# US Divorce Rates Over Time and What the Numbers Really Mean

Understand American families through a whole new lens - historic divorce rates.

Updated June 5, 2023

Just like people can fall in and out of love, it's not surprising that divorce rates fluctuate. There are all kinds of reasons that contribute to an increasing or decreasing divorce rate, including people's 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. Though, more recent calculations hint at something different entirely.

## United States Divorce Rates Through History

According to nationally published data on divorce by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Health Statistics, American divorce rates have climbed steadily during the last 150 years, only starting to drop back down in the 1990s. It's impossible to isolate all of the factors that were at play in the divorce rates' rise and fall, but you can make interesting correlations between the dates, the stats, and what's going on in the world at the time.

 Decade(s) Average United States' Divorce Rate Late 19th Century 0.05% 1900-1930 0.11% 1930s 0.17% 1940s 0.28% 1950s & 1960s 0.24% 1970s 0.40% 1980s 0.50% 1990s 0.44% 2000-2010 0.37% 2011-2021 0.30%

Note - All of these rates are taken per 1,000 of the general population.

Need to Know
• Divorce rates generally increased from the 19th century through the 1950s.
• The 1970s saw a larger increase in divorce rates; no-fault divorce was established in 1969 in California and other states followed suit.
• The US has generally seen a decline in divorce since the start of the 21st century.

### How to Calculate the Percentages on Your Own

Statistics for these reports, unless otherwise noted, are given per 1,000 people. Which doesn't really tell anyone who didn't take AP Stats anything important. To turn these numbers into something you can actually understand, follow these two steps:

1. Take the rate per 1,000 people and divide by 1,000. For example, if the rate is 0.3, divide that number by 1,000. You get 0.003.
2. Multiply that number by 100 to get the percentage. Taking the example above, multiplying 0.003 by 100, you'd get 0.03.
Quick Tip

An easier way to calculate the percentage is to move the decimal over one space to the left. So, if the rate per 1,000 is 0.3, move the decimal space one over to get, 0.03%.

## Divorce Rates in the Late 19th Century Were Statistically Low

According to the CDC's report based on National Vital Statistics data, 100 Years of Divorce and Marriage Statistics, divorce statistics weren't recorded prior to 1867. In addition, divorce statistics here reflect how many divorces there were in the general population, not how many marriages ended in divorce.

• 1867 - 1879 - 0.03%
• 1880 - 1886 - 0.04%
• 1887 - 1890 - 0.05%
• 1891 - 1897 - 0.06%
• 1898 - 1900 - 0.07%

While there certainly was a social stigma surrounding getting a divorce in the 1800s (as well as religious and legal difficulties with obtaining one), divorce still happened. But there were far too many factors working against people actually getting one. For example, women had very few economic opportunities to assert real independence outside of their marriages, which discouraged them from separating from their husbands.

## Divorce Rates From 1900-1930 Were Low (But Data's Lacking)

While divorce rates still weren't that high compared to later years, divorce started slowly increasing. 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. Similarly, there are still small towns that haven't digitized their paper stats from the period, and won't allow the public to view the records themselves. Basically, it means there's just a ton of unaccounted data out there.

Divorce rates in the early aughts to the interwar period were still relatively low, due in large part to only being able to get a divorce granted for abuse, adultery, or abandonment.

• 1901 - 1906 - 0.08%
• 1907 - 1910 - 0.09%
• 1914 - 1915 - 0.10%
• 1916 - 1925 - Between 0.10% to 0.15%
• 1925 - 1930 - 0.16%

## Divorce Rates During the 1930s Fluctuated

While there was an upward trend prior to the 30s in divorce history, the rates start to drop and level off until the end of the decade. Due to the depression sparked by the 29 crash, many couples stayed together since they couldn't afford to separate or get a divorce. It wasn't until the unemployment rate went down that the divorce rate started trending up again. Unemployment was at its highest in 1933 (which you can see reflected in a decade-low divorce rate), but as the unemployment rate declined throughout the late 30s, the divorce rate increased.

• 1930 - 0.16%
• 1931 - 0.15%
• 1932 - 0.13%
• 1933 - 0.16%
• 1934 - 0.17%
• 1935 - 0.17%
• 1936 - 0.18%
• 1937 - 0.19%
• 1938 - 0.19%
• 1939 - 0.19%

## Divorce Rates During the 1940s Began to Rise

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 newfound freedom in working outside the home that they didn't want to give up. Regardless, the spike in statistics suggests that there was strain on American family life in the post-war era.

