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Factors That Caused High Divorce Rate in the U.S. From 1990 to 2000 Research Paper

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Updated: Apr 7th, 2022


Compared to other countries in the world, divorce rates in the United States are extremely high. Various factors lead to this rate with most of them being demographical, sociocultural or economical. The economic downturns that occur in an unprecedented scale exacerbate the situation because of the monetary challenges that they bring to the family. Among the factors that have contributed to the high divorce rates in the United States are age, education, and health problems among other factors. From 1990 to 2000, the U.S. Census Bureau revealed that the national divorce rate decreased from 4.7 per 1000 marriages in 1990 to 4.2 per 1000 marriages in 2000 (U.S. Census Bureau 98).

Because industrialization and urbanization are causative factors of divorce, the extended family is rendered incapable of solving misunderstanding between couples. In the aforementioned era, the United States was the global leader in both the areas. Although statistical data on marriage and divorce have revealed the main reasons for high divorce rates in this period, the increased social acceptance of divorce in the United States was the main factor. This paper will present an analysis of the factors that caused high divorce rates in the United States between 1990 and 2000.

Factors for High Rates of Divorce

Kilborn (n.pag.) reveals that during the period between 1990 and 2000, several states adopted liberal laws concerning divorce. Hence it became more practical option for new families as the family structure underwent numerous changes. During the aforementioned period, a general income increase in family income was recorded. Moreover, the easy access to legal aid for people who could not sustain divorce meant that couples could cater for the high rates of divorce proceedings. The increase in opportunities for women made them less dependent on their husbands either emotionally or financially. These opportunities gave them a chance to leave the unhappy marriages.

One of the factors that contributed to the high divorce rates was the couple’s inability to have children. White and Booth (435) indicate that cultural values and societal expectations, even in a free from stereotypes country like the United States, necessitate people in a marriage to give birth to a child. This was a major cause of marital instability between 1990 and 2000 and subsequent divorce. Procreation is a priority in a marriage.

Age is another factor that contributed to high divorce rates in the United States. Early marriages resulted in frustration because people having grown up reconsidered their choice. Women who married in their thirties were more likely to procure a divorce as compared to those who got married in their twenties. Late marriages were an indication of female autonomy that had become a norm in the United States during the aforementioned years. Age is a factor with a positive effect on marriage stability across the countries. Although urbanization and education were to blame for proliferation of divorce in the United States, age had a social significance in the high rates of divorce recorded during the mentioned period.

This happened if one of the partners had been previously married. From the same findings, it was apparent that remarriage rate was high for women in their reproductive age (White and Booth, 438). Dissolution of marriage was influenced by culture and age of the partners. Waite and Lillard (932) highlight that marital values decline because of the advent of urbanization and the impact of formal education.

With education being a proxy for the women’s empowerment, there was a positive relation between divorce and female education. Low divorce rates were observed among women who had low levels of education or had no education at all. Analogously, high rates of divorces were observed among women who had attained higher levels of education. Aforementioned findings from the research by Fischer (102) on childlessness and early marriages revealed that women who lacked education had a lower risk of getting a divorce than women with a higher level of education had.

The higher the education levels the higher the divorce rate. Educated women had a high likelihood of embracing contemporary ideas regarding marriage. Partners were more inclined to succumb to sexual attraction passions incase their marriages felt to meet their expectations. They felt the need to look for relationships that provided them with a new form of excitement. Moreover, increased participation of women in the labor force because of their level of education reduced their dependence on men.

There are several cultural factors that come into play in the event of a divorce. Race and religion are some of them. Christianity is a religion embracing ideational change synonymous with increased women autonomy. Subsequently, dependency on men is greatly reduced by this autonomy, which translates to high divorce rates in the United States and all over the globe.

Blossfield and Muller (4-5) adduce in their study that Muslim families were more stable than those of their Christian counterparts. As abovementioned, Christianity is a religion that gives more autonomy for women as compared to Islam, which has divorce laws and customs that make keep incessant rates of divorce in check.

The role and obligation of partners in a marriage were the other factors that led to the high rates of divorce in the United States. These factors went hand-in-hand with the change of family structure in the United States and the increased autonomy in women. Roles previously preserved for men were assumed by women. There were instances, in which wife earned more than her husband did and hence had to care of some of the financial needs in the family. Work also made the women less committed to household chores.

Lack of commitment was another reason that caused the higher divorce rates recorded in the United States in the period between 1990 and 2000. Lack of commitment from either partner was the main cause of high divorce rates in the aforementioned period. Lack of commitment was attributed to their focus on either work or education in a country that was becoming more industrialized and globalized than it had been before.

Other reasons that led to the high rates of divorces recorded during 1990 to 2000 were infidelity and wrangled between the partners. Unrealistic expectations in the marriage, little or hasty preparation for the marriage and abuse in the marriage were among the numerous issues that led to the increased rates of divorce in the United States. A close examination of that list reveals that it was possible to prevent the occurrence of divorce in the American society because it had societal ramifications. It is of great importance for couples to learn how to avoid some factors that contributed to divorce (Fischer 102).

