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Why did divorce rates spike in the 70s and then fall?

On Behalf of | Apr 6, 2024 | Family Law |

There’s an old myth that 50% of all marriages will end in divorce. There is another myth that the divorce rate is always climbing, so divorce is getting more and more popular in the United States every year.

What actually happened is that the divorce rate was about 14.9 divorces for every 1,000 married women back in 1970. It rose throughout the 70s and spiked around the 1980s, although it still only hit roughly 23 divorces for every 1,000 married women. It was this spike that caused people to say that divorce rates were increasing exponentially, a misconception that some still repeat more than 40 years later.

After that spike, though, divorce rates dropped all the way until the year 2000. They slightly rose again after that, before falling down to their current levels. Right now, the rate is about 14.6 divorces for every 1,000 married women, meaning that it’s actually lower than it was in 1970.

No-fault divorce laws

The change is that no-fault divorce laws were introduced over this time. Prior to the 70s, it was much more difficult for couples to get divorced, and many people – women, specifically – felt trapped within their marriages. Once they had no-fault divorce options – meaning they didn’t have to prove their spouse was abusive or unfaithful, for instance – they rushed to use them and end these unhappy marriages.

In more recent years, though, people don’t feel nearly as trapped by their marriages, knowing they can always get a divorce. Couples also get married at a later age and tend to cohabitate before marriage, which leads to a lower divorce rate.

Tracking divorce stats in the U.S. can be complex, but it does help to show the evolution of the law. If you’re going to be splitting up this year, be sure you understand the current laws and all of your legal options.