It goes by many names — tying the knot, sealing the deal and putting a ring on it — getting married.
But in a time when social roles and the idea of what marriage means are changing, marriage and divorce rates have shifted as well.
In this month’s focus series, The Herald-Zeitung will explore marriage and divorce — the many factors that play into it, how New Braunfels compares to national and state statistics, and what deeper stories those numbers might be reflecting.
A look at the numbers
About 52.4% of Americans 15 or older were married in 2017. That’s down from about 66.6% of the same population in 1950.
This is likely a reflection of people waiting longer to get married, said New Braunfels marriage and individuals counselor Delight Renken.
“A lot of the younger couples I see aren’t always married,” Renken said. “A lot of them may live together or co-parent together, but aren’t married.”
This is reflected in US Census Bureau data as the estimated median age at first marriage has increased steadily since the 1950s.
In 1950, data shows the median age of a man at first marriage was 22.8 and for a woman, 20.3. In 2017, the median age of a man at first marriage was 29.2, and for a woman, 27.1.
Divorce rates have stayed pretty consistent since 2000. In 2000, about 9.3% of the American population over 15 had been divorced, and in 2017 about 9.8% had been divorced.
The divorce rate has been steadily decreasing since the mid-1980s. In 2017, the rate was 2.9 for every 1,000 Americans compared to 4 for every 1,000 people in 2000.
In New Braunfels in 2017, 54% of New Braunfels estimated 54,733 population over the age of 15 was married (or approximately 29,555 people) while 11.4% were divorced — about 6,239 people, according to data from the American Community Survey by the US Census Bureau.
In 2010, about 57.6% of New Braunfelsers were married of the estimated 41,881 population over 15, or about 24,123 people. About 9.9% were divorced, close to the then-national average of 9.81%.
The slightly higher rates of marriage in New Braunfels likely reflect traditional cultural influences of the area, said New Braunfels counselor Heather Ingram, psychologist and CEO of InMindOut Emotional Wellness Center, LLC.
“I have a hypothesis that the higher rates of marriage in New Braunfels are because of the high rates of Christianity,” Ingram said. “As far as the rates for who gets married, marriage rates for secular couples are lower than those who practice Christianity and may have more traditional views.”
Who, what, when?
So who is still getting married? Who is getting divorced? And why?
Where younger people are waiting longer to get married, older people are more likely to get divorced. As rates of marriage in the U.S. have slowed, divorce rates have increased among older Americans, according to the Pew Research Center.
In 2015, about 10 out of 1,000 married adults ages 50 and older had divorced — up from five per 1,000 in 1990. Among those ages 65 and older, the divorce rate had tripled since 1990 from two for every 1,000 people to six for every 1,000.
Renken said this is likely due to a rise in social media, which is allowing older persons to connect with old friends and flames easier. Or find a new flame.
“It’s a trend that’s really been accelerated by social media,” Renken said. “It’s given people the ability to talk with others easier and… when things get a bit tired, people want to recreate that feeling of freedom and of talking, they want to feel adored.”
This is also probably because of an increased acceptance of divorce and a de-stigmatization of it, said New Braunfels couples and individuals counselor Karen Jennett, NCC LPC Intern who also works with a divorce paralegal.
“Divorce definitely doesn’t mark people the way it used to,” Jennett said. “There’s been a societal and cultural shift in that.”
Here we go again
However, people aren’t divorcing and staying single. Remarriage is also on the rise.
In 1960, only 13% of married people had been previously married, compared to 23% in 2013, according to Pew Research Center.
People don’t want to be alone, said New Braunfels therapist Amy Lavergne. She said people are still looking to connect with others in a meaningful way.
“I’ve heard of millennials trending back toward staying married,” Lavergne said. “There will always be that pendulum I think.”
Divorce rates among remarried couples do occur at a higher rate. Where about 42.9% of first marriages end in divorce, about 60% of second marriages and 65% of third or fourth marriages end in divorce, according to the National Center for Family and Marriage Research at Bowling Green State University.
It’s important issues be dealt with before remarriage, including the trauma of the first or second divorce, said Jennett.
“They often haven’t dealt with what went wrong before entering the next marriage,” Jennett said. “They may think it was the other person that was the wrong factor rather than looking inward.”
Still, the institution of marriage is likely not going anywhere, said Ingram, since we are social beings by nature.
“I think people are really starting to take precautionary measures more, doing premarital counseling and check-in counseling and working to keep those meaningful relationships,” Ingram said.