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What causes divorce?

The question seems simple enough. With nearly half of all marriages ending in divorce, it would be nice to know the answer. However, there has not been a thorough and scientific study on why married people actually get divorced.

One reason for the lack of evidence regarding the cause of divorce may be that researchers do not agree on how best to study the question of divorce. Some researchers have tried to link divorce to certain demographic factors, including age and income with no success. Others have unsuccessfully studied the relationships of married couples to see if an eventual divorce can be linked to a specific relationship dynamic.

Another reason for the lack of information regarding divorce is that there have only been a few studies of divorcing parties in close proximity to the time of an actual divorce. In one such study by the University of Pennsylvania, 2,000 married people were initially enrolled in the study. Less than 20 years later, only about half were reachable. Within that group, one in five were divorced and open to discussing the divorce. This left only about 200 participants, which is a very small sample.

Some very interesting information was gleaned, however, from those 200 participants. Divorced women and men gave differing reasons for their respective divorce. Moreover, in almost 10 percent of the divorce cases, the men had no idea why they got divorced. On the other hand, all of the women interviewed had a specific reason why they were divorced. Also interesting, was that almost 10 percent of women blamed mental or physical abuse as the cause of the divorce, while none of the men reported this.

Finally, it is difficult to make assertions about divorce on a large scale because divorce rate statistics are not dependable. The National Center for Health Statistics can not account for approximately 20 percent of the population because certain states stopped tracking divorce. The 2008 U.S. Census Bureau did ask household members if they have been divorced. That data should help to fill in some gaps where states have not provided information about their divorce situation. Hopefully, in the near future, the answer to the question of what causes divorce can be more definitively answered.

Source: The Wall Street Journal, "Irreconcilable Claim: Facebook Causes 1 in 5 Divorces," Carl Bialik, 12 Mar 2011

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William C. Gentry, Attorney at Law

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