The Top Ten Myths of Divorce
1- Half of all marriages end in divorce.
That may have been the case several decades ago, but the divorce
rate has been dropping since the early 1980s. If today's divorce
rate continues unchanged into the future, the chances that a
marriage contracted this year will end in divorce before one
partner dies has been estimated to be between 40 and 45 percent.
2- Because people learn from their bad experiences, second
marriages tend to be more successful than first marriages.
Although many people who divorce have successful subsequent
marriages, the divorce rate of remarriages is in fact higher
than that of first marriages.
3- Living together before marriage is a good way to reduce the
chances of eventually divorcing.
Many studies have found that those who live together before
marriage have a considerably higher chance of eventually
divorcing. The reasons for this are not well understood. In
part, the type of people who are willing to cohabit may also be
those who are more willing to divorce. There is some evidence
that the act of cohabitation itself generates attitudes in
people that are more conducive to divorce, for example the
attitude that relationships are temporary and easily can be
4- Divorce may cause problems for many of the children who are
affected by it, but by and large these problems are not long
lasting and the children recover relatively quickly.
Divorce increases the risk of interpersonal problems in
children. There is evidence, both from small qualitative studies
and from large-scale, long-term empirical studies, that many of
these problems are long lasting. In fact, they may even become
worse in adulthood.
5- Having a child together will help a couple to improve their
marital satisfaction and prevent a divorce.
Many studies have shown that the most stressful time in a
marriage is after the first child is born. Couples who have a
child together have a slightly decreased risk of divorce
compared to couples without children, but the decreased risk is
far less than it used to be when parents with marital problems
were more likely to stay together "for the sake of the
6- Following divorce, the woman's standard of living plummets by
seventy-three percent while that of the man's improves by forty-
This dramatic inequity, one of the most widely publicized
statistics from the social sciences, was later found to be based
on a faulty calculation. A reanalysis of the data determined
that the woman's loss was twenty seven percent while the man's
gain was ten percent. Irrespective of the magnitude of the
differences, the gender gap is real and seems not to have
narrowed much in recent decades.
7- When parents don't get along, children are better off if
their parents divorce than if they stay together.
A recent large-scale, long-term study suggests otherwise. While
it found that parents' marital unhappiness and discord have a
broad negative impact on virtually every dimension of their
children's well-being, so does the fact of going through a
divorce. In examining the negative impacts on children more
closely, the study discovered that it was only the children in
very high conflict homes who benefited from the conflict removal
that divorce may bring. In lower-conflict marriages that end in
divorce-and the study found that perhaps as many as two thirds
of the divorces were of this type-the situation of the children
was made much worse following a divorce. Based on the findings
of this study, therefore, except in the minority of high-
conflict marriages it is better for the children if their
parents stay together and work out their problems than if they
8- Because they are more cautious in entering marital
relationships and also have a strong determination to avoid the
possibility of divorce, children who grow up in a home broken by
divorce tend to have as much success in their own marriages as
those from intact homes.
Marriages of the children of divorce actually have a much higher
rate of divorce than the marriages of children from intact
families. A major reason for this, according to a recent study,
is that children learn about marital commitment or permanence by
observing their parents. In the children of divorce, the sense
of commitment to a lifelong marriage has been undermined.8
9- Following divorce, the children involved are better off in
stepfamilies than in single-parent families.
The evidence suggests that stepfamilies are no improvement over
single-parent families, even though typically income levels are
higher and there is a father figure in the home. Stepfamilies
tend to have their own set of problems, including interpersonal
conflicts with new parent figures and a very high risk of family
10- Being very unhappy at certain points in a marriage is a good
sign that the marriage will eventually end in divorce.
All marriages have their ups and downs. Recent research using a
large national sample found that eighty six percent of people
who were unhappily married in the late 1980s, and stayed with
the marriage, indicated when interviewed five years later that
they were happier. Indeed, three fifths of the formerly
unhappily married couples rated their marriages as either "very
happy" or "quite happy."
It is usually men who initiate divorce proceedings
Two-thirds of all divorces are initiated by women. One recent
study found that many of the reasons for this have to do with
the nature of our divorce laws. For example, in most states
women have a good chance of receiving custody of their children.
Because women more strongly want to keep their children with
them, in states where there is a presumption of shared custody
with the husband the percentage of women who initiate divorces
is much lower. Also, the higher rate of women initiators is
probably due to the fact that men are more likely to be "badly
behaved." Husbands, for example, are more likely than wives to
have problems with drinking, drug abuse, and infidelity