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October 2013

Marriage and divorce: patterns by gender, race, and educational attainment

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Table 2. Percentage of the sample by gender, race/ethnicity, and educational attainment
CharacteristicFull sampleLess than high school diplomaHigh school graduate, no collegeSome college or associate’s degreeBachelor’s degree or higher

Gender

100.012.936.323.926.9

Men

50.97.319.111.213.3

Women

49.15.617.112.713.7

Race/ethnicity

100.012.936.323.926.9

Hispanic or Latino

6.61.72.11.90.9

Black non-Hispanic

14.22.65.54.02.2

Non-Black non-Hispanic

79.28.728.718.023.8

Race/ethnicity and gender

100.012.936.323.926.9

Hispanic or Latino men

3.40.91.20.90.5

Hispanic or Latino women

3.10.80.91.00.5

Black non-Hispanic men

7.31.53.21.61.0

Black non-Hispanic women

6.91.12.32.41.2

Non-Black non-Hispanic men

40.25.014.78.711.8

Non-Black non-Hispanic women

39.13.814.09.312.0

Note: The National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979 consists of men and women who were born in the years 1957–1964 and were ages 14 to 22 when first interviewed in 1979. These individuals were ages 45 to 52 in 2010–2011. Race and Hispanic or Latino ethnicity groups are mutually exclusive. Educational attainment is as of the most recent survey. The data used in this study are weighted such that the sample employed is representative of those born in the years 1957–1964 and living in the United States in 1978.

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The educational attainment of women exceeds that of men to a small extent. Compared with the percentage of men, a slightly smaller percentage of women fall into the two lowest education groups (less than a high school diploma and high school graduate, no college). The differences in educational attainment across race/ethnic groups are starker. Whites are about twice as likely as Blacks and Hispanics to have earned a bachelor’s degree.

Marriage outcomes through age 46

Several trends that emerged from the 1940–1945 to the 1950–1955 birth cohorts continued with the NLSY79 cohort. Tables 3 and 4, which show marriage and divorce over the life cycle for the NLSY79 cohort, are modeled on Stevenson and Wolfers’ work.13 Compared with the 1940–1945 and 1950–1955 birth cohorts examined by Stevenson and Wolfers, fewer men and women in the NLSY79 have married by age 46. By age 46, 86.8 percent of the men and women in the NLSY79 have married, compared with 93.1 percent for the 1940–1945 cohort and 89.5 percent for the 1950–1955 cohort. Both men and women delayed first marriage, with the age of first marriage rising to ages 25.6 and 23.4 for men and women, respectively, compared with ages 24.7 and 22.6 in the 1950–1955 cohort. In addition, a larger proportion of marriages ended in divorce, approximately 44.2 percent of first marriages, compared with the earlier birth cohorts studied in Stevenson and Wolfers (32.7 percent and 40.8 percent of first marriages end in divorce among the 1940–1945 and 1950–1955 cohorts). Overall, a smaller percentage (65.7 percent) of the NLSY79 cohort remarried following a divorce from a first marriage compared with the 1940–1945 and 1950–1955 cohorts (70.5 percent and 68.9 percent, respectively).

Table 3. Marriage outcomes by age 46 by gender, race/ethnicity and educational attainment
CharacteristicFull sampleGenderRace/ethnicityEducational attainment
MenWomenBlack non-HispanicsNon-Black non-HispanicsHispanicsLess than high school diplomaHigh school graduate, no collegeSome college or associate’s degreeBachelor’s degree or higher

Percent ever married

86.884.389.568.390.484.681.387.087.189.0

Percent ever divorced

38.936.042.033.140.039.347.842.842.326.5

Among those ever married, percent ever divorced

44.842.746.948.444.246.558.849.148.529.8

Among those ever married

Average age at first marriage

24.425.623.426.224.223.822.723.624.226.5

Percent still in first marriage

53.056.149.947.053.951.437.648.648.969.0

Percent of first marriages ending in divorce

44.242.446.047.943.745.558.248.247.929.7

Among those who divorced

Average duration of marriage (in years)

9.28.99.59.39.110.910.19.09.09.5

Percent remarrying

65.765.366.152.468.654.860.868.064.866.3

Among those who remarried after divorce

Average time to remarriage (in years)

4.34.24.44.64.34.24.54.34.43.9

Percent still in second marriage

62.063.960.263.761.861.057.160.059.473.6

Percent of second marriages ending in divorce

36.435.237.433.236.637.740.838.837.426.1

Among those whose second marriage ended in divorce

Average duration of second marriage (years)

6.66.86.56.06.68.06.06.76.86.6

Percent remarrying

54.050.456.845.355.248.762.053.851.150.1

NLSY79 (N=7357)

Note: The National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979 consists of men and women who were born in the years 1957–1964 and were ages 14 to 22 when first interviewed in 1979. These individuals were ages 45 to 52 in 2010–2011. Race and Hispanic or Latino ethnicity groups are mutually exclusive. Educational attainment is as of the most recent survey. The data used in this study are weighted such that the sample employed is representative of those born in the years 1957–1964 and living in the United States in 1978.

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Stark differences in marriage rates by race/ethnicity are apparent in the NLSY79, much like those that were observed for the 1940–1945 and 1950–1955 birth cohorts. Three out of ten Black non-Hispanics born during 1957–1964 did not marry by the age of 46, while the same statistic for Whites remained close to the 1-in-10 ratio seen in the earlier cohorts. That is, the proportion ever married among Blacks decreased from 77.6 percent for the 1950–1955 cohort to 68.3 percent in the NLSY79 cohort. The percentage of Black non-Hispanics who have ever divorced is lower than that of Whites or of Hispanics, reflecting the smaller percentage of Black non-Hispanics who marry. Conditional on having ever married, a larger percentage of Blacks have divorced. As with first marriage, reentry into marriage among Black non-Hispanics was less common than among Whites. Hispanics marry at a younger age. Hispanics who divorced have first marriages that tend to last longer than other racial/ethnic groups.

Notably, the differences in marriage and divorce patterns across education groups are larger in the NLSY79 than those reported for the 1950–1955 birth cohort. The percentage ever married and age at first marriage increased as education increased, with 81 percent of those with less than a high school diploma having married by age 46, compared with 89 percent of those with a bachelor’s degree or higher. In contrast, in the 1950–1955 birth cohort, there was no difference in the marriage rate of the college educated compared with those who have less than a college degree. In the NLSY79, the average age at first marriage was 22.7 among those with less than a high school diploma versus 26.5 among those with at least a bachelor’s degree. In contrast, in the 1950–1955 birth cohort, college graduates married at age 24.9, and those with less than a college degree married 2 years earlier at age 22.8.

Notes

13 See table 1 in Stevenson and Wolfers, “Marriage and divorce.”

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About the Author

Alison Aughinbaugh
aughinbaugh.alison@bls.gov

Alison Aughinbaugh is a research economist in the Office of Employment and Unemployment Statistics of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Omar Robles
robles.omar@bls.gov

Omar Robles is a research economist in the Office of Employment and Unemployment Statistics of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Hugette Sun
sun.hugette@bls.gov

Hugette Sun is a research economist in the Office of Employment and Unemployment Statistics of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.