Life table says divorce rate is 52.7%

After the eternal bliss, there are two ways out of marriage: divorce or death.

I have posted my code and calculations for divorce rates using the 2010-2012 American Community Survey as an Open Science Framework project. The files there should be enough to get you started if you want to make multiple-decrement life tables for divorce or other things.

Because the American Community survey records year of marriage, and divorce and widowhood, it’s perfectly set up for a multiple-decrement life table approach. A multiple-decrement life table uses the rate of each of two exits for each year of the original state (in this case marriage), to project the probability of either exit happening at or after a given year of marriage. It’s a projection of current rates, not a prediction of what will happen. So, if you write a headline that says, “your chance of divorce if you marry today is 52.7%,” that would be too strong, because it doesn’t take into account that the world might change. Also, people are different.

The divorce rate of 52.7% can accurately be described like this: “If current divorce and widowhood rates remain unchanged, 52.7% of today’s marriages would end in divorce before widowhood.” Here is a figure showing the probability of divorce at or after each year of the model:


So there’s 52.7% up at year 0. Marriages that make it to year 15 have a 30% chance of eventually divorcing, and so on.

Because the ACS doesn’t record anything about the spouses of divorce or widowed people, I don’t know who was married to whom, such as age, education, race-ethnicity, or even the sex of the spouse. So the estimates differ by sex as well as other characteristics. I estimated a bunch of them in the spreadsheet file on the OSF site, but here are the bottom lines, showing, for example, that second or higher-order marriages have a 58.5% projected divorce rate and Blacks have a 64.2% divorce rate, compared with 52.9% for Whites.


(The education ones should be taken with a grain of salt because education levels can change but this assumes they’re static.)

Check the divorce tag for other posts and papers on divorce.

The ASA-style citation to the OSF project would be like this:  Cohen, Philip N. 2016. “Multiple-Decrement Life Table Estimates of Divorce Rates.” Retrieved (


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18 responses to “Life table says divorce rate is 52.7%

  1. Shocking! I will start waiting two years before sending a wedding present, since at least then there’s a 50% chance that the gift is not going down the drain, is going to a marriage that will last.


  2. Chris Wienke

    Well, I guess that often cited “statistic” that 41 percent of first marriages end in divorce, 60 percent of second marriages end in divorce, and 73 percent of third marriages end in divorce really is a MYTH. The gap between between first marriages ending in divorce and higher order marriages is much smaller, especially for men (if current rates remain unchanged).

    Thanks for doing this


  3. Vijay

    The thing that surprises me is that all the percentages are almost the same except:

    1. Black marriages, men or women (62.9%+)
    2. Degree (43)

    Even HS marriages are within a few %.

    Now, is there a way to modify the code to include income? I am not even able to connect to source code, with an error,
    “Turn on TLS 1.0, TLS 1.1, and TLS 1.2 in Advanced settings and try connecting to again. If this error persists, it is possible that this site uses an unsupported protocol or cipher suite such as RC4 “


  4. I thought there were large cohort differences, as shown in table 1 here:

    Click to access Trends%20in%20Marital%20Stability.pdf

    Are you just ignoring cohort differences, or do you have evidence they have become less important?


    • It is a totally different method with different data. They are following cohorts over time, reflecting historical events that may or may not ever be repeated. I am analyzing only divorces that occurred in a single year, and projecting that forward as if time stands still and that year repeats itself over and over. For example, I have people who married in 1980, but only in their 30th year of marriage; those married in 1981 are only analyzed in their 29th year, and so on. My method is probably better at forecasting the future, but it’s hard to know.


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  7. Karl Pearson

    This is the truth about divorce:

    “Pollster Louis Harris has written, ‘The idea that half of American marriages are doomed is one of the most specious pieces of statistical nonsense ever perpetuated in modern times.’

    “It all began when the Census Bureau noted that during one year, there were 2.4 million marriages and 1.2 million divorces. Someone did the math without calculating the 54 million marriages already in existence, and presto, a ridiculous but quotable statistic was born.

    “Harris concludes, ‘Only one out of eight marriages will end in divorce. In any single year, only about 2 percent of existing marriages will break up.'”


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