Recent data tells us that from 2008 – 2016 divorce rates in the United States declined by approximately 18%. This decline cuts against a decades-long steady increase in the percentage of people getting divorced. Even more interesting is that at a time when divorce has never been so widely accepted, the rates of divorce are shrinking and experts anticipate that the rates will further drop in the coming years. Why?

Jonathan D. Brooks is a family law attorney at Mesa-based Udall Shumway PLC.

In a new paper, sociologist Philip Cohen from the University of Maryland analyzed rates of divorce among different demographic groups over the past 10 years. The findings were fascinating. When you account for different demographic trends over this time period, the rate of divorce is lower than would have been predicted in 2008. A major factor in this change is due to the people that are getting married.

Though the divorce rate is declining overall, the most glaring change has been the rates of divorce for college graduates. College graduates as a group tend to get married later in life for a variety of reasons. This has resulted in lower rates of divorce. It has also resulted in some experts saying that marriage is more and more becoming for the elite.

Cohen observes that the decline in divorce is “all the more remarkable as cohabitation grows both more normative and less stable, and as attitudes toward divorce continue to grow more permissive.” The social science data shows that acceptance levels of divorce are at record highs. However, it also appears from the data that college graduates are waiting until they’ve established themselves professionally and financially before getting married, which has resulted in lower rates of divorce. 

A takeaway from Cohen’s paper is that though divorce rates are declining—and are predicted to continue to fall—this may be a consequence of who’s getting married and not an indication of more stable relationships overall. While it is impossible for a couple to divorce-proof their marriage, these recent findings suggest that they will have the lowest statistical chance of divorce if they graduate college and establish themselves financially and professionally prior to tying the knot.

Jonathan D. Brooks is a family law attorney at Mesa-based Udall Shumway PLC. He represents clients throughout all stages of the family court process for everything from dissolution, paternity and child support to spousal maintenance, relocation, premarital agreements, and adoption.