Volume 40 - Article 52 | Pages 1529–1536  

Incidence of first-marriage divorce among women in the 1979 panel of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth

By Lowell Hargens


Objective: This study seeks to determine whether the likelihood of first-marriage divorce among a cohort of women who have been adults during the years of the US 'divorce plateau' matches the level implied by period rates of first-marriage divorce during those years.

Methods: I use marital histories for women in the 1979 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY79) to examine the current status of their first marriages and also carry out a survival analysis that takes into account right censoring and the competing risks of death and widowhood.

Results: It is likely that at least half of the first marriages of the women in the NLSY79 sample have already ended in divorce, a level notably higher than those implied by analyses based on period rates.

Contribution: This is the first study to examine the marital histories of a cohort US women who are now in their late 50s and the first to show a level of first-marriage divorce exceeding 50%. It also suggests that the pattern of change in US age-specific divorce rates over that past four decades accounts for the higher than expected level of first-marriage divorce shown by the NLSY79 women.

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