The States With the Most (and Least) Divorces

May 15, 2015 by Thomas C. Frohlich

Bride and groom figurines standing on two separated slices of wedding cake The status of relationships across the United States is difficult to reduce to a data set. Partnership is an intensely personal matter and marriage, a legal recognition of partnership, is a major life event. Not all marriages last forever, however, and a large segment of the American population are forced to experience the extremely unpleasant personal and economic consequences of breaking ties with a spouse.

There were 2,131,000 marriages in 2012, or 6.8 per 1,000 Americans. That year, there were also 851,000 divorces and annulments, or 3.4 per 1,000 Americans. From 2000, the incidence of both marriage and divorce has declined gradually.

Roughly 48% of Americans over the age of 15 were married in 2013, while 11% were divorced. Residents of some states are more likely to be divorced than those in others. Based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, 14.6% of Maine residents were divorced — the highest percentage nationwide, while just 8.7% of New York and New Jersey residents were divorced, tied for the lowest percentage. These are the states where the most (and fewest) people are divorced.

Click here to see the states where the most people are divorced.

Click here to see the states where the fewest people are divorced.

While marriage has become the ultimate sign of mutual love and companionship for many Americans, choosing a spouse is also an economic decision, for better or for worse. Combined incomes can empower families and improve living standards. Financial considerations are an incentive to get married and stay together. According to Leora Friedberg, professor of economics at the University of Virginia, “People stay married if there’s something to gain, [something] to share from the marriage.”

On the other hand, low incomes and the associated financial challenges can make marriages more difficult and increase the likelihood of divorce.

Indeed, states with low incomes and higher poverty rates tend to have higher shares of divorced residents. All 10 of the states with the highest divorce rates have median household incomes below the national median. Of the 10 states where divorced people make up the smallest share of the population, nine had median incomes above the national median. Friedberg explained that this may have to do with increased stress levels on families with low income.

She added that low-income married households simply have less to mutually benefit from, and this may result in higher divorce rates. She explained: “When income is low and wealth is low, there’s just not going to be as much for the couple to share, and there’s less value to staying together.” For wealthier couples, marital status can be far more lucrative.

The decision to get married is often closely tied to the decision to have children. Similarly, the presence of children plays a major role in most couples’ decision to get divorced. The states with the largest shares of divorcees were generally less likely to live in households with children, while the opposite was generally true for the states with the lowest percentages of divorced residents. The percentage of family households with children under 18 did not exceed the national figure of 43.4% in seven of the 10 states with the highest shares of divorcees.

Another factor that affects the number of divorced people in each state is how many people get married in the first place. In some cases, the sheer number of marriages in a state impact the share of a state’s divorcees more than the circumstances that lead to failing marriages. States where more people get married tend to have more divorced people. All 10 of the states where the most people are divorced had higher-than-average shares of the population that had been married at least once. Of the 10 states with the fewest divorced people, all but two had below-average marriage rates.

To identity the states where the most (and fewest) people are divorced, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the percentages of each state’s population over the age of 15 who were divorced from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2013 American Community Survey (ACS). The percentage of state residents currently married, separated, and who had never married in each year between 2005 and 2013, in addition to relationship data by age cohort, also came from the ACS. Socioeconomic factors such as household median incomes, poverty rates, and educational attainment rates are as of 2014 and came from the ACS. Annual 2014 unemployment rates were provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It is important to note that this figure is not the traditional divorce rate, which measures the number of divorces in a given year, relative to the number of new marriages. Instead, our rank measures the total number of individuals who are divorced. These data do not capture individuals who were divorced and remarried that year.

These are the states with the largest (and smallest) divorced populations.

States With the Largest Divorced Populations

11. Tennessee
> Pct. population divorced: 12.7%
> Median household income: $44,297 (9th lowest)
> Pct. never married: 29.2% (12th lowest)
> Pct. with bachelor’s degree: 24.8% (10th lowest)

Among Tennessee’s population over age 15, 12.7% were divorced, tied for the 10th-highest percentage in the nation. The percentage of the population that was divorced has remained effectively unchanged from 2005, while the percentage of state residents who were married has fallen from 2005. Tennessee residents are less well off financially compared to most states. A typical household earned $44,297 annually, the 9th-lowest median household income in the country. As in most states with especially high divorce rates, lower incomes in Tennessee increase the likelihood of stressful financial burdens, which in turn can make relationships more challenging.

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10. Indiana
> Pct. population divorced: 12.7%
> Median household income: $47,529 (17th lowest)
> Pct. never married: 30.2% (17th lowest)
> Pct. with bachelor’s degree: 23.8% (9th lowest)

Indiana is tied with Tennessee for having the 10th largest percentage of its population currently divorced. States where more adults get married are more likely to see higher divorce rates, and Indiana is no exception. Nationally, 33.1% of adults were never married, compared to 30.2% of adults in Indiana. Divorce is often associated with to higher rates of depression and, according to a recent Gallup poll, Indiana had the 11th-highest rate of adults experiencing depression regularly.

