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The TomKat Split: Divorce in America by the Numbers

The tabloids would have you believe that serial marriage — and divorce — is the norm, but the most recent Census figures paint a rosier picture of marriage in America

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AFP / Getty Images

Katie Holmes and Tom Cruise arrive at the Vanity Fair Oscar party for the 84th annual Academy Awards on Feb. 26, 2012, in West Hollywood, Calif.

You may have noticed that Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes are getting divorced. Their marital liquidation was preceded by news of another: Dominique Strauss Kahn, former head of the IMF and former defendant in a sexual assault case, was reportedly being left by his hitherto supernaturally loyal wife, Anne Sinclair.

The two men have something in common; or rather, the two departing women have something in common: they’re both third wives.

While Holmes’ divorce filing apparently blindsided Mr Cruise, who was away on location filming a movie, neither split was all that unexpected. It’s not just because celebrity magazines have been predicting a TomKat rupture since the day their wedding vows were uttered, or that, you know, Mr. Strauss Kahn was a cheat. It’s because third marriages break up more often than first or second unions.

(MORE: Planning a Vacation…With Your Ex-Spouse?)

There’s a figure floating around the Internet that some 70% of third marriages fail, but the real numbers tell a slightly different story. It’s also commonly agreed that about half of all marriages fall apart, but while true, that stat also doesn’t tell the full story.

Overall, divorce rates are actually falling. And among the well-educated and wealthy who marry after the age of 26, they’re falling quite dramatically. The vast majority of American marriages between two people like Cruise and Holmes make it to the 10-year mark. (Theirs lasted six.) About 30% of people in Cruise’s demographic — white American men between the ages of 40 and 49 (Cruise’s age when Holmes filed for divorce) — have ever been divorced, according to the most recent (2009) Census figures. And half of them had remarried. About 12% of those guys had then divorced again. That is, 24% of fortysomething white guys’ second marriages had failed.

Which brings us to third marriages, after which point the Census stops counting. It feels like a lot of people are in — or leaving — their third marriage (hello, Kelsey Grammer!), but they aren’t. Cruise’s case is quite unusual (even apart from his weird superstar-stinking-rich-Scientologist combo). Only about 3.4% of Cruise’s age-race cohort have been married three times or more, according to the Census. And about 0.9% of them were divorced. So, although not many white guys in their 40s have married three times or more, more than a quarter of the ones who have, get divorced again.

(MORE: Do Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes Disagree on Religion for Suri?)

This may be grim news for the next Mrs. Cruise. For Ms. Holmes, however, the outlook is somewhat rosier: only 17% of women in Katie’s cohort, white women between the ages of 30 and 34 have ever been divorced. Nine percent of her ilk have been married twice. And almost 8% of women that age are still married to their second spouses. So about 90% of those marriages are surviving. She’s young, she’s professionally successful, she’s wealthy, she’s got a very cute kid. The numbers are on her side.

Suri may be the one we  have to watch out for. Kids whose parents cycle in and out of too many relationships have a higher chance of getting divorced themselves; they also have a lower chance of getting through college and face a whole bunch of other unfortunate life outcomes. Some of this, though, is connected to poverty. If all of the fine legal minds that will be pressed into service on the Cruise-Holmes divorce case do their job responsibly, Suri shouldn’t have to worry about that.

16 comments
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WilsonFrederick
WilsonFrederick

 Let marriage be held in

honor (esteemed worthy, precious, of great price, and especially dear)

in all things. And thus let the marriage bed be undefiled (kept

undishonored); for God will judge and punish the unchaste [all guilty of sexual vice] and adulterous.HEBREWS13:4

Talendria
Talendria

I'm guessing a lot of people can't afford to get divorced.  Lawyers are expensive, and the housing market is still underwater in a lot of communities.  If you can't live on what you've got, you definitely can't live on half of what you've got.

Rick
Rick

You could get a divorce online, depending on the circumstances.  Totally know where you're coming from though!

Franklin Gray
Franklin Gray

Could you write a more convoluted, twisting the numbers crap?  It's like the "My sister's brother's friend knew a guy who had a sex change, so it's pretty common" type of logic.  Straight up common sense fact is, if you've been married 3 times, there is a good chance people find you hard to live with, if not get along with.  Also, with how the laws are written these days, women use divorce to punish the man (women file 80% of divorce papers) who does something they don't like.  Sad fact is, women make decisions mostly based on emotions and with the laws making divorce so easy, it's no wonder why couples find it hard to stay together.  BUT, women do make up 50+ % of the population, so if that's what they want, that's what they get in this country.

See Elle Oh
See Elle Oh

I would like to see the numbers upon which you base your hypothesis that "women use divorce to punish the man...who does something they don't like". Excuse my ignorance, but having never seen divorce papers, I was unaware that one could list the reason for divorce as "to get back at him for never taking out the trash" or "to stick it to him for always leaving the toilet seat up". I'm assuming, if the options aren't that specific, then at least there's at least something akin to "I'm a heinous, emotion-fueled wench who wants to punish my husband." Right? I'm guessing you've got some statistics on how many women check that box when filing for divorce. Because, someone like you has got to basing his statements on the cold hard facts. And not, oh, I don't know...his own prejudices, hangups, preconceptions, bruised ego, life experiences and — good heavens, say it ain't so — emotions!

Virender Singh Rawat
Virender Singh Rawat

 suggest you replace the word "emotions' in the sixth line with "hormones"

See Elle Oh
See Elle Oh

Suggest you change your name to "Chauvinist Moron" before the next Census.

Exploitationist
Exploitationist

The media lies!

Richard_im_Himmel_bei_Gott
Richard_im_Himmel_bei_Gott

 No kidding!  The actual national average for divorce is 50% of 1st marriages, 67% of second marriages, and 74% of third marriages.

Clearly, marriage is unstable, unnatural and unhealthy.

I can't imagine why gay people want to get involved with this trap!

Belinda Luscombe
Belinda Luscombe

 The figures in m this story, while admittedly convoluted are based on census bureau data. I have seen the figures you have cited, but I have not seen them sourced. Did you find the source?

stilllearning2b
stilllearning2b

I am a divorced member of Katie's cohort (white women between 30 and 34) and I have to say that I am surprised at the relatively low 17% that have ever been divorced.  It seems like that demographic makes up a significant percentage of those who talk about divorce online.  Perhaps we're the vocal ones? http://lessonsfromtheendofamar...