My students come to the family class knowing one big scary fact about marriage: 50% of marriages in this country end in divorce. I am therefore always happy to help unpack that idea. The most encouraging fact I can give them in response is that most first marriages endure. Indeed, since they have managed, with only a couple of exceptions, to get beyond their teenage years without kids or marriage, and are likely to graduate from a good college and be employed, the odds for their marriages working out are quite good, indeed.
So how can we have a 50% divorce rate if most first marriages last? Because most second marriages don't, and the odds go down with each new iteration as you approach the Elizabeth Taylor/Jennifer Lopez asymptote. The divorce rate for first marriages is under 50%. The divorce rate for second marriages, though, is over half, closer to 60%.
Recently, though, I have read some good news about second marriages, too. Barry and Emily McCarthy, in Getting It Right This Time, report that second marriages which make it through the first two years successfully have the same divorce rate as first marriages. That is, most second marriages which make it past the first two years will endure.
At the Gruntled Center, we are strongly in favor of first marriages enduring and thriving. But we also believe that it is never too late for a happy ending. For those who are already divorced or in a second marriage, it is cause for celebration that you can get it right the second time. The McCarthys go into detail about how to have a healthy second marriage, and we are definitely all for healthy marriages. A healthy second prevents a sad third, a disastrous fourth, and the death spiral beyond that.
The divorce rate for first marriages is going down, for good reasons and bad. It is now a little below 50%. We may hope that if the opinion leaders of America come back to supporting marriage, we might get that rate below 40% in a decade or so. That would mean fewer people in the position to consider second marriages. But it would also be good to bring down the divorce rate of second marriages. It would be realistic, I think, to aim to get the second marriage divorce rate below 50% in this same coming decade.