: 52%
  • 1985: 50%

Divorce Rates Over Time

An interpretation of the information gathered by the Census Bureau over the decades shows that American divorce rates fluctuate. Although these statistics may not include all states each year, they show that the numbers of marriages and divorces or annulments are declining. This may perhaps mean that, in the future, the number of divorces occurring each year will decline even further.

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