Why the Divorce Rate in 1900 Was Only 7%

The divorce rate was:
  • 7% in 1900
  • 26% in 1950
  • 40-50% from 1975 to the present
Since 2003, the “official” divorce rate has dipped below 40% at times. But this doesn’t reflect break-ups of cohabiting couples, and cohabitation has doubled since the mid-1990's.

So what’s changed in the mentality of couples since 1900 to make divorces increase more than 700%? 

There have been tremendous social, educational and economic changes in our world in the last decade. 
In 1900:
  • 98% of these couples had no electricity
  • 80% had no indoor plumbing
  • Most of them heated with wood or coal
  • There were none of our modern conveniences like air conditioning, washing machines, microwaves, and automobiles
  • Life expectancy was 49.2 years
  • The leading causes of death were pneumonia and tuberculosis
  • The average couple had less formal education
Sometimes we think more money, material possessions, more free time, and education make people wiser and happier. But that obviously isn't the case.

So why were there fewer divorces in the 1900?

I’m wondering if their harder lives actually helped them stay married.* We’ve come to expect easy lives, immediate results, quick fixes, and personal freedoms. We take luxuries for granted and get depressed if things don’t go our way. And these attitudes affect our marriages too: we think marriage should always be romantic, fun, and easy. 

Perhaps the couples in 1900 knew everything worthwhile took hard work. Perhaps they were realistic enough to know their marriages would not be perfect and "fun" all the time.  

Sometimes marriages end no matter how hard one partner tries. But most marriages end because both partners give up too easily. They put more forethought, time, and effort into their wedding ceremony than their marriage.

I’ve been married 42 years this month, and I have a great relationship with my husband. But we’ve gone through periods in our 42 years that weren’t so great, when our love grew lukewarm and our attitudes needed adjustment...when we needed to be more patient and forgiving...when we needed to remove the logs in our eyes and quit picking at the speck in our spouse's eye (Matthew 7:3-5)...when we needed to quit waiting for the other to make the first move and make it ourselves. 

Like anything worthwhile, marriage requires prayer, dying to self, endurance and patience. But it’s worth it. And when we don't feel like persevering for our husband's sake, we can persevere for the Lord.

"Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving." Colossians 3:23,24, NIV

* I'm not naive enough to think this is the only cause of fewer divorces in 1900. But I believe that a good part of our increased divorce rate has to do with our unrealistic expectations. Some people have disagreed with me stating that the only reason divorce rates were lower was because the laws made it harder to get divorces. However, laws reflect attitudes. They change as attitudes change, which is reflected in the ease with which a person can presently get a divorce. In the early 1900's laws reflected more of a Biblical stand requiring abuse, abandonment or adultery for divorce claims. Now a person can simply grow tired of their spouse or "fall out of love" or decide they want to be single.
See Falling or Walking

Sources for this post:  

Facts in 1900:    Causes of Death;   Pew Research on Cohabitation;   Info Please;  Education Census

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41 comments:

  1. Thanks for these eye-opening statistics! And I agree, we do expect life to be easy and for our marriage partner to fulfill us--something that only God can do. And as far as being naive, I don't think anyone married 42 years could be accused of that! ;) Great post!

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    1. Thanks for the insights and encouragement, Beth.

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  2. Gail,
    I asked Dr. Chapman what he thought the reason(s) might be for such a significantly higher divorce rate. He cited the fact that there's less social stigma attached to divorce, high rates of pre-marital sex with multiple partners, and the busyness of our society that doesn't leave much time left over for working at a relationship. Wow. Thanks for a thought-provoking post :)

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    1. I'm looking forward to seeing your interview with Gary Chapman in print in Outreach Columbia, Lori.

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  3. Wow, that's pretty amazing. I knew that the divorce rate had significantly increased but that's just crazy how fast it increased from almost nothing to half of all marriages.

    Elizabeth@Warrior Wives
    www.thewarriorwives.com

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    1. It is, isn't it? I was surprised when I did this research. thanks for stopping by, Elizabeth.

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  4. Stopping by from the Marital Oneness Monday link up! I couldn't agree with you more. I always feel closer to my husband when we are working together at something. Our cultures fast paced lifestyle doesn't even leave time for that! Now the big question is, how do we get back that "hard life" mentality?

    http://the-life-of-faith.blogspot.com/

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    1. Good question...I think we need to find some ways to recreate the values if not the lifestyle. Thanks for stopping by.

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  5. Happy Anniversary! I think another reason why divorce stats have skyrocketed is because laws have changed making it much easier to get a divorce without a "cause" other than we "fell out of love" Before the 70's you had to have a very good reason to be granted a divorce.

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  6. Thank you for such a great post. I think people who lived in the early 1900s were willing to work with their differences or even put up with their differences without thinking that there was a way out.

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    1. I agree. Thanks for taking time to comment.

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  7. What great insights about marriage. After 42 years you obviously know what you are talking about. Those of us who haven't been married that long need to hear from people like you. You give us hope. Thank you and have a blessed day today!

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    1. Thanks for the encouragement and for taking time to comment.

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  8. Good post, thank you. I think it is the lack of hard work, and the instant graitfication attitude of today that is partly to blame for the high divorce rates. As well as the general lack of morals.