9. Montana
> Pct. population divorced: 12.9%
> Median household income: $46,972 (15th lowest)
> Pct. never married: 28.3% (7th lowest)
> Pct. with bachelor’s degree: 29.0% (21st highest)

While states with the largest divorced populations tended to have lower-than-average educational attainment rates, nearly 93% of Montana adults had at least a high school diploma, the third-highest rate nationwide. As in most states with relatively high divorce rates, marriage is more common in Montana. Nearly 72% of Montana residents were either divorced or currently married as of last year, versus 66.9% nationwide.

8. Oregon
> Pct. population divorced: 13.1%
> Median household income: $50,251 (23rd lowest)
> Pct. never married: 30.3% (19th lowest)
> Pct. with bachelor’s degree: 30.7% (18th highest)

Income appears to influence the long-term success of marriage. Oregon’s median income of $50,251 was still below the national figure of $52,230 but above most of the states with large divorced populations. Oregon’s share of divorcees was even higher among older adults. Over 21% of residents aged 55 to 64 were divorced, compared to 18.2% of all Americans in that age group. Mental illness appears to be connected to higher divorce rates, and this may have been a factor for Oregon in particular. Nearly one out of four adults reported having some form of mental illness, the highest rate in the country.

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7. Kentucky
> Pct. population divorced: 13.1%
> Median household income: $43,399 (5th lowest)
> Pct. never married: 28.0% (5th lowest)
> Pct. with bachelor’s degree: 22.6% (6th lowest)

Nearly 13% of Americans aged 35 to 44 were divorced. In Kentucky, 17% of residents in that age cohort were divorced, the fourth-highest percentage nationwide. Older Americans, between 55 and 64 years old, were the most likely cohort to be divorced, with 18.2% reporting divorced marital status. As in most states with high numbers of divorced residents, more than one in five Kentucky adults in that age group were divorced, also one of the highest proportions nationwide. Financial burdens may have made relationships more challenging for many families in Kentucky — a typical household earned $43,399 annually, nearly the lowest household median income nationwide.

6. Florida
> Pct. population divorced: 13.1%
> Median household income: $46,036 (12th lowest)
> Pct. never married: 31.4% (22nd lowest)
> Pct. with bachelor’s degree: 27.2% (21st lowest)

For the most part, states with high marriage rates also have more divorcees, relative to their populations. In Florida, this was not so much of a factor. Just 68.6% of the population reported being either currently or previously married. In most of the states with large divorced populations, at least 70% of adults were married at some point. One factor that may have contributed to the Sunshine State’s higher incidence of divorce is the effect low income may have had on marriages. Florida had an above-average poverty rate and a median income below the national figure.

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5. West Virginia
> Pct. population divorced: 13.2%
> Median household income: $41,253 (3rd lowest)
> Pct. never married: 28.1% (6th lowest)
> Pct. with bachelor’s degree: 18.9% (the lowest)

Cutting ties with a spouse is often a very difficult process for all involved, and many couples wait years before resorting to divorce. Less than 4% of Americans between ages 20 and 34 were divorced, the lowest percentage compared to other age groups. In West Virginia, however, 6.6% of residents age 20 to 34 were divorced, the second highest after only Arkansas. Low incomes in West Virginia, perhaps especially among the state’s younger residents, may have contributed to greater financial stress and thus a higher incidence of divorce. West Virginia had a median household income of $41,253, the third lowest in the country. Fewer than 19% of adults in the state had at least a bachelor’s degree, the lowest percentage nationwide, and a likely contributor to low incomes. In addition, many unhappy couples choose not to divorce for the sake of their children. West Virginia households were the least likely to have children — just 37% were home to related children under 18.

4. Arkansas
> Pct. population divorced: 13.3%
> Median household income: $40,511 (2nd lowest)
> Pct. never married: 27.8% (3rd lowest)
> Pct. with bachelor’s degree: 20.6% (3rd lowest)

More people get married in Arkansas than almost any other state, relative to its population. In the U.S., 66.9% of the population had been married at some point. In Arkansas, 72.2% of residents had been married, the third-highest rate in the country. However, because so many people have been divorced in the state, the percentage of people still married was just 49.9%, which is close to the national average. Low income can cause stress on a marriage, and Arkansas is one of the states where money is most likely a factor. The state had the second-lowest median income in the country, at $40,511, compared to a national median of $52,250.

