Historical Divorce Rate Statistics

Wedding cake cut in two symbolizing divorce

Not surprisingly, divorce rates have fluctuated over time. Several factors 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 nationally published statistics, divorce rates have climbed steadily during the last 150 years. There were a variety of factors that influenced divorce rates. All rates are taken per 1,000 of the general population.

Figuring Percentages

Statistics for these reports, unless otherwise noted, are given per 1,000 people. To arrive at percentages:

  • Take the rate per 1,000 people and divide by 1,000. For example, if the rate is .3, divide that number by 1,000. You get .003.
  • Multiply that number by 100 to get the percentage. Taking the example above, multiplying .003 by 100, you'd get .03.

Or to simplify, move the decimal over one space to the left. If the rate per 1,000 is .3, moving the decimal space gives you .03%.

Divorce Rates in the Late 19th Century

According to the CDC's report, 100 Years of Divorce and Marriage Statistics, (Table 1) divorce statistics were not recorded prior to 1867. In addition, divorce statistics here are reflective of how many divorces there were in the general population, not how many marriages ended in divorce.

  • 1867 - 1879 - .03%
  • 1880 - 1886 - .04%
  • 1887 - 1890 - .05%
  • 1891 - 1897 - .06%
  • 1898 - 1900 - .07%

While there certainly was a stigma attached getting a divorce 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.

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 abuse, adultery, or abandonment.

  • 1901 - 1906 - .08%
  • 1907 - 1910 - .09%
  • 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, for the first time, couples has the option of a no-fault divorce. It was also the first time a spouse could cite irreconcilable differences as the reason for the divorce, making it much easier to obtain. Prior to this point, anyone wanting to end their marriage had to prove adultery or cruelty in the marriage.

According to a 1995 Monthly Vital Statistics Report, divorce rates rose steadily during the 70s.

  • 1970 - .35%
  • 1971 - .37%
  • 1972 - .40%
  • 1973 - .43%
  • 1974 - .46%
  • 1975 - .48%
  • 1976 & 77 - .50%
  • 1978 - .51%
  • 1979 - .53%

Divorce Rates for the 1980s

Divorce rates in the 1980's remained high, reflecting the changing lifestyles and the changing divorce laws. However, the statistics did level off slightly even starting to lower at the end of the decade.

  • 1980 - .52%
  • 1981 - .53%
  • 1982 - .51%
  • 1983-85 - .50%
  • 1986 - .49%
  • 1987 - 88 - .48%
  • 1989 - .47%

Divorce Rates During the 1990s

While divorces peaked during the 80s, rates decline into the late 1990s. While this has been attributed to many factors, like birth control and marriages later in life, the statistics from the U.S. Census in 2011 show the rates making a steady downward trend.

  • 1990 & 91 - .47%
  • 1992 - .48%
  • 1993 & 1994 - .46%
  • 1995 - .44%
  • 1996 & 97 - .43%
  • 1998 - .42%
  • 1999 - .41%

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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Historical Divorce Rate Statistics