Shaunti Feldhahn, Harvard grad and ground-breaking social researcher, has worked on Capitol Hill and Wall Street. She currently uses her analytical skills to investigate changes impacting family and workplace relationships.
“For the last eight years, I have been analyzing what the numbers say about marriage, divorce and remarriage in America,” says Feldhahn. “This started by accident as I was working on a newspaper column and wanted to correctly cite the divorce rate. But I found numbers that didn’t match the discouraging conventional wisdom at all. This piqued my curiosity and sent me down a totally different research path.”
What Feldhahn found was shocking. Although researchers continue to project that half of marriages will end in divorce (relying in part on a government study that primarily focused on a high-risk group), we have never come close to hitting that average for society as a whole.
Instead, according to the Census Bureau’s 2009 SIPP report, 71 percent of women are still married to their first spouse. The 29 percent who aren’t includes those widowed, not just divorced. Feldhahn estimates that roughly 20-25 percent of first marriages have ended in divorce. Even among baby boomers who have the highest divorce rate, seven in 10 marriages are still intact!
“This is huge,” Feldhahn says. “We have a culture-wide feeling of futility about marriage because for years all of us - including me - have said that 50 percent of marriages end in divorce. But that sense of discouragement makes it so easy to give up. We have to change the conventional wisdom so people know that most marriages last a lifetime.”
Additional findings from Feldhahn’s research indicate:
Most marriages are happy – on average, 80 percent are happy.
The vast majority of remarriages survive.
The divorce rate is not the same in the church – among those who attend church regularly, divorce drops by 25-50 percent.
Marriage isn’t as complicated as people think – small changes can make a big difference.
“I’ve done seven nationally representative studies of men, women and marriage. The common denominator in whether a marriage survives or fails is whether the couple has a sense of hope or futility,” Feldhahn says. “Feeling ‘We’re going to make it’ leads to a different outcome than, ‘This is never going to get better.’ So instead of believing it is futile to try, couples need to know that millions of marriages in our country are thriving. And that is the norm.”
Feldhahn acknowledges that plenty of marriage problems still exist. But her surveys also show that the big ticket items, such as addiction, abuse or affairs, do not cause most marriage problems. Instead, most of the time husbands and wives care about each other and try hard, but in the wrong areas. They end up sabotaging a perfectly good marriage.
“This means that it is less complicated than people think to get it right; it’s not rocket science,” Feldhahn says. “The most important thing couples can do is commit to making their marriage work, believe the best of their spouse’s intentions toward them, and make sure they have the right tools in their tool belt as they go through their marriage.”