What is the most frequent cause for divorce?

Divorce statistics are common, but the reasons for divorces are hard to pin down (CDC graph is public domain)

From the 1960’s to the 1980’s, the divorce rate in the United States doubled and has remained consistently high since then. Every year, there are about two million marriages in the U.S, and about a million divorces, leading to the much-cited statistic that half of all marriages end in divorce.

You might be shocked to learn the number one reason why people get divorced. To the question: What is the most common reason for divorce?, there is a rather surprising answer…

No one knows!

Oh, there’s plenty of speculation, to be sure. You don’t have to be much of a social scientist to guess that marital infidelity — aka cheating — is right up there as a top reason, along with financial problems in a relationship.

But there’s very little in the way of formal research or big-time surveys to back up our common-sense notions of why marriages break up.

An article at MSN Money claims Money Isn’t The Culprit in Most Divorces, but then goes on to say that there’s no real information one way or the other as to how large a role money plays.

The BBC say affairs are the number one reason for divorces (or adulterous behavior, as

they so refinedly put it), based on a small survey of divorce lawyers:

Primary Reason for Couples to Divorce

Affairs 27%
Mid-life crisis 13%
Family Strains 18%
Abuse 17%
Addiction (including workaholics) 12%

Grant Thornton, the firm conducting the survey, also found an 11-year itch to be more prevalent than the classic 7-year itch. 70% of divorces happen after at least 11 years of marriage.

Where does sex fit into all this? Oddly, sexual compatibility, or lack thereof, isn’t often mentioned in the limited information on why divorces happen. But a national survey from Pew Research Center identified a “happy sexual relationship” as the second most popular answer to the question “What makes a marriage work?”.  The number one reason was Faithfulness.

Ethnicity plays a role. Asians are much less likely than other groups to get a divorce or to separate. Finances are a factor as well, with economically stressed couples more likely to divorce than marriages in upper-income families.

So, back to our original query:

Question: What is the most common reason for people to get divorced?

Answer: lovesexmoneyinfidelitytrustkidsfamilyrace

Anything else you’d care to know?

Related questions:

  • What is a gimmel ring?What is a gimmel ring? Two lovers each wear a ring for their engagement; then on marriage they fit the two together to make a wedding ring. This romantic custom, using a double-hoop gimmel ring, was at a […]
  • How do marriage laws vary within the United States?How do marriage laws vary within the United States? Laws about marriage have long been a state concern, not a federal one, in the United States. As a result, marriage laws vary considerably from state to state. In nearly all cases, […]
  • What did you want to know about sex but were afraid to ask?What did you want to know about sex but were afraid to ask? Here is a compact set of answers to the questions you may have wanted to ask about sex, but were too afraid. Sex is Latin for six. A person who has not had sex is known as a […]
  • What is paraphernalia?What is paraphernalia? Even if you can't spell the word (I couldn't, either) you know what paraphernalia is. It's all the equipment you need for a hobby, sport, or profession: the stuff your spouse (most […]
  • When’s the best time to propose marriage?When’s the best time to propose marriage? Suppose you plan to get married sometime. When should you take the leap? What if you marry too early, and miss out on your ideal life partner (whom you hadn't yet met when you married […]

  Need research? Quezi's researchers can answer your questions at

Written by | 6,255 views | Tags: , , ,


  • eiffel says:

    I saw some statistics (“spin”) in an Australian Government yearbook 15 or 20 years ago that combined the divorce statistics with the longevity statistics.

    The resulting figures showed that, although the divorce rate was rising, the increase in length of life meant that people were, on average, spending more years of their life married than ever before.

  • Larry says:

    Okay, David:
    Of course, the individuals’ reasons for a divorce are as varied as decades ago, although back when, adultery was the best and easiest argument in court, some gentlemen admitting to adultery to avoid proving the wife was at fault, or to get a quick divorce, since other grounds were harder to justify in court. No-default divorce laws (ca. 1970, also in other countries) made it easier to get a divorce, and also limited the information about the true reasons.
    Why were the divorce laws liberalized? Because society’s attitude towards divorce had changed, also the traditional expectation that marriage is for life.
    I – and others – see the “pill” behind this. The doubling of the divorce rate between 1960 and 1980 is just the period during which the pill became available: first only to married women, then to single adults, and now to virtually any girl with the guts to ask for it.
    The pill increased promiscuity. People didn’t have to marry to have sex; the social barriers and stigmatism for having sex before marriage and with different partners dropped (with a clunk). People discovered that it was better with some than with others, making them more critical once they married; and having played around before, adultery came easier, also because they had the experience that casual sex without too much emotional involvement was a possibility (and safe) – and there were partners who felt the same. Adultery probably became more common, but under “no-fault” not necessarily in court statistics. Masters and Johnson and “Joy of Sex” certainly opened peoples eyes to seeing sex as something other than for procreation within a marriage.
    Not unrelated to the general availability of the pill, women’s lib arose: more career women, less dependence on a spouse’s support and easier no-fault divorce, if either partner wanted out. Couples didn’t have to just put up with each other, as they generally were more likely to do before the pill became available. Staying together because of the children became a weaker argument, especially with the increase in the numbers of divorces and the acceptance of patchwork families. This article seems to agree:
    I found that with search terms: divorce pill. The search turned up many other websites, quite a few of those about this study, that claims that the pill upsets women’s choice of the right partner:
    To be fair, this article takes a different view:

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Privacy Policy | Acknowledgements