Sunday, December 17, 2000

Children of divorce try to avert it

By Richelle Thompson
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Everyone's heard the harrowing statistic that 50 percent of marriages end in divorce. Few realize the reality: divorce is on a downswing.

        And in Hamilton County, it's dropped nearly in half in the last 20 years.

        Part of the reason: fewer people are getting married in the first place.

        Another major cause, experts say, is that waiting later to marry bodes better for the success of the relationship. Teen marriages are the most at-risk for divorce.

        An Enquirer analysis found teen marriages in Hamilton County fell 85 percent since 1979. Only 64 of 7,794 marriages last year were between brides and grooms 15 to 19 years old.

        Furthermore, brides and grooms are an average of 4 1/2 years older in 1999 than two decades ago.

        People today are securing better education and job security before marriage, says Dr. David Popenoe, a sociology professor and co-director of the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University in New York.

        “People who are better educated tend to stay married,” he says.

        Dr. Popenoe sees another positive trend: Young people in recent surveys rate marriage highly and say they value it. They're uncertain whether they can actually achieve a healthy married relationship, but they want it, he says.

        Still, Dr. Popenoe offers a word of caution about the declining divorce rates. He estimates 40 percent of first-marriages will end in divorce. And even though the divorce rate fell 19 percent nationally from 1980 to 1998, it's still 31 percent higher than in 1970.

        Sheer numbers of divorces are adding up. In 1998, 11 million women and 8.3 million men were divorced — twice as many as in 1980.

        When Craig Abercrombie and Traci Peters were growing up in Colerain Township, almost all their friends had divorced parents. So did Traci.

        The experience makes Traci view marriage differently.

        “It was scary. My mom and I have very similar qualities,” says Traci, 26. The two women look alike. They were born on the same date, and they're both nurses. “It was very scary to think I could follow her footsteps.”

        Traci and her generation are the children of divorce, and their fear of it part of the reason young adults delay marriage, experts say.

        “Most children of divorce say something closer to, "It was a terrible experience. I don't want to go through it (as an adult), and I don't want my children to go through it,'” says Maggie Gallagher, co-author of the book, The Case for Marriage, published in October.

        Adults in their 20s and 30s grew up during the height of divorce, the early 1980s. Fewer children have experienced an environment of successful marriages, and consequently, some may lose confidence in their ability to have healthy relationships, Dr. Popenoe says.

        “People are reluctant to make the commitment,” he says. “They're afraid it may somehow backfire.”

        That's a worry for Hanan Yihea, 16 of North Avondale. The child of divorced parents, Hanan says marriage is a priority in life. She wants kids — and says she won't have them unless she's married.

        But she's pessimistic about the chances for a successful marriage.

        “I don't think it'll last, but I hope it would,” Hanan says. “I don't really think No. 1 will last, but No. 2 might work.”

        Fear of divorce didn't keep Traci from marrying Craig last year. It did make her more focused on having a successful marriage.

        “We work it out by talking it out,” says Mrs. Abercrombie.

        Already, they've seen a friend's marriage crumble.

        “It's hard for us to take,” says Mr. Abercrombie, 27. “I thought our generation would be different ... because they had seen what happened with their parents.”


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