So you want to know the Asian divorce rate (save the ACS marital events edition)

One of the most popular posts ever on this blog is about Asian incomes, and especially the variation in average incomes across Asian national-origin groups and cities. Turns out the diverse Asian groups have different divorce rates as well. Why not? It would be nuts to assume the immigrants and their descendants from everywhere from Bangladesh to Japan had common family practices and behavior.

We can figure this out with the American Community Survey (see below; data from which is provided by The ACS is big enough to measure divorce rates for Asian subgroups if you pool together a few years — for this I use the 2008-2012 file. For reliability, here I am just showing those groups that had a sample of at least 1,000 married people. And I’m including as separate groups those that selected more than one “race” — Japanese-White, Korean-White, and Filipino-White (you’ll see why I separated them out). Note these are multiple-race individuals, not couples in which the two spouses reported different races.

The national refined divorce rate — divorces per 1,000 married people — fell from 20 to 18 at the start of the recession in 2008, before rebounding back up to 19 by 2012. So compare these numbers with about 19 as the national average divorce rate (click to enlarge).

asian divorce rates 08-12.xlsx

Look at that spread! Now won’t you feel a little foolish for even asking what the “Asian” divorce rate is? I leave the interpretation to the relevant experts (media note: but I’ll be happy to speculate if it will help you get your story past the editor).

A further wrinkle: gender. Unfortunately, because the ACS is a household survey, if someone is divorced, the person they divorced is usually not living in the same household, which means we don’t know who they divorced (or even the other spouse’s gender!). Naturally, men and women in the same ethnic group can have different divorce rates to the extent that they marry outside their own group (or get gay divorced at different rates).

So here are the divorce rates for the same groups, but separately by gender. Groups above the line have higher divorce rates for men (Pakistanis, Cambodians), those below the line have higher divorce rates for women (Korean, Vietnamese, Korean-White). Click to enlarge:
asiandivorcegenderBy now you’ve realized what a wonderful treasure-trove of data this is for understanding the incredibly expanding family complexity that pulses all around us. Or, as they say, “Pretty nice data you got there. I’d hate to see something happen to it.” Read on.

Speak up

Last week I reported “millennial” generation divorce rates for 25 metropolitan areas. That’s something you can only get from the very large American Community Survey (because we have no national registry of marital events).

In addition to local areas, however, the vast size of the ACS lets us drill down into very small groups in the population — like small Asian subgroups. For another example, remember the big ruckus over same-sex marriage (you know, homogamy)? I for one would love to have good national data on same-sex marriage patterns when the equality-deniers finally lope back into their caves and the dust settles.

But now the feds are proposing to scrap the marital events (did you get married, divorced, or widowed last year?) and marital history (how many times have you been married, and when was the last time?) questions from the ACS just to save a few million dollars. I hope you’ll help demographic science convince them not to. (In the previous post I listed a bunch of divorce facts we only know because of the ACS questions.)

The information about the planned cuts to the American Community Survey is here:

Direct all written comments to Jennifer Jessup, Departmental Paperwork Clearance Officer, Department of Commerce, Room 6616, 14th and Constitution Avenue NW., Washington, DC 20230 (or via the Internet at

Comments will be accepted until December 30.

* Contrary to popular belief, there is no “Asian” category on the Census/ACS form. People are identified as Asian if they pick any of the Asian national origins listed on the “race” question. It’s all pretty American-exceptional. Here is the question, from this form:


13 thoughts on “So you want to know the Asian divorce rate (save the ACS marital events edition)

  1. Good, original work.

    How to interpret these two figures together? I had assumed most of “Asian and white” is Asian female and white male. However, consider Korean-white on Graph 2 at 30,22. Does it mean 30% of Korean men and 22% of Korean women who marry someone of opposite sex, divorce their partner?

    Nonetheless, this kind of decomposition is needed for all forms studies that uses the word Asian; As in “Asians are the highest earning group, however, separating them into Vietnamese, Filipinos tc, indicate considerable variation”.

    And now, a request for a similar study for Hispanics, at the minimum, dividing them into those from (Mexico and Central Americas} and{Caribbeans).


  2. Having seen that data I’m probably more curious, not less, about an Asian-American divorce rate (can’t say I’d thought about it before). The 6 largest ethnic groupings on that graph make up the vast majority (about 90% of Asian-Americans) and the spread varies widely 5.3 to 17.3, but all are below 19 (with a group-median of about 11?).

    But it looks very interesting and leaves me more curious about what’s driving that spread between the groups (is it explainable by household income/social class?) and why all the White groupings have such abnormally high rates.


    1. 1. Differences between first and second generation immigrants; family life practices of first generation immigrants would not be considered acceptable by the second and further generations.

      2. Out-marriage: Marriage outside the traditional family structure, in particular, to other races., means that old traditions and customs are no longer retained; hence, the higher divorce rates among multiracial Asians. Ultimately, the Asian divorce rate should resemble college educated (some college or Graduates) from

      Educational attainment Divorce rates (%)

      Less than high school diploma
      1,209 12.94
      High school graduate, no college
      2,671 36.27
      Some college or associate’s degree
      1,868 23.89
      Bachelor’s degree or higher
      1,609 26.9


      1. You’re using the wrong numbers. Those are their SAMPLE SIZES, from the page you referenced.

        Here are percent ever divorced (%) by educational attainment:

        Less than high school diploma 47.8
        High school graduate, no college 42.8
        Some college or associate’s degree 42.3
        Bachelor’s degree or higher 26.5


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