• 1940 - 0.20%
• 1941 - 0.22%
• 1942 - 0.24%
• 1943 - 0.26%
• 1944 - 0.29%
• 1945 - 0.35%
• 1946 - 0.43%
• 1947 - 0.34%
• 1948 - 0.28%
• 1949 - 0.27%

## Divorce Rates During the 1950s and 60s Saw Less Change

The 1950s saw a decrease in divorce, and the rate remained relatively static until after 1967, when divorce laws begin to change. One potential reason that the divorce rate dropped was economic prosperity that was booming in the post-war era coupled with a doubling-down in society over having a stable, nuclear family.

• 1950 - 0.26%
• 1951 - 1953 - 0.25%
• 1954 - 0.24%
• 1953 - 0.25%
• 1954 - 0.24%
• 1955 - 1956 - 0.23%
• 1957 - 0.22%
• 1958 - 0.21%
• 1959 - 1963 - 0.22%
• 1964 - 0.24%
• 1965 - 1966 - 0.25%
• 1967 - 0.26%

## Divorce Rate Jumps in the 1970s

Divorce continued to rise steadily, taking a big jump in the 1970s. This may have been because, for the first time, couples had 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 get one. Prior to this point, anyone wanting to end their marriage had to prove adultery or cruelty.

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

• 1970 - 0.35%
• 1971 - 0.37%
• 1972 - 0.40%
• 1973 - 0.43%
• 1974 - 0.46%
• 1975 - 0.48%
• 1976 & 77 - 0.50%
• 1978 - 0.51%
• 1979 - 0.53%

## Divorce Rates for the 1980s Level Off Slightly

Divorce rates in the 1980s remained high, reflecting the changing lifestyles and divorce laws. However, the statistics did level off slightly, even starting to lower at the end of the decade. These rates pose a super interesting dichotomy between the social messaging of the time (Reagan's traditional family values era) and the high divorce rates.

• 1980 - 0.52%
• 1981 - 0.53%
• 1982 - 0.51%
• 1983-85 - 0.50%
• 1986 - 0.49%
• 1987 - 88 - 0.48%
• 1989 - 0.47%

## Divorce Rates During the 1990s Decline a Bit

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

• 1990 & 91 - 0.47%
• 1992 - 0.48%
• 1993 & 1994 - 0.46%
• 1995 - 0.44%
• 1996 & 97 - 0.43%
• 1998 - 0.42%
• 1999 - 0.41%

## Divorce Rates Between 2000-2010 Fluctuate Slightly

According to the CDC data estimates for divorce rates from 2000-2021, Divorce rates in 2000-2010 saw some fluctuations. It started with a five-year consecutive decrease, but a slight rise again by the end of 2006. Following another two years of decreased rates, they raised one percent in 2010 to 0.36%.

• 2000 - 0.4%
• 2001 - 0.4%
• 2002 - 0.39%
• 2003 - 0.38%
• 2004 - 0.37%
• 2005 - 0.36%
• 2006 - 0.37%
• 2007 - 0.36%
• 2008 - 0.35%
• 2009 - 0.35%
• 2010 - 0.36%

## Divorce Rates Between 2010-2021 Generally Decline

Interestingly, divorce rates in general have been steadily decreasing since 2000, hovering around 0.3% by 2016 and down to 0.25% by 2021. 2010's slight rise stuck around in 2011, but since then the rates generally continued to decrease.

However, keep in mind we can't take these rates as fully accurate totals since the compilation excludes certain states from specific years. All in all, though, it looks like divorce is trending down, despite clickbait-y news headlines implying the opposite.

• 2011 - 0.36%
• 2012 - 0.34%
• 2013 - 0.33%
• 2014 - 0.32%
• 2015 - 0.31%
• 2016 - 0.30%
• 2017 - 0.29%
• 2018 - 0.29%
• 2019 - 0.27%
• 2020 - 0.23%
• 2021 - 0.25%

## Divorce Rates Fluctuate Over Time

Divorce rates are like roller coasters - they may start to go up, but they can also eventually come down. Based on a century's worth of information, we can confidently say that American divorce rates fluctuate both up and down. While it's impossible to predict where this current downward trend is heading, it'll be interesting to see how these rates change in the future.

US Divorce Rates Over Time and What the Numbers Really Mean