Americans Aren’t as OK with Divorce as they Think They Are

Male and female hands breaks red paper heart, concept of broken love

NEW YORK , N.Y. – February 25, 2015 –While census figures can provide insights on the divorce rate in the United States, its fluctuations don’t tell us how Americans actually feel about divorce. When asked to gauge the opinions of their fellow Americans, nine in ten U.S. adults (88%) estimate that Americans believe divorce is acceptable. However, when asked about their own personal feelings on the matter, only 58% of Americans say they themselves believe it’s acceptable. This disconnect is even more apparent when considering that 55% said Americans in general believe divorce is very acceptable, but less than half that (27%) actually feel that way. In addition, as some might expect, those who describe themselves as religious are less likely to find divorce acceptable those who do not see themselves this way (52% vs. 68%, respectively).

Moreover, an overwhelming majority of U.S. adults (84%) believe the idea of divorce is more acceptable today than it was in previous generations. Of those who feel this way, a 45% plurality perceive this as a bad thing, while 15% think it is good, and 33% feel neutral towards it.

These are some of the results of The Harris Poll® of 2,255 U.S. adults surveyed online between December 10 and 15, 2014.

When to call it quits

When shown a list of possible reasons why a couple might divorce, a two-thirds majority of Americans feel divorce is unequivocally the best option in cases of domestic abuse (66%), with no conflict/resolution attempts expected. Meanwhile, in the cases of substance abuse, gambling addiction, and infidelity, pluralities of Americans believe the couple should at least attempt to resolve the conflict before filing for divorce (50%, 48%, & 45% respectively).

For couples struggling with sexual issues/dysfunction, Americans are torn between whether the couple should attempt to resolve the conflict before filing for divorce (39%) or whether the couple should be able to resolve the conflict without pursuing divorce at all (40%). Finally, the situations where the highest percentages of Americans expect that the couple should be able to resolve the conflict without pursuing divorce are:

  • Inability to conceive/infertility (51%)
  • Long-term illnesses or other conditions placing one spouse in the caretaker role (48%)
  • Inability to agree on how to parent children (47%)
  • Long-term illnesses or other conditions placing one spouse in permanent care outside the home (45%)
  • Religious differences (43%), and
  • Inability to agree on whether to have children or number of children (42%).

Dealing with differences

Strong majorities agree that a couple should need to prove they’ve attempted to resolve their issues before citing irreconcilable differences (77%).

Moreover, seventy-three percent agree that a couple should attend marriage counseling before they marry. Perhaps in light of personal experiences, adults who have previously been divorced at least once are more likely to agree with this preventative measure than those who have never been divorced (78% vs. 72% respectively).

And turning to a more extreme measure, over four in ten (43%) adults agree there should be a limit on how many times an individual can petition for divorce. Perhaps not surprisingly, this rule is more appealing to adults who have never been divorced (45%) as opposed to those who have (37%).

Hope for the future

So what about the kids? Seven in ten adults (71%) believe that having parents who are divorced is better for children than having parents who are together but unhappy. Interestingly, children of divorce are more likely to share that sentiment (82%) than Americans who haven’t experienced the divorce of their parents (68%).

Moreover, there is still a light at the end of the tunnel not just for the children but also for the divorcees. A strong majority of U.S. adults (86%) say they would be open to dating a one-time divorcee (assuming both parties were single at the time). And those with multiple marriages under their belts need not worry either since half of Americans (49%) would be open to dating someone who has been divorced multiple times (also assuming both were single).

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TABLE 1

PERSONAL ACCEPTABILITY OF DIVORCE

Summary by Acceptable to Americans, Religious, & Personally Divorced

And how acceptable is divorce to you personally?

Base: U.S. Adults

Total

Acceptable to Americans

Religious

Personally Divorced

Yes

No

Yes

No

Yes

No

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

ACCEPTABLE (NET)

58

64

14

52

68

78

51

Very acceptable

27

31

2

20

38

44

22

Somewhat acceptable

31

34

12

31

30

34

29

NOT ACCEPTABLE (NET)

42

36

86

48

32

22

49

Not that acceptable

26

24

38

28

22

14

30

Not at all acceptable

16

12

47

20

10

9

18

 

TABLE 2

AMERICANS AND DIVORCE

Summary by Personally Acceptable, Religious, & Personally Divorced

On another topic, how acceptable do you believe divorce is to Americans in general?

Base: U.S. Adults

Total

Personally Acceptable

Religious

Personally Divorced

Yes

No

Yes

No

Yes

No

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

ACCEPTABLE (NET)

88

97

75

86

90

93

86

Very acceptable

55

63

43

53

56

60

53

Somewhat acceptable

33

34

32

33

34

33

33

NOT ACCEPTABLE (NET)

12

3

25

14

10

7

14

Not that acceptable

9

3

18

9

8

4

10

Not at all acceptable

3

 

7

4

2

2

4


TABLE 3

GENERATIONAL ACCEPTABLITY OF DIVORCE

Summary by Acceptable to Americans & Personally Acceptable

Compared to previous generations, do you think the idea of divorce today is…?