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3. Oklahoma
> Pct. population divorced: 13.4%
> Median household income: $45,690 (10th lowest)
> Pct. never married: 27.9% (4th lowest)
> Pct. with bachelor’s degree: 23.8% (9th lowest)

Oklahoma residents were more likely to be married than residents of most other states. And, like other states with high marriage rates, Oklahoma also had a higher share of divorces. Fewer than 28% of adults in the state had never married, nearly the lowest percentage nationwide. Similarly, while nearly 64% of Americans aged 20 to 34 had never married, just 52.3% of Oklahomans in that age group had never married, also nearly the lowest rate. Partly as a result, the percentage of residents aged 20 to 34 who were divorced — 6.5% — was considerably higher than the comparable national rate of 3.8%.

2. Nevada
> Pct. population divorced: 13.6%
> Median household income: $51,230 (25th lowest)
> Pct. never married: 32.5% (19th highest)
> Pct. with bachelor’s degree: 22.5% (5th lowest)

People are less likely to get married in Nevada than in most other states. Just 45.9% of the population was currently married, tied with Florida for the sixth-smallest percentage in the country. The rate of people getting married is so low makes the number of divorces in the state. Nevadans are less likely to remarry — 17.1% of the state’s residents 65 and older were divorced, the highest figure nationwide and far higher than the just 12.5% of the nation’s senior citizens.

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1. Maine
> Pct. population divorced: 14.6%
> Median household income: $46,974 (16th lowest)
> Pct. never married: 28.5% (8th lowest)
> Pct. with bachelor’s degree: 28.2% (25th highest)

No state had a larger share of divorces than Maine, where 14.6% of residents 15 and over were divorced. Maine residents were also more likely to get married than most other Americans, which likely increased the probability of divorce overall. Also, like most states with large divorced populations, Maine’s median household income of $46,974 was one of the lower figures in the nation. Low incomes may increase financial burdens and lower the mutual advantages for married couples, both of which contribute to a higher incidence of divorce. Households with children are generally more stable, as unhappy parents frequently stave off the decision to divorce for the sake of their children. In Maine, just over 37% of households had children, lower than in every other state except for West Virginia.

Click here to see the states where the fewest people are divorced.

The States With the Smallest Divorced Populations

10. Maryland
> Pct. population divorced: 10.0%
> Median household income: $72,483 (the highest)
> Pct. never married: 35.3% (5th highest)
> Pct. with bachelor’s degree: 37.4% (3rd highest)

One in 10 Maryland residents over 15 years old were divorced, the 10th lowest such proportion nationwide. A range of factors contributed to the relatively low incidence of divorce in the state, including high incomes, which often strengthen the mutual benefits for married couples and reduce the likelihood of financial stress. Maryland’s median household income of $72,483 was the highest in the nation. State residents are also less likely to be married than most Americans, which of course lowers the likelihood of divorce.

9. California
> Pct. population divorced: 9.7%
> Median household income: $60,190 (10th highest)
> Pct. never married: 36.8% (2nd highest)
> Pct. with bachelor’s degree: 31.0% (17th highest)

In California, 36.8% of the state’s population had never been married, higher than every state in the country except New York. It is not too surprising, then, that less than 10% of the state’s population aged 15 or older was divorced. Many take issue with “no-fault” divorce, a policy California was the first state to adopt. No-fault divorce allows residents the option to claim divorce without any specific wrongdoing on the part of their spouse. While it was the first state to adopt this policy, California still has fewer divorced people relative to its population than most other states. Less than 10% of California’s population was divorced.

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8. Illinois
> Pct. population divorced: 9.7%
> Median household income: $56,210 (17th highest)
> Pct. never married: 34.9% (6th highest)
> Pct. with bachelor’s degree: 32.1% (13th highest)

Americans aged 55 to 64 are the most likely to be divorced. However, while 18.2% of Americans in this age group were divorced, only 16% of Illinois residents in that cohort were, a lower percentage than all but a handful of other states. Nearly 35% of Illinois adults had never married, the sixth-highest percentage in the nation, as well as a contributing factor to the relatively low incidence of divorce in the state.

7. Pennsylvania
> Pct. population divorced: 9.7%
> Median household income: $52,007 (22nd highest)
> Pct. never married: 33.6% (13th highest)
> Pct. with bachelor’s degree: 28.7% (22nd highest)

A relatively small percentage of Pennsylvania’s population was divorced. This is true across all age groups, but particularly true among its senior citizens. Just 10.4% of Pennsylvania residents aged 65 or older were divorced. In contrast, a nation-leading 17% of senior citizens in Nevada were divorced. Higher incomes in states generally correspond to lower divorce rates for a variety of reasons. Pennsylvania’s median income of $52,007, however — while not extremely low — was just below the national median of $52,250, and also lower than every other state with a high proportion of divorced adults.

