Higher Divorce Rates May Not Be All Bad News

The Census Bureau has released data proving that increasingly fewer married couples stay together long enough to reach their silver wedding anniversary. But that may not necessarily be a bad thing.

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JACKI LYDEN, host:

Last week, the Census Bureau released data, proving what many people suspect - fewer and fewer couples are reaching their 25th anniversary. For the first time since World War II, the bureau reported, men and women who married in the late '70s, had a less than even chance of being married a quarter century later. Some of those either were widowed, but divorce accounted for a lot of them.

Divorce is usually seen as a failure. Sometimes it's liberating, yes, but more often as a painful rupture. We don't send out cards announcing, my love blossomed, went to seed, scattered in the wind and was planted anew. I view D-I-V-O-R-C-E as a chance to renew.

The same Census Bureau figure show that couples who married in the late 1950s have about a 70 percent chance of still being married today. But we can't peek inside those numbers to know whether the Smith(ph) or the Jones(ph) are still kind to each other or ever were.

In the '50s, couples had an almost 95 percent chance of still being married after five years. If you did divorce, you were in the five percent statistical bracket of losers in Elizabeth Taylor's category.

I remember the suddenness and finality of being six and having my mother announce that she and my father couldn't live together anymore. It's as though my mother had said your skin is going to turn blue today and you will always be blue. My father had already become a ghost in our midst, appearing just on Sundays to take us out to the Matinee.

There was also a social sanction, the whispering campaigns against my mother, the kid who suddenly couldn't come over to play after school, the birthday invitations that stopped coming that year.

Nice women didn't get divorced. They worked so hard just to get married, just to have someone take care of them. Think I'm kidding? This song written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David was Grammy nominated in 1963. Song here by Vic Damone.

(Soundbite of song "Wives and Lovers")

Mr. VIC DAMONE (Singer): (Singing) Don't send him off with your hair still in curlers. You may not see him again.

LYDEN: Of course, no one wears curlers in the daytime anymore, but that doesn't seem to have improved the divorce rate. Removing the stigma from divorce seems to have pushed off the divorce rate, but if that leads to later marriages or second and third marriages, perhaps that's the evolution of personhood.

Burt Bacharach himself, I note, has been married four times. And the new report from the Census Bureau notes that half of all women over 20 are living without a husband. As for me, well, I only married once at more than twice the age my mother was when she married my father. My husband and I are just heading for our third anniversary - leather. But I think we'll get to silver even though this is one of my husband's favorite songs.

(Soundbite of song "Wives and Lovers")

Mr. DAMONE: (Singing) Pour the wine, start the music, time to get ready for love. Oh, time to get ready, time to get ready, time to get ready for love.

LYDEN: That's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Andrea Seabrook will be here next week. I'm Jacki Lyden.

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