Most of the divorces that happened in the United States were precipitated by change in roles of the men and women. In a society that was at the forefront in regard to globalization and industrialization, women were becoming more emancipated from socially prescribed roles. Moreover, autonomy gained due to their higher level of education made them become less dependent on their husbands. Such a category of women could not tolerate abuse in their marriage and had to take full advantage of the legal process of divorce to dissolve their marriages. Fischer (102) reveals various categories of violence in marriage that lead to divorce.

All the forms of violence directed towards women in the marriage are usually physical or a dire form of psychological control. Moreover, extreme violence in marriage can take the form of sexual force or marital rape. Women may sometimes be isolated from their friends and families. Most of the men who perpetrate this form of violence against their wives are often insecure and wary about the increased autonomy of their wives. Divorce was inevitable under such circumstances.

Data, Methodology, and Models

With regard to the research instrument used in the study, there was the use of a questionnaire. Although several factors have been highlighted as major causes of high divorce rates in the United States during the period between 1990 and 2000, there were the main determinants of divorce that were assessed upon an analysis in a survey conducted by Blossfield and Muller (5). Interviews were used to get information from the respondents while they were at home.

The data collected from the individuals revolved around questions about the history of the marriage, such as the beginning and the ending dates, and the reasons of divorce. Information on children in the marriage was also collected as it varied with time. From the data collected, there were 6164 marriages with 1356 of them, which ended in divorce. The marriages that culminated in divorce were contracted in the 1940’s.

Discrete time models were adopted to apply logistic regression to a person’s file on yearly basis. The dependent variable was the rate of divorce. Individuals in the sample were considered based on their marriages. The first year in three-year marriages was taken as a separate issue. Marriages that ended through the death of one partner were annulled. Some of the aforementioned factors for high divorce rates could not be used but the data collected could not analyze the role of each of them. Particularly, premarital cohabitation is a factor that could not be included because of lack of data on cohabitation. In the light of this, the main independent variables that were given special consideration included marriage cohorts.

This was a variable that was ital in determining divorce. In this variable, there was the comparison of marriage cohorts in the previous years. It was vital to assume that the high divorce rates recorded during 1990 to 2000 were influenced by the previous divorce rates. The study provided information concerned with the odds of divorce after years of marriage as revealed during the survey. The figures revealed that divorce was not common in marriage cohorts before the 1960s. However, from this point onwards, the rate of divorce increased rapidly and escalated in an unprecedented scale in the 1980s and the 1990s. After the 1980s, divorce rates remained extremely high. Furthermore, the last couple of years have been a period when divorce rates have decreased.

Attainment of Education

The highest completed schooling level was divided in a number of categories. For the models used in this analysis, there was an approximation of the number of years of education needed to complete a certain level. In the analysis, education was standardized and given a zero mean and a standard deviation of 1. To facilitate analysis, we divided educational attainment into categories, such as tertiary, higher-secondary, lower secondary, and primary.

The Socioeconomic Status of the Parent

The socioeconomic status of a parent was given a major consideration after education. Some indicators were used with this regard. These included the father’s schooling years, the mother’s schooling years, and the occupation of the father when the respondent in the analysis was aged 15 years. Detailed information on occupation was collected and recorded in a scale. The aforementioned indicators of status were analyzed through standardization, summation, and a later standardization of the resulting scale. The economic and social status of a parent had an effect on divorce and was used as a hypotheses test. Nonetheless, information on occupation, income, and employment could not be included in the model because it varied with time.

Parental divorce was a major factor for high divorce rates in the United States during 1990 and 2000. The respondents in the analysis were asked whether their parents had procured a divorce and at what age the divorce had occurred. The respondents whose parents had divorced before they had attained the age of 18 years, were coded 1, and code 0 was given to those whose parents divorced after they had attained 18 years.


As mentioned above, religion was a major factor that contributed to the high rates of divorce recorded in the United States during the period between 1990 and 2000. In the analysis, there was the need for collection of information regarding if the parents were church attendants. A distinction was made to facilitate for this study. The respondents received were divided based on their confession:

  1. Catholics,
  2. Protestants who were reformed,
  3. Orthodox,
  4. other religions.

Categories (i) and (iii) had a traditional view on the issues related to the family, while the (ii) category had a liberal look into family matters that precipitated divorce. Non-church members were given the base category.


Children are one of the factors of the high rates of divorce in the United States during the aforementioned period. In the light of this, respondents were asked if they had children in their marriage and the children’s date of birth. In the analysis, couples with children who lived independently were given a consideration. Control variables have been included in the analysis. These are the years the couple lived together, if the respondent entered into a marriage previously, the descent and the sex of the respondent. The analysis involved a collection of answers from women and men, and the influences of individual attributes on divorce were the average of the influences of women’s and men’s characteristics.


