When I started writing this article, I tried to find examples of high-profile millennial divorces. After digging for about ten minutes, my list consisted of Hilary Duff and Mike Comrie, Jaclyn and Jon Hill, Logic and Jessica Andrea, and Colleen Ballinger and Joshua Evans. You can see I struggled for examples, and that’s because relatively few millennials have gotten divorced. Full disclosure: I don’t even know who three of those people are, so I seem to be playing it fast and loose with the term “high-profile.”
Millennial divorce is rare for a number of reasons. Among millennials, about 59 percent are single and have never been married, 27 percent are married, three percent are divorced, and two percent are separated (in case you’re doing the math, the remaining millennials are either widowed (< 0.5 percent) or living with a domestic partner (nine percent).
There are a ton of possible explanations for why millennials aren’t getting divorced.
1. Under a third of millennials are married.
The first is an obvious one: under a third of millennials are married, and that’s even if you add in those who are separated but technically still bound by “holy matrimony” or whatever.
2. We have long relationships and cohabitate.
For millennials who are married, some say we’re “divorce-proof” because of how our relationships tend to begin.
For example, many of us cohabitate (sometimes for years) before gallivanting down the aisle. My theory? If you’re well aware of your partner’s gross habits and you still choose to take the plunge, then it really is meant to be. Don’t take my word for it, though; a 2009 Australian study provided evidence to support the link between premarital cohabitation and a reduced risk for separation. Signing a lease before signing a marriage license? It’s not living in sin, it’s being wise.
3. Online dating.
Additionally, a third of all marriages begin online, many of which are among people in their twenties and thirties. A 2013 study found that these marriages are less likely to end in divorce or separation and that overall marriage satisfaction is higher when compared to marriages between people whose relationship started IRL. Get to swiping.
4. We don’t rush.
Once our relationships get started, we tend not to rush things. In fact, millennials marry later in life, on average, than any previous generation. According to a 2017 study, later marriages are less likely to end in divorce.
One reason some millennials have waited to get hitched is to make sure they’re financially stable before legally tying themselves to another person. Starting marriage on a solid foundation without any serious financial concerns might be a recipe for making the love last, too, as money problems are cited as a significant reason for marital breakdown.
Another reason for declining divorce rates might be that obtaining a college degree (particularly for women) makes us less likely to divorce, and more millennial women are college-educated than women in past generations. However, the mechanism is unclear. Does college simply make you get married later, or does the increase in income lead to fewer financial woes? There’s a lot to untangle.
6. We’re still “young.”
A final reason for why we don’t see millennial divorces? Maybe we aren’t old enough, yet. Overall, millennials seem to be getting divorced less, but the median age for a first divorce is around 40 for both men and women — an age millennials have not reached yet. Maybe millennial divorces will become more common as we get older, but let’s hope not. We’re rooting for you, Ariana and Pete!
The Challenges of Being a Divorced Millennial
For the small percentage of millennials who have experienced divorce or are separated (around 5 percent total), they’re up against some unique challenges.
The biggest challenge might be that very few of their peers can relate to what they’re going through. The usual feelings of divorce, including embarrassment and grief, might be compounded by the fact that your friends don’t know how to best support you. Can I send a snap that says “happy divorce”? Should we go out for coffee? I honestly don’t know.
Additionally, millennials are one of the first generations to potentially have the beginning, middle, and end of their relationships broadcast on social media. You may have posted an up-close engagement ring shot, shared some gorgeous wedding photos, and changed your name on Facebook. If you don’t force yourself to go through and delete each painful-to-look-at picture, then Facebook might bombard you on your would-be fifth anniversary with “this is what you were doing 5 years ago.” Thanks, Zuckerberg.
Not to mention, all the friends you’ve accumulated on social media, from the high school acquaintance to the guy you met at Bonnaroo in 2014, have beared witness to the crash and burn that is your marriage. That’s fun.
I don’t mean to paint a picture that divorce is always a bad thing, of course. While it does tend to be painful and expensive, sometimes it’s the right choice. In fact, I don’t think each “failed marriage” is really a “failure” — nor should you be made to feel like it is if you’ve been in a marriage that ended.
If we can agree that divorce usually sucks, though, then the trends we’re seeing are very promising. In general, it seems like millennials are doing a few things right in the marriage department.