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Causes of divorce

Causes of Divorce

About half of all American marriages that occur will end in divorce ("Family..." 37-41). That is the conclusion that is being drawn from most studies done today. The divorce rate in the Untied States has been traveling upwards for more then a century. In fact between 1960 and 1980 the rate of divorce surged nearly 250% ("Divorce... 2). The divorce rate has stabilized since the 1980’s but it is still the highest in the industrialized world by far. Studies show that today 40% of all first marriages will end in divorce compared to only 16% in the 1960’s. It has also been found that upwards of 60% of all remarriages will not last either ("Divorce..." 2). The question being asked is why?

Stress can be a huge cause of marital difficulties (LaFayette 18). One thing that has come up numerous times in research is that money causes the most stress for married couples. According to PREP (Prevention and Relationship Enhancement Program), money is said to start more arguments then any other topic. Citibank also states that their research shows money to be the leading cause of divorce ("Money..." 128). Couples not having enough money or even having more money then they know what to do with can cause major friction in any marriage.

A study done by the National Bureau of Economic Research Inc. shows that there are some financial problems more likely to lead to divorce then others. An example would be getting fired. Getting fired from a job significantly raises the probability of getting divorced. The National Bureau of Economic Research also says that married men who are fired have an 18% higher chance of being divorced within three years of losing their jobs then men who aren’t fired from jobs. Women are said to have a 13% higher chance ("Lost..." 26). The reasons that getting fired from a job would raises the chances of getting a divorce so much are many; but the most important is stress. Getting fired usually places the financial burden on one person instead of being shared by two. That person usually will go through a lot of stress trying to maintain an adequate household income. Stress and money are usually two things that go hand in hand when divorce is brought up.

Another cause of divorce that is common is young marriages. There are 144,000 marriages taking place each year between people ages 15 to 19. Recently that number has decline but it is still high (Garber 12-13). The rate of divorce for these young marriages is extremely high for many reason. According to Jeanne Warren Lindsay, author of the book Teenage Marriage, many teenagers jump into marriage in hopes of finding an escape from an unhappy home life. They see marriage as a chance to create a home of their own making, one much happier for themselves. Unfortunately it usually doesn’t work out like that. Lindsay says that few teenagers have the maturity to really make a marriage work, especially when leaving a home so young. Lindsay states, "Each partner is developing his own identity and going in a different direction. Often they can’t keep the original relationship together." This is something that young married couples must struggle to deal with and unfortunately most can’t, or just don’t want to make the effort.

Many teenagers also complain about having to grow up too fast because of these changes. The fact that married teenagers are forced into an adult world only adds to their stress (Garber 12-13). Because these teenagers are forced into the real world they may be forced to support themselves and their spouse financially when they are ill prepared to do that. Money is a main problem because usually to earn a living young married people quite school to in order to work more (Garber 12-13). Although that may work for a few years eventually whatever money they are able to bring in will not be enough for their needs and wants.

One more major factor in young marriages failing is children and pregnancy. David Lieberman, head of the Child Welfare League of America feels that pregnancy often pushes many young teenagers into marriage. David says, "They make the marriage decision out of a sense of responsibility." Although trying to take responsibility for a pregnancy is commendable often marriage is not the way to do it. Researchers have found that a baby’s presence makes it harder for an early marriage to succeed. The reason for this being that a young couple must struggle to adjust to parenthood and each other at the same time (Garber 12-13). Either one of those two things is a lot to deal with; having both at the same time on ones hands can be a bit much.

Another quite serious cause of divorce is the divorce laws themselves. Evidence has been accumulating that no fault divorce laws further accelerated the pace of divorce ("Divorce..." 4). A 50 state survey published in the Journal of Marriage and the Family concluded that, "the switch from fault divorce law to no fault divorce law led to a measurable increase in the divorce rate" ("Divorce..." 4). The change in the divorce laws has had a large effect on older couples married for 25 years or more ("Divorce..." 4).

1969 is when the system was changed in California. Most states followed closely after California ("Divorce..." 4). What no fault divorce laws actually mean is that anybody can get divorced for any reason and still have just as good a chance as the other person of coming out of it all on top. The old laws, which were fault divorce laws, stated specific things that must occur for a person to get a divorce. Some of the reasons included adultery, physical abuse, mental cruelty, desertion, alcohol and drug addiction and imprisonment ("Divorce..." 4). If one of those things did not occur and a person wanted to get a divorce, it was possible but the person suing for divorce got the extremely short end of the stick in the end. For most people it wasn’t worth getting divorced. Now with the no fault divorce laws that’s not the case anymore.

