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Moral acceptability of divorce rises even as divorce rate drops

For those of you who have concerns over social stigma, you may be interested in a recent analysis by the Gallup organization. According to its latest Values and Beliefs poll, divorce has become far less controversial than it was in the middle of the last century -- and that trend is increasing among all the demographic groups it measured.

Gallup completed its most recent Values and Beliefs Poll in early May and just released its analysis, along with some historical data from similar polls in the past.

For example, back in 1954, when Gallup first asked about divorce, the question was phrased slightly differently. People were asked if they “believed in” divorce. Since 2001, Gallup has been asking people whether or not they believe divorce is “morally acceptable.”

In 1954, a bare majority of 53 percent of American adults said they believed in divorce. By 2001, divorce had become much less controversial, with 59 percent reporting they found it to be morally acceptable. In 2015, the percentage of U.S. adults who said divorce was morally acceptable topped 70 for the first time. This year, it reached 73 percent.

That means that since 2001 there has been a 14-point rise in the proportion of American adults who find divorce morally OK.

Even as the sense of moral acceptability of divorce quickly rose, however, the actual rate of divorce has dropped. Researchers at Bowling Green State University who measure marriage and divorce rates report that the American divorce rate is at a 35-year low. Numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirm that the divorce rate has hit a multi-decade low.

The Gallup analysis concludes that over time, Americans have come to see both marriage and divorce in more formal, legal terms than in moral ones.

A few highlights from this year’s poll:

  • People who identified as “not religious” were most likely to find divorce morally acceptable (85 percent)
  • A majority of those who identified as “very religious” found divorce morally acceptable (51 percent)
  • Americans aged 18-34 were very likely to see divorce as moral (76 percent)
  • Older people, aged 55 and older, were also quite likely to agree (71 percent)
  • Married people, divorced or separated people, and those who had never married were about equally likely to say divorce is moral (70 percent, 73 percent and 76 percent, respectively)

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