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6. Massachusetts
> Pct. population divorced: 9.5%
> Median household income: $66,768 (6th highest)
> Pct. never married: 36.3% (3rd highest)
> Pct. with bachelor’s degree: 40.3% (the highest)

As in most states with small divorced populations, Massachusetts’ median household income of $66,768 was one of the highest figures nationwide. High incomes help increase the mutual advantages available to married couples, and likely prevent stressful financial burdens, which often add challenges to maintaining a relationship. Massachusetts families with children were perhaps among the least likely groups to divorce. The median household income for families with children was $85,356, the highest in the country. State residents were also exceptionally well educated. More than 40% of adults had at least a bachelor’s degree, the highest rate nationwide.

5. Hawaii
> Pct. population divorced: 9.4%
> Median household income: $68,020 (4th highest)
> Pct. never married: 33.3% (16th highest)
> Pct. with bachelor’s degree: 31.2% (15th highest)

Hawaii is just one of a handful of states that has had a slight decline in divorce rates over the most recent decade. In 2005, 9.5% of the population was divorced. As of 2013, the most recent available year of data, 9.4% of Hawaiian adults were divorced. In some states, the rate has increased over that time by one percentage point or more. Hawaii has many of the indicators often closely related to lower rates of divorce. The state had a median household income of $68,020, the fourth-highest in the country. It had the fifth-lowest poverty rate as well, at just 10.8%, compared to 15.8% nationally. These relatively strong economic factors may have reduced the likelihood of marital conflicts in Hawaii.

4. North Dakota
> Pct. population divorced: 9.4%
> Median household income: $55,759 (19th highest)
> Pct. never married: 32.2% (20th highest)
> Pct. with bachelor’s degree: 27.1% (20th lowest)

North Dakota residents in nearly all age groups were less likely than their peers in other states to get divorced. However, 20% of residents 45 to 54 were divorced, the 12th highest such figure nationwide and especially high compared to other states on this list. This may be partly due to the fact that just 1% of the population aged 45 to 54 were separated, an exceptionally low figure. Nearly 52% of North Dakotans were married — excluding separated couples — one of the highest percentages in the country. Just 60.4% of households were considered families, however, the lowest such percentage in the nation. Extremely favorable economic conditions largely account for the low incidence of divorce. Less than 3% of the state’s workforce was unemployed in 2014, the lowest jobless rate nationwide.

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3. Utah
> Pct. population divorced: 9.4%
> Median household income: $59,770 (11th highest)
> Pct. never married: 29.4% (13th lowest)
> Pct. with bachelor’s degree: 31.3% (14th highest)

Given it’s highly religious population, it would not surprise most to learn that no state has more married people relative to its population than Utah. Nearly 56% of Utah residents 15 or older were married, compared to Louisiana, the state with the lowest rate, where just 43.8% of adults were married. Higher rates of marriage tend to result in a higher volume of divorces, so it is remarkable that Utah has one of the lowest divorce rates in the country. One factor keeping the divorce rate so low may be the prevalence of families children in the state. Nationwide, 43.4% of families had children under the age of 18 living at home. In Utah, 52% of family households had at least one child living with them, more than any other state by a wide margin. Couples may be dissuaded from separating because of the emotional trauma they risk afflicting upon their children.

2. New Jersey
> Pct. population divorced: 8.7%
> Median household income: $70,165 (3rd highest)
> Pct. never married: 34.2% (10th highest)
> Pct. with bachelor’s degree: 36.6% (5th highest)

It may be no coincidence that New Jersey had both the lowest percentage of divorces — 8.7%, tied with New York — as well as the highest concentration of marriage and family therapists, at 45.7 per 100,000 residents. New Jersey also had the lowest incidences of mental illness and depression, which may have reduced the likelihood of marital conflicts. The median income among New Jersey families with children was $85,248, second only to Massachusetts. Wealthy households with children are among the least likely to experience divorce.

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1. New York
> Pct. population divorced: 8.7%
> Median household income: $57,369 (16th highest)
> Pct. never married: 38.3% (the highest)
> Pct. with bachelor’s degree: 34.1% (9th highest)

New York is tied with its neighbor, New Jersey, for the lowest percentage of divorces in the country. At least part of this likely has to do with how few New Yorkers opt to get married in the first place. Only 61.7% of New Yorkers, a national low, were either currently married or divorced, compared to 66.9% of all Americans aged 15 or older. New York’s younger couples were even less likely to be divorced than other residents. Just 2% of the state’s 20 to 34 year olds were divorced, compared to states like Arkansas, where more than 6% of that age group was divorced — the highest rate nationwide. This may be because people do not get married as early in New York — less than one quarter of state residents aged 20 to 34 were married. Nationwide, more than 30.5% of Americans age 20 to 34 were currently married.

Click here to see the states where the most people are divorced.