Base: U.S. Adults

Total

Acceptable to Americans

Personally Acceptable

Yes

No

Yes

No

%

%

%

%

%

More acceptable that it was

84

86

66

81

87

Just as acceptable as it was

10

9

18

13

7

Less acceptable than it was

2

2

8

2

2

Not at all sure

4

3

8

4

4

 

TABLE 4

FEELINGS AROUND DIVORCE BECOMING MORE ACCEPTABLE

Summary by Acceptable to Americans, Personally Acceptable, Religious, & Personally Divorced

And do you think it is good or bad that the idea of divorce today is more acceptable than in previous generations?

Base: Think Divorce Is More Acceptable Than It Was

Total

Acceptable to Americans

Personally Acceptable

Religious

Personally Divorced

Yes

No

Yes

No

Yes

No

Yes

No

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Bad

45

42

82

19

79

56

30

33

50

Neither good nor bad

33

35

12

48

14

29

40

43

30

Good

15

16

2

25

2

10

22

17

14

Not at all sure

7

7

4

8

5

5

8

6

7


TABLE 5

IS DIVORCE THE BEST OPTION?

Summary Grid

Which of the following options, if any, best describes the optimal course of action for each of these situations?

Base: All adults

 

Divorce is the best option

The couple shout try to resolve the conflict before filing for divorce

The couple should be able to resolve this conflict without pursuing divorce

None of these

Not sure at all

Domestic abuse

%

66

19

6

4

6

Infidelity

%

32

45

12

3

8

Substance abuse

%

19

50

19

4

8

Gambling addiction

%

14

48

24

5

8

Inability to agree on whether to have children or number of children

%

6

36

42

8

7

Sexual issues/dysfunction

%

5

39

40

9

8

Religious differences

%

5

34

43

10

8

Long-term illnesses or other conditions placing one spouse in a caretaker role

%

3

22

48

17

10

Long-term illness or other conditions placing one spouse in permanent care outside the home

%

3

26

45

16

11

Inability to agree on how to parent children

%

2

38

47

6

6

Inability to conceive/infertility

%

2

26

51

13

8

Note: Percentages may not add up exactly to 100% due to rounding


TABLE 6A

DIVORCE STATEMENTS

Summary Grid

How much do you agree or disagree with the following statements?

Base: All adults

 

Agree (NET)

Strongly agree

Somewhat agree

Disagree (NET)

Somewhat disagree

Strongly disagree

I would be open to dating someone who has been divorced once (assuming we were both single).

%

86

39

47

14

10

5

A couple should need to prove they’ve attempted to resolve their issues before citing irreconcilable differences.

%

77

38

39

23

14

9

A couple should attend marriage counseling before they marry.

%

73

31

42

27

19

8

Having parents who are divorced is better for children than having parents who are together but unhappy.

%

71

24

47

29

21

8

I would be open to dating someone who has been divorced multiple times (assuming we were both single).

%

49

15

34

51

30

21

There should be a limit on how many times an individual can petition for divorce.

%

43

18

25

57

29

28

Note: Percentages may not add up exactly to 100% due to rounding

 

TABLE 6B

DIVORCE STATEMENTS

Summary of Agree

By Personally Divorced & Parents Divorced

How much do you agree or disagree with the following statements?

Base: All adults

 

Total

Personally Divorced

Parents Divorced

Yes

No

Yes

No

%

%

%

%

%

I would be open to dating someone who has been divorced once (assuming we were both single).

86

95

82

85

86

A couple should need to prove they’ve attempted to resolve their issues before citing irreconcilable differences.

77

75

78

72

79

A couple should attend marriage counseling before they marry.

73

78

72

72

74

Having parents who are divorced is better for children than having parents who are together but unhappy.

71

79

69

82

68

I would be open to dating someone who has been divorced multiple times (assuming we were both single).

49

67

43

52

48

There should be a limit on how many times an individual can petition for divorce.

43

37

45

42

43

Note: Percentages may not add up exactly to 100% due to rounding


TABLE 7

EXPERIENCE WITH DIVORCE

Summary by Region and Generation

Which of the following, if any, describe you? Please select all that apply.

Base: U.S. Adults

Total

Region

Acceptable to Americans

Personally Acceptable

East

Midwest

South

West

Yes

No

Yes

No

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

I have friends or family who have been divorced.

67

65

66

66

72

68

56

66

68

My parents divorced when I was a child (under the age of 18).

20

15

18

20

27

20

19

21

19

I have been divorced once.

17

16

21

16

17

18

9

22

10

I have been divorced more than once.

7

7

5

9

8

8

5

11

3

I have or am considering divorce.

5

5

2

5

6

5

5

6

2

My parents divorced when I was an adult (18 or older).

4

3

3

7

3

5

1

4

5

None of these

18

20

18

17

16

16

30

14

22

Decline to answer

1

1

1

2

1

1

3

2

1

 

Methodology

This Harris Poll was conducted online, in English, within the United States between December 10 and 15, 2014 among 2,255 adults (aged 18 and over). Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online.

All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, The Harris Poll avoids the words margin of error as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.

Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Poll surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the adult population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in our panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

These statements conform to the principles of disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

The results of this Harris Poll may not be used in advertising, marketing or promotion without the prior written permission of The Harris Poll.

Product and brand names are trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective owners.

The Harris Poll® #14, February 25, 2015

By Hannah Pollack, Harris Poll Research Analyst