Another thing that is being called a risk factor leading to divorce is todays trend of people living together before marriage. The co-investigator on the National Longitudinal Study of Marriage, Paul Amato said, "Couples who cohabitate prior to marriage report more problems and are more likely to think about divorce." Researchers say the main problem of living together is the momentum it causes. Once people move in together there is that momentum of moving forward, or getting married eventually. People wind up with partners they may not actually be as compatible with as they think. Also a lot of times people who live together will say "lets get married," as if that would solve everything (Brown 3). Usually what they are trying to solve only gets worse with time.

There are also those who say today’s society itself is a major cause of divorce. There is a lot of emphasis on the cultural changes of today. Americans today place less value on obligations to others, and on self-restraint. By contrast we place more value on individualism, self-expression, self-realization, and personal choice ("Divorce..." 3). Some of those changes are not really bad ones, but they are still said to hold part of the responsibility for divorce rates soaring. There is also said to be an erosion of morality that has accompanied the decline of religious belief and the rise of materialism ("Family..." 37-41). There is also the fact that Americans today are far more accepting of divorce then they were 30 years ago ("Divorce..." 4). Because of this attitude and the actuality of so much divorce in America it has created something called the intergenerational transmission of divorce. Paul Amato explains it this way, "If your parents were divorced, it is twice as likely that your own marriage will end in divorce. It’s one of the strongest risk factors actually."

There are many more reasons then the ones stated already for divorce. The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers published their own findings of what they think are the most common causes of divorce on the website They state poor communication, financial problems, lack of commitment to marriage, dramatic change in priorities, infidelity, faded expectations, unmet needs, addictions and or substance abuse, physical, sexual or emotional abuse and lack of conflict resolution skills. The list includes many causes that other researchers state as being major reasons.

Now that people are becoming more aware of the divorce problem there are states doing things to start preventing the problem. Oklahoma has created a program they refer to as the marriage initiative. This controversial program uses $10 million in welfare money to attempt to lower the states sky-high divorce rate (Tyre 64). Oklahoma has initiated an array of social programs aimed at getting people married and keeping them that way. The reason for Oklahoma doing all this is the state has the second highest divorce rate in the country (Tyre 64).

One way the state is spending the $10 million is by hiring a pair of "marriage ambassadors" or marriage counselors. Oklahoma pays them about $250,000 a year to give "relationship rallies" on campuses around the state, meet with ministers, and set up a research project (Tyre 64). The state also spent about $16,000 flying in pro-marriage speakers from around the country for a 2-day conference (Tyre 64). Also the state began training counselors and educators for a workshop called Prevention and Relationship Enhancement Program (PREP). PREP is a 12-hour program that teaches couples how to talk and fight more effectively. Oklahoma plans to offer PREP at schools and community centers (Tyre 64).

Because of the success of the Oklahoma programs the Bush administration has proposed setting aside $100 million in federal welfare founds for state run programs that support marriage (Tyre 64). The success has also prompted other states such as Arizona, Maryland, Florida, and Wisconsin to start similar programs.

If states are putting millions of dollars into the prevention of divorce it has obviously become a major problem in the US. There are many causes of divorce, which is a well-known fact. Being aware of some of these causes can help a person prevent a marriage that will not last from occurring, and also working through an already existing marriage. In all actuality in most states it is easier to get a marriage license then a drivers license ("Divorce..." 1). A lot of people are looking to change that and hopefully lower the rate of divorce at the same time. When you consider the fact that much more time is spent on sex education then marriage education it’s almost understandable why divorce rates are so high. Although the first step to preventing something is understanding, one can’t help but wonder if understanding is really going to make much of a difference in today’s society. Has today’s culture and society started to accept divorce so much that it’s become a permanent fixture for the US? Hopefully the new move to push awareness of the causes of divorce will help diminish Americas divorce rate.


Garber, Pamela. "Why most teenage marriages fail; marriages among teenagers 15 to 19

are on the decline." Scholastic Update 118 (1985): 12.

Lafayette, Jon. "Wedded bliss? Not in TV news; Couples report pressures of job impact

home life" Electronic Media 19 (2000): 18

Tyre, Peg and Ellise Pierce. "Giving Lessons in Love" Newsweek 18 Feb. 2002: 64

"Lost Job, Lost Spouse" Business Week 17 Dec. 2001: 26

"Family values: the bargain breaks." The Economist (US) 26 Dec. 1992: 37-41

"Is money Ruining Your Marriage?" Money 1 March 1999: 128-129

Americans for Divorce Reform, Inc. Americans for Divorce Reform. 12 April. 2002

Brown, Nancy Marie. "Happy Marriages" Penn State Research 23 (2002). 12 April.

"Divorce American Style" Public Interest. 124 (1996): 12+

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