A reader question about divorce rates for two subgroups, those with Aspergers and lawyers

Reader Question: “Regarding two specific demographics…if the 50% divorce rate is not true, what about the divorce rates for certain sub groups, like those with Aspergers (may be as high as 80%) or lawyers (60%)? Are those stats true? If they are, does that in comparison to the true divorce percentages make it an event worse, and more discouraging, ratio? If they aren’t true, how would I find information for what IS true?”

Answer from Shaunti and Tally: Here’s what we know and don’t know. It is always possible that we have missed something, but so far we haven’t seen a single actual research project of any kind that has studied specific sub-groups like you mention (attorneys, special needs families, and so on), and has concluded that the divorce rate among those groups is a high number such as 60% or 80%. We, too, have seen those high numbers quoted on many websites and in many talks, magazine articles and blogs, but we have not yet found any that appear legitimate – such as from an organization commissioning a survey to find out the real state of things.

What we have seen are several attempts to estimate how much higher divorce is among such-and-such a group, based on the foundation of a 50% divorce rate. Here’s a hypothetical example: a ministry to families with chronically ill children, or an organization serving recovering alcoholics, might try to estimate divorce numbers starting from 50%. They might reason that if the average rate were 50%, and if caring for chronically ill children or a recovering alcoholic creates an even greater challenge, that those families’ divorce rates might be 80%. But, again, we haven’t yet found a study that has looked at it “from scratch” (so to speak) and found those kinds of numbers.

What we have also seen is several references to studies that found no differences between the subgroups and overall society – and found numbers that are more encouraging, and which match my Good News About Marriage findings more closely. For example, a WebMD article () references a 2010 study of families with autistic children. The researcher concluded that, “In fact what we found is that children with autism remained with both biological or adoptive parents 64% of the time, compared with children in families without autism, who remained [with both biological or adoptive parents] 65% of the time.”

So bottom line, in most cases, we simply don’t know which sub groups truly do have higher divorce rates, and if so, what those are.
What we do know is that, as noted in The Good News About Marriage, the average first-marriage divorce rate overall is probably closer to 20-25% and for all marriages is 31%. There are many factors that reduce divorce rate risk, and others that increase it. Analytically, it would make sense that certain intense challenges would increase divorce rate risks… but it is also possible that those same challenges could make it more likely for a couple to stay together. (For example, in a special-needs family, it is common that despite marital challenges, a couple will stay together for the sake of the child… which then allows them to get past the crisis time and, sometimes at least, move forward in a better way.)

If anyone has seen any actual studies about specific sub groups that they want to share (such as families with special-needs children), I would be interested in seeing them!

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  1. So interesting, Shaunti!

    When my husband and I lost our son, the doctors sat us down and said, “we should let you know that 50% of couples divorce within a year of losing a child.”

    Other than being an extremely stupid and insensitive thing to say, I always wondered how that could even be true. It doesn’t pass the smell test.

    I think a lot of these things don’t pass the smell test–and I’m so glad that your research is giving us firm backing to say that.

    1. I can’t BELIEVE the doctor said that to you! And I am so sorry about you guys losing your son. I can see how you’ve taken that pain and life experience and used it to help others, but so sorry you went through that.

      Yes, we have to get the better info out there, because people -especially in your situation! – need that hope to get through it!

      – Shaunti

  2. I think that intense experiences can absolutely bring a couple together more than drive them apart. I think part of it is the attitude you take towards each other and the family legacy you consciously decide to build. We’ve had a lot of military deployments over our married life and what that has done for us is really forced us to communicate through letters (gives away how long we’ve been married) emails and text messages. Our shared journey through miscarriage, cancer scares, being deployed to war zones etc were very challenging times but have totally enriched our relationship. It’s been a wild road but looking back I wouldn’t change the journey.

  3. I think the question was, “are individuals with Asperger’s Syndrome more likely to divorce than those who are neuro-typical?”
    We have a daughter (16) with Asperger’s who very much hopes to marry and have children some day. I would very much like to help her prepare for a lifelong marriage.

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