Why Do So Many Marriages Fail?

Why do people get married when the divorce rate is so high?

Couple having a disagreement, not seeing eye to eye Diva Plavalaguna | Pexels

The things we hear about marriage and divorce today are so frightening. "Most of today’s marriages end in divorce!" "Divorce rate keeps climbing!" "Rise in marriages that end in the first year!" Marital problems, such as cheating, abuse, financial stress, and differences in child rearing and stepchildren can make the whole marriage prospect more stressful than exciting. But why do so many marriages fail? What is behind that disheartening 50 percent divorce rate? What are the real facts?  Not surprisingly, it's complicated, but let's dig in.


Before anything else, let's look at the statistics. We've all heard that the "one in two marriages" divorce rate is quoted, but what does that mean? Well, as is often the case with statistics, there's a little more to the facts than is easily summarized in Vegas-style odds. The question of whether any particular marriage will or won't end in divorce is impossible to answer. The best calculations the experts can manage right now are based on the marriage rate each year compared to the divorce rate the same year (6.8 per 1000 vs 3.6 per 1000).

Why do so many marriages fail?

RELATED: The 4 Behaviors That Cause 90% Of All Divorces


It may be obvious to you already that this way of calculating doesn't tell us what percentage of today's marriages will end in divorce. We are comparing within one year instead of across time. The divorces that happen this year are mostly not the marriages that happened this year (except a few of those crazy celebrity-style short-term marriages).

It is very difficult to find hard statistics but the consensus is that the divorce rates for first marriages are about 40-50 percent and as high as 65-75 percent for second and third marriages. They still cannot predict whether a particular marriage will or won't end in divorce or even give precise odds on that possibility. Why? Firstly, because these are all "retrospective" data (numbers based on marriages and divorces up until now). Secondly, there are a ton of factors that affect the rates. Let's look at some of those. What affects the divorce rate? According to the National Survey of Family Growth completed by the Division of Vital Statistics of the CDC, some of the factors that affect the "survival rate" of first marriages are age at first marriage, timing of the birth of the first child, and education level (for women only).



The proportion of women who reach the 20-year milestone in marriages is higher for women who have bachelor's degrees (78% compared to 39-41% for women with no college at all). Women who have their first birth at least eight months after marriage (66% compared to 33% for first birth before marriage). Then some marry later (73% of women who married after age 25 reached at least 15 years of marriage compared to 46% for those who married before age 20).


RELATED: If You Have This Specific Age Gap, The Higher The Chance Of Divorce

While there are a lot of possible explanations for these statistics, a major influence is socioeconomic status (more or less what we used to think of as "class" such as lower class, middle class, or upper class). Women from lower socioeconomic backgrounds are less likely to finish school, go on to higher education, or have many jobs and life opportunities. They are also more likely to have early pregnancies and early marriages. Living at or near the poverty level means a huge dose of stress. This makes it just as hard to maintain a marriage as it does to finish school, keep a roof over your head, or a hundred other things.

One more terrible and frustrating statistic is that of all groups of men and women in the country, African American women have the lowest marriage rates and highest divorce rates. Again, it's complicated, but this could be explained by the "doubly whammy" of institutional sexism and racism that African American women face. This tends to limit their opportunities and keeps a higher proportion of African American women in lower socioeconomic levels.

RELATED: These Careers Most Likely To Lead To Divorce, According To Research


So what makes a marriage last? The stats above may make it seem like it's impossible to affect the chances of divorce. Once you're married, you can't go back and change how old you were, whether you had kids and certainly not your ethnicity. But there is good news. The best predictor for whether a seemingly happy couple will eventually divorce is not their age, income, or even whether they are facing life stressors. It's their communication.



Couples who use positive communication and problem-solving strategies, even when they disagree, are more likely to stay together in the long run. Whereas destructive, negative, or even contemptuous communication breaks the relationship down. Other issues may arise when couples have different definitions of what makes a good or satisfying relationship but don't realize it. All of this can be addressed with a focus on learning about each other (even after years together). Listening, sharing feelings without accusations, and finding ways to meet each other's needs, even if they differ. Couples must learn how to have a mature, healthy relationship.

There is hope for marriage. The divorce rate appears to have been declining over the past decade or two (shocking, right?). Couples who go into a marriage with a lifelong commitment in mind are more likely to keep that commitment. There are more options than ever before when it comes to marriage counseling and education. While divorce, like death and taxes, is here to stay, the old notion "til death do us part" isn't going anywhere either.


RELATED: The 5 Most Common Reasons People Get Divorced (& 5 Unusually Specific Ones)

Brad Browning is a relationship coach and breakup expert from Vancouver, Canada. He has 10 years of experience working with couples to repair and improve relationships.