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  9. Yes, like another poster said, "no fault" divorce happened in the 70s. That is certainly a contributing factor.

    I think non-believers would say that, sure, people stayed together, but they were unhappy and should have gotten divorced instead. I wish there was a way to go back and found out what percentage of those married couples considered themselves to be 'happily' married. I bet they chose to be content and make it work because that's the way things worked back then! I wish we had a little bit more of that going on now. There are seasons of marriage where you just have to choose to be content. But then there are other times that are so wonderful! And those times make the hard times worth it.

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    1. Yes, there are a number of factors some related and some not. Thanks for taking time to comment.

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  10. Amen!!! We are at 40 years and yes, it's been work, and there've been good times and bad. But we determined early on in our dating that divorce was not an option. So we soldiered on and we keep working on our marriage even when we don't feel like it.

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    1. Thanks for sharing...I can so identify with what you say.

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  11. I think if you only lived 49 years, there wouldn't be as many opportunities(years) to get a divorce. My mother has talked about two uncles in her family that divorced and that was almost scandalous in the early part of the 1900's.

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    1. That's true, Carol, they didn't have time for late divorces. But stats show the median age for a first divorce now-a-days is 32 for men and 30 for women, and the average duration of those first marriages is 8 years. And since they married younger in the 1900s, I imagine it's more about values. And you're right about the stigma attached. It was definitely looked down on much more in the past than in our current culture.

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  12. Hi, young wife here, can you describe the periods of lukewarm in your marriage? It kinda freaks me out! Thanks , great post.

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    1. No reason to be freaked out, Anonymous.

      While most marriages go through periods that are lukewarm, it need not happen to yours if you are consistent and deliberate in two areas: dealing with your sins in relationship with the Lord and not assuming that your marriage will stay healthy without time and effort.

      I think I'll do a devotion on this subject...so be looking for it. Since you are freaked out, maybe others are as well. : )
      Bless you, Gail

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    2. Update: You can find the post "Don't Freak Out About Your Marriage" by clicking the "Marriage" image in the top bar and scrolling through the marriage archive until you find it.
      Gail

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  13. I agree with your post completely!! I've wrote similar blogs as well. :)

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    1. Thanks, Crystal, I'll have to check out some of your posts.

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  14. You've handled a sensitive subject with grace and a sense of groundedness.

    Congratulations on your 42 years of marriage! That takes a lot of work...a lot of love...and a lot of grace...

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    1. Thank-you, Joe. I appreciate the encouragement.

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  15. I agree that there is less education on people today about the fact that marriages aren't a barrel of fun all of the time and you have to work at it. I certainly was not prepared and I do wish that this was something taught and exemplified. However, I would also like to point out that there were women in horrible, violent and unmanageable situations back pre 1950's who did not get divorced because to leave their husbands meant losing their children and they had no means of supporting themselves. In this regard, I think times have changed for the better.

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    1. Yes, I know this must have been true in some cases, and I certainly don't think women should be victims of abuse.

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  16. I was blessed with the excellent example of my parents who were married for 50 years when my senior dad went home to be with the Lord. By the grace of God, my husband and I determined to give our children the same gift and we were married for 27 years before he, too, went to be with the Lord. It is truly a gift to God to be able to do this and His grace that enables it coupled with a ton of prayer! LIfe is easier now in some ways and harder in others but God is our everlasting constant!

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    1. A good marriage example is a wonderful heritage. Thanks, Gail

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  17. Thank you for this fabulous eye-opening post!!!! So true! Yes, a lasting marriage is not like a trip through the drive through of a fast food restaurant! :) Most folks today are not willing to put the resources into a good marriage. Too much emphasis is on self-fulfillment and getting what we want when we want it -- applies to children and adults in this age of instant gratification! Thanks for posting and for linking up with Marriage Monday over at Yes they are all Ours! :)

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    1. Love your analogy about marriage not being a trip through the fast food drive through! So true. Thanks for sharing these insights.

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  18. This in my humble opinion is the key to improving marriage. Get post again, Gail. I haven't read a post of yours that wasn't excellent yet!!

    ...when we needed to quit waiting for the other to make the first move and make it ourselves.

    Like anything worthwhile, marriage requires prayer, dying to self, endurance and patience. But it’s worth it. And when we don't feel like persevering for our husband's sake, we can persevere for the Lord.

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    1. Thanks for the confirmation and encouragement, Judith. I know you also know lots about having a good marriage.

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  19. Very interesting findings! I agree that the working hard thing back then likely applied to their marriages, helping make them stronger. It's sad how belittled marriage has become in today's society. Congrats on 42 years!

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  20. I'm in a younger generation and your point is very true that people aren't working as hard as they should on their marriages. But what I've also seen with friends is how easily the trap of infidelity is ruining marriages. Our generation thinks that opposite sex friendships are fine, connecting with old flames online is fine, and pornography is natural. Morals are changing and its hurting people and their marriages.

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  21. I'm in a younger generation and your point is very true that people aren't working as hard as they should on their marriages. But what I've also seen with friends is how easily the trap of infidelity is ruining marriages. Our generation thinks that opposite sex friendships are fine, connecting with old flames online is fine, and pornography is natural. Morals are changing and its hurting people and their marriages.

    ReplyDelete

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