Data From the National Survey of Family Growth
Based on a 2002 study by the CDC based on face-to-face interviews with 10,847 women age 15-44 in 1995.
Summary of results by Richard Niolon

How many women marry, divorce, and cohabitate?

  • About 28% of all women have never married nor cohabitated. 31% have married with cohabitation, and 31% have married without cohabitation. 10% have married but never cohabitated. 75% of Black women are likely to marry at some point in their lives, compared to 91% of White women, though both rate it equally as important
  • At any given time, roughly 50% of women are married, 7% are cohabitating
  • Trends were for high chances of divorce from the 1950s to mid-1970s, leveling off from 1975-1984 for White women, but increasing from the 1960's to 1970's slowly, then increasing at a greater rate in the 1980's.
  • For all women, 39% of cohabitation relationships end in 3 years, and of those remaining, 58% turn to marriage. 49% of cohabitation relationships end in 5 years, and of those remaining, 70% turn to marriage. The percentage that turn to marriage within 5 years are 75% for White women, 61% for Hispanic women, and 48% for Black women
  • Increasing cohabitation is offset by the increases in divorce, so the number of coupled women is about the same

How likely is a cohabitating relationship to turn into a marriage?

  • Cohabitation is more likely to turn to marriage if the woman comes from a two-parent home, has never been raped (14% for White women, 5% for Black women), values religion (7% more likely), has never suffered from GAD, and comes from a higher family education and income. This is less so for White women (4% difference in cohabitation to marriage rates between low and high incomes families), but more so for Black women (32% difference in cohabitation to marriage rates between low and high incomes families)
  • White women were more likely to have cohabitation turn to marriage if they were employed. Black women were more likely to have cohabitation turn to marriage if they were employed full-time, but more likely to have the marriage break up if they were employed part-time
  • Community prosperity is related to relationship stability, with cohabitation being more likely to lead to marriage in prosperous areas (27% more likely for White women, 13% more likely for Black women), and both marriage and cohabitation being more likely to fail in poor neighborhoods.

    Using rates of male unemployment as the guide:


    Male Unemployment
    Upper 25%
    Middle 50%
    Lower 25%

    Using percentage below the poverty level as the guide:

    % Below Poverty Level
    Upper 25%
    Middle 50%
    Lower 25%

    Thus, Black women were more likely to live in poor neighborhoods, and less likely to get and stay married.

How likely is divorce?

  • 33% of all first marriages end in separation or divorce after 10 years (32% of White women, 34% of Hispanic women, and 47% of Black women).
  • Divorce is more likely when women marry at a younger age (48% of brides married before age 18 divorce in 10 years, compared to 24% married at age 25 or later), have a lower level of education, come from a single-parent home (12% more likely), were raped (same for all three ethnic groups), suffer from GAD, had a child before marriage or within 7 months of the marriage, and cohabitated before marriage (18% for non-cohabitators versus 24% for cohabitators)
  • 84% of separated women go on to divorce within 3 years, 91% within 5 years (97% of White women, 77% of Hispanic women, 67% of Black women) with transition to divorce more likely if the women has no children, has a job, and has a high school degree
  • Mixed-ethnic relationships are more likely to break up (41% mixed-ethnic versus 31% same ethnic group)
  • 53% of divorced women go on to cohabitation in 5 years (58% chance for White women, 50% for Hispanic women, and 31% for Black women), 70% within 10 years, with those who are not religious, have no children, were under 25 at the time of the divorce being most likely, and are living in better income communities (10% improvement)

What are the chances for second marriages?

  • 54% of divorced women remarry in 5 years (58% for White women, 44% for Hispanic women, and 32% for Black women), 75% in 10 years (81% if they were under 25 at the divorce, 61% if they were over 25)
  • Re-marriage is more likely with higher income, no children, or at least children born more than 7 months after the start of the marriage, and in women who live outside of large cities
  • 15% of remarriages end in 3 years, 25% in 5 years
  • Second divorce is more likely if the woman was under 25 at the start of the second marriage (47% of under 25 versus 34% of over 25), comes from a single parent home (49% versus 33%), was raped (25% more likely), or had GAD (50% more likely), and who had children (32% second marriage divorce for women with no children, 40% for with wanted children, 44% for women with unwanted children), and women with lower education
  • Cohabitation before the first marriage was associated with a greater chance of divorce, but cohabitation before the second marriage was not related

So what's the bottom line?

  • Black women are more likely to have a cohabitation end, and less likely to marry by age 30, likely to have a shorter marriage if they do marry for both first and second marriage, less likely to formally divorce if they marry then separate, less likely to cohabitate after a divorce, less likely to remarry, and less likely to have a successful second marriage
  • White women are more likely to have a cohabitation turn to marriage, less likely to divorce, more likely to cohabitate after a divorce if they have less education, and more likely to have their cohabitation turn to a new marriage
  • Income differences account for large portions, but not all, of the variance noted in the above two points
  • Remarriage with cohabitation is more likely among women who were under age 25 at the time of divorce, but another divorce is more likely too if they marry again before age 25
  • It's better for your relationship to be educated, religious, living in a good neighborhood, from a two parent home, and have no children