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Gallup: Divorce rate down, yet more Americans find it morally OK

According to the Gallup organization, adults in the U.S. have come to see both marriage and divorce differently than they had in the past. The group concludes that most demographic groups in America no longer see marriage and divorce in moral terms, but rather as formal legal processes.

Since 2001, Gallup has noted a rise of fully 14 points in the percentage of American adults who said they found divorce "morally acceptable." In 2015, Gallup's annual Values and Beliefs poll found that the percentage or U.S. adults agreeing that divorce was morally acceptable exceeded 70 percent for the first time. This year, the poll, which was performed in May, found that rate at 73 percent.

Acceptability of divorce rising over time among all demographic groups

Back in 1954, Gallup didn't ask Americans if they found divorce "morally acceptable," but the organization suspects that the proportion answering yes would have been relatively low. Instead, the group was asking if people "believe in" divorce. That year, only a small majority -- 53 percent -- said they did believe in it.

By 1968, about a year before California passed the first "no-fault" divorce statute in the nation, Gallup's poll found that 60 percent of U.S. adults would have liked to see divorce made "more difficult." Public policy, however, moved toward making it easier. As that occurred, the divorce rate rose dramatically, reaching particular highs in the 1980s and 1990s.

In 2001, Gallup first began asking whether divorce was "morally acceptable" and the percentage of Americans who did was 59 percent.

In fact, each major demographic group Gallup studied showed a majority who believed divorce was moral:

  • All age groups: 18 to 34 (76 percent), 35 to 54 (69 percent), and 55 and older (79 percent)
  • People who had never married (76 percent), currently married couples (70 percent), and those who are separated or divorced (73 percent)
  • Religious people, including the "very religious" (51 percent), "somewhat religious" (68 percent) and "not religious" (85 percent)

This was the first time that the majority of those identifying as "very religious" said that divorce was morally acceptable.

Acceptability of divorce rising even as divorce rate goes down

As the proportion of American adults who believe divorce is morally acceptable reached 70 percent and higher, the actual divorce rate is actually dropping.

Researchers at Bowling Green State University said the divorce rate is currently at a 35-year low. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention agrees that the rate is at a multi-decade low.

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