You often hear the statistic that 50% of all marriages end in divorce. Is this actually true? Mark Twain wrote in his autobiography that there are three kinds of lies: “Lies, damned lies, and statistics.” (While the quote is usually given as Twain’s, Twain himself attributed it to British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli.) Is this the case with the 50% “myth”? What is the present divorce rate in the USA?

Divorce rates have been rising all around the world, with the USA coming in sixth place for the highest divorce rate at 3.4 per 1000 population, trailing Russia (5), Belarus (3.8), Ukraine (3.6), Moldova (3.5 – interesting at all are former parts of the USSR), and Cayman Islands (3.4). Other major countries are not far behind, with Denmark at 2.7 per 1000, Switzerland 2.6, Spain 2.4, Australia 2.2, and Japan 2.0. But in all cases, the rate has been increasing in recent years and decades.

The actual percentage rate for America is between 40-50%, depending on how statistics are measured and which factors are considered contributing. And difference sources cite different (though relatively close) rates. For example, Jennifer Baker of Professional Psychology in Springfield, Missouri finds that 50% percent of first marriages, 67% of second marriages, and 74% of third marriages end in divorce, whereas the Enrichment Journal cites a 41% rate for first marriages, 60% for second, and 73% for third marriages. And it appears that couples with children have only a slightly lower rate of divorce than childless couples.

The Huffington Post (November 11, 2013) posted a map showing US divorce rate distribution by state, highlighting the “Divorce Capitals” of the US as shown below:

US Divorce Rate Distribution by State - Click for Larger Image

While the states with the highest divorce rates are Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Kentucy (all with rates betwee 12.64 and 14.35 per 1000), Massachusetts has one of the lowest rates, one of only five states with rates below 7.6 per 1000. Yet Masschusetts, by a long margin, was the first state to recognize same sex marriage (oft claimed by some as destructive of the family institution) and is often cited as one of the most liberal states in the country.

Another interesting divorce rate statistic is that divorce (and marriage) rates drop during economic recessions, in striking parallel, such that in 2000 the marriage rate was a little over 8 per 1000 and the divorce rate just about 8 per 1000, while both dipped to 3.5 or lower in 2008 and 2009, with the divorce rate since climbing slightly (by about .2 per 1000) and the marriage rate holding steady at about 3.4 per 1000.