Americans Show Surprisingly Conservative Attitudes About Divorce

By Harris, Special for  USDR

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. (Full results, including data tables, available  here)

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).

To see other recent Harris Polls, please visit the Harris Poll News  Room.

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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.

All opinions expressed on USDR are those of the author and not necessarily those of US Daily Review.