By Aaron Earls
Millennials are often blamed for negative cultural trends, but new research says they deserve credit for reducing the prevalence of divorce in America.
Analysis from University of Maryland sociologist Philip Cohen found the U.S. divorce rate dropped 18 percent from 2008 to 2016, largely due to millennials and younger members of Generation X.
Some theorized the drop was due to an aging population less likely to divorce. Cohen, however, found the rate still dropped 8 percent even when control for factors like age.
“The change among young people is particularly striking,” Bowling Green State University sociologist Susan Brown told Bloomberg. “The characteristics of young married couples today signal a sustained decline [in divorce rates] in the coming years.”
Part of the drop comes from the millennials who are married are staying married, but millennials are also marrying later and less.
“One of the reasons for the decline is that the married population is getting older and more highly educated,” Cohen said.
“Marriage is more and more an achievement of status, rather than something that people do regardless of how they’re doing.”
A class divide is emerging in marriage. The poorer and less educated Americans are choosing to not get married or opt for cohabitation instead.
Americans increasingly see cohabitation in a positive light. Barna found 65 percent said living together before getting married was a good idea, including 41 percent of practicing Christians.
But the decision to live together apart from marriage compounds the problems for any potential future marriage, as cohabitating before marriage does nothing to strengthen the relationship, and actually increases the likelihood of divorce, according to several studies.
And those cohabitating relationships are becoming more unstable.
Compared to earlier relationships, cohabitating couples today are more likely to dissolve completely and less likely to transition into marriage.
And for those poorer Americans who do get married, they face higher odds of divorce. In fact, the higher up the social ladder, the less likely someone is to be divorced.
In 2016, 33 percent of lower class Americans had been divorced or separated, according to the General Social Survey. That is the case for 27 percent of the working class and 23 percent of the middle class.
For the upper class, only 12 percent have ever been divorced or separated.
So millennials are helping to lower the divorce rate, but not all millennials or Americans are benefiting from the cultural shifts.
Bloomberg concludes, “Marriage is becoming a more durable, but far more exclusive institution.”
Aaron is the senior writer at Lifeway Research.