The millennial generation is spurring a drop in divorce rates. According to a recent study from the University of Maryland, the national divorce rate has fallen by 21% between 2008 and 2017 and may continue to drop.
Philip Cohen, a sociologist and lead author of the study, says the decline has largely been driven by young adult women. Younger adults, Cohen says, aren’t necessarily better at marriage than their parents, but they’re less likely to enter risky marriages.
Compared to previous generations, millennials are more likely to take their partner for a “test drive” before marrying them, typically by living with them for many years before deciding to sign a marriage certificate.
“I think what we’re seeing is there’s more cohabitation before marriage, or instead of marriage, and people have established a high bar to marriage,” said Cohen. “So before people get married they’re waiting longer, and getting more education and stability in their lives, and those things are contributing to lower divorce rates.”
Between 1947 and 1972, the average age of an American woman’s first marriage was at age 20. The 1970s and 1980s were when the marriage age began to shift.
In 1984, the average age of a woman during her first marriage was 23. In 1997, it was 25. And now, in 2018, the average age is 27.8 years old.
“I’d tie it to the shifting role of women; the influx of women into higher education so they could support themselves and not have to transition from being dependent on their parents to being dependent on a husband,” said Susan Brown, the co-founder of the National Center for Family and Marriage Research.
Not only did the average age of married women increase during the 1970s and 1980s, but the average divorce rate also began to shift.
In 1981, there were more divorces in Texas (101,856) than any other year. The rise in divorce, Brown says, was most likely because women were able to earn their own paychecks, which gave them the ability to leave unsatisfying marriages. Today, the divorce rate for a first marriage in the U.S. is 41%.
However, the drop in divorce rates in recent years isn’t only because younger adult women are avoiding risky relationships. It’s also because millennial couples are more open with each other and are willing to undergo couples therapy.
Karen Lawson, a clinical psychologist and assistant professor at Baylor College of Medicine, says she’s seen a significant increase in 20-something students seeking her couples therapy service in the past few years.
“As a psychologist with a millennial-age counseling service, I will say I have conducted a lot more couples therapy than I ever had in the past,” said Lawson. “Couples do come in at quite a high rate, which I think is a good thing.”