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Is Fear of Divorce Preventing Young Americans from Marrying?


A recent report in USA Today sought to explore and explain the reasons for a drop in marriage rates among twenty-something Americans. The article cited statistics from the 2006 census which indicate that 73% of men and 62.2% of women ages 20-29 listed themselves as never having been married in 2006. Just six years before, those numbers were significantly lower: 64% of men and 53.4% of women.

According to the article, the reasons for this shift include social and economic factors, an increase in cohabitation, more highly educated women with fewer options for equally-educated partners, and generally more life choices available to women than in decades past.

One thing not mentioned in the article, though, was fear of divorce.

A psychology professor from Florida International University of Miami responded to the article with an opinion piece, citing divorce as perhaps the most important factor in the rising marriage age. In his piece, which also appeared in USA Today, Professor Gordon E. Finley outlined his addition to the theory of declining marriage rates.

Indeed, statistics indicate that half of all first-time marriages end in divorce. Many people now in their 20s grew up with divorced parents, Finley points out, and so are wary about entering into marriages themselves.

Finley goes on to cite statistics on child custody and alimony. Apparently, women are granted custody of children in 85% of divorce cases. That means fathers are left with visitation rights coupled with child support and alimony payments.

In light of these data, it's hardly surprising that twenty-somethings are hesitating to get married. The United States Census Bureau has published median marriage ages for Americans. In 2005, the average age for women was 25.3; for men, it was 27.1. In the 1980s, those numbers were around 22 for women and 24 for men.

Are young Americans really too scared of divorce to get married? Obviously, fear cannot be measured in a satisfyingly quantitative way. But whether or not fear of divorce is ultimately behind the change in marriage age, steps can be taken to make divorce more equitable for everyone, according to Professor Finley.

In his editorial, the Professor calls for a revision of divorce legislation that will allow both mothers and fathers an opportunity to interact regularly and maintain a significant relationship with their children. Until that happens, his article argues, the trend of rising first-marriage ages will continue.

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