Descriptive Statistics for Selected Variables in the Study

Range Mean Standard Deviation
Female respondent
Duration of relationship
Marriage Cohort
Socioeconomic status of parent
Religion of Parent
No religion
Divorced parents
Education of respondent
Age of cohabitation
Respondent divorced before(yes=1, no=0)
If with a child
People in the study
-1.83 to 3.59

-2.29 to 2.58








NB. Means refer to the marriages in variables that are time constant while means refer to period are variables that vary with time.

Analysis of Divorce Rates in the United States

b Standard error P
Female respondent(versus male respondent)
Year >1
Years 1-3(Base period)
Years 4-6
Years 7-9
Years 10-12
Years 13-15
Years 16-18
Years 19-21
Marriage Cohort
Socioeconomic status of parent
Religion of Parents
No Religion(base)
Parent Divorced
Education of respondent
Age of living together
If divorced before
If had a child
Fit of model(Chi-Square)
Degrees of Freedom
Number of people


















The study provides a summary of the analysis of factors that caused high divorce rates in the United States in 1990 – 2000. The model incorporates all the aforementioned independent variables with the assumption that their influence on the rates of divorce was equal over all the marriage cohorts. The effect of the duration of the marriage has a functional form that was expected in the analysis: divorce is highly unlikely to occur during the first year of the marriage but the likelihood of its occurrence increases with time. Social determinants of divorce in this analysis have effects on the risk of divorce if all marriage cohorts were combined.

The influence of a proper socioeconomic status of the parent on divorce was positive. Moreover, the effect of the education level of the respondent was negative. Concisely, respondents with high levels of education were less likely to divorce, but the ones with high social background were more likely to consider a divorce, regardless of their education (Blossfield and Muller 5).

Religion had a negative influence on the divorce. Respondents professing reformed and protestant faiths had a lower risk of having a divorce than their non-religious counterparts. The influence of parental divorce was substantial and significant. Individuals with divorced parents had higher chances to get divorced than the other categories did. Some of the control variables had an effect on the rates of divorce. The age of the marriage was a factor.

Couples that entered into a marriage at a young age had a high likelihood of getting a divorce. The respondents who had been divorced before had the high odds of divorcing for the second time. In the study, there were models that included cohort interactions. Because marriage cohorts and duration have a strong association, older cohorts were observed at both the long and the short marriages. On the other hand, younger cohorts were observed at marriages that had short durations.

Durations interactions were hence necessary for the model to decipher the high rates of divorce. For the interaction terms, a logarithmic transformation function was necessary because of the assumption that effects of cohort changes were mostly at the beginning of a marriage. After a discussion of cohort interactions, attention is paid to the interpretation and size in interactions. Cohort interactions are tested in two ways.

First, we determine if the model improves when a set of interactions are added with the help of the chi-square test. Second, we examine the interaction influences on themselves, in which the first cohort becomes the category to be omitted. Subsequently, the principle effect of an independent variable is felt in the pre-trend cohort. Interaction effects inform as if the effect of the independent variable is stronger or weaker in a particular cohort relative to a pre-trend cohort. From the study done, it was revealed that independent variables like age, childlessness, religion, and education level actually had a manifestation on marital instability that led to high divorce rates recorded in the United States in the period between 1990 and 2000.


To conclude, the study above has articulated the factors that were responsible for the high rates of divorce in the United States between 1990 and 2000. Determinants of the risks of divorce are socioeconomic and cultural in nature. These include education, the social status of the parents, parental divorce, children, and religion. Using a comparison of the marriage cohorts from various years, it was revealed that the 1990s was an era where most of divorces were recorded in the United States. Educational attainment has emancipated the women making them less dependent from men, and this attests to the increased rates of divorce in the United States.

This factor has, however, changed overtime. Legal barriers to divorce were preventing women from dissolving abusive marriages. However, the 1990s saw adoption of divorced laws that made the women capable of pursuing divorce without incurring huge financial costs. Religion has also emerged as a factor that contributed to the high divorce rates that were recorded in the United States between 1990 and 2000.

Industrialization and urbanization are the factors that should be taken into account in the study to decipher factors that caused high rates of divorce in the United States. The country was a global leader in the aforementioned period, which made it increasingly difficult for couples to solve misunderstanding between them. The social acceptance for divorce in the United States was another factor that led to high divorce rates between 1990 and 2000.

Works Cited

Blossfield, Hans-Peter and Rolf Muller. “Union Disruption in Comparative Perspective: The Role of Assertive Partner Choice and Careers of Couples.” International Sociology 32(1) (2002): 3-35. Print.

Fischer, Tamar. Parental divorce, conflict and resources. The effects on children’s behaviour, behavior problems, socioeconomic attainment and transitions in the demographic career. Nijmegen: ICS Dissertations, 2004. Print.

Kilborn, Peter T. “An All-American Town, A Sky-High Divorce Rate.” The New York Times, 2004. nytimes.com. Web.

U.S. Census Bureau, Statistical Abstract of the United States. 2012. Table 133. Marriages and Divorces—Number and Rate by State: 1990 to 2009.

White, Linda and Lee Lillard. “Children and Marital Disruption.” American Journal of Sociology 96(1) (1991): 930-953. Print.

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