Americans marry and divorce more often than almost anyone else in the world.
They walk up the aisle twice as often as the French. In 1992, they also said “I do” at a rate 40 percent more than Germans, 30 percent more than Japanese, 25 percent more than Canadians and 20 percent more than Mexicans.
In fact, according to newly compiled United Nations data, the only people considerably more marriage-happy are Cubans, many of whom are devout Catholics. In 1992, their marriage rate was almost double that of Americans.
Also more likely than Americans to tie the knot, though the difference is slight, are the people of Guam - a mostly Catholic U.S. territory - and Mauritius - a mostly Hindu and Christian island nation off the African coast.
But as the U.N. data and another recent report show, many Americans don’t live happily ever after. Half of their marriages end in divorce. But they don’t give up. Rather, that can-do American spirit takes over and they give it another go.
Nearly half of all U.S. weddings in 1990 were remarriages for one or both partners, according to a report released last week by the Population Reference Bureau, a private nonprofit research group.
So the obvious question is this: Are we hopeless romantics?
“We’re looking for successful marriages,” says Carol De Vita, author of the bureau’s report, entitled “The United States at Mid-Decade.”
“Perhaps other cultures are more tolerant of difficulties in a marriage,” says De Vita. “Our expectations are very high. And when they’re not met, we move on and remarry.”
De Vita says Americans, through movies and advertising, put a lot of emphasis on romance.
David Murray, a social anthropologist, says Americans think of marriage as “an individual choice based on love.”
In contrast, he says more traditional societies view it as a family decision based on economic and social considerations. To them, what’s love got to do with it?
Murray, research director for Stats, a non-profit research group, says American women are more economically independent and thus more capable of leaving a broken marriage.
Also, he says many countries shun divorce, especially those in the Middle East and Latin America where Islam and Catholicism are dominant forces. Consequently, they have a low remarriage rate.
But Murray says Americans are “marrying folk” likely to agree with Samuel Johnson, who once said: “Remarriage, sir, represents the triumph of hope over experience.”
Americans, though, have tempered their marrying impulse in the last few years.
The U.S. marriage rate - the number of marriages for every thousand residents - fell steadily from 10.5 in 1980 to 9.0 in 1993, according to U.N. data compiled by international market analyst Euromonitor.
Similarly, the divorce rate - the number of divorces for every thousand residents - has fallen, from 5.2 in 1980 to 4.6 in 1993.
De Vita says the divorce rate might be stabilizing because couples are waiting longer to marry for the first time, and thus their choices are more likely to be mature and selective.
In addition, Murray notes that baby boomers are starting to hit 50, an age at which divorce becomes less common.
Still, compared to almost everyone else in world, Americans are more likely to trade spouses at some point in their life. The Euromonitor report shows: In Cuba, the world’s marriage hot spot, divorce ends one-fourth of marital unions.
Italy, a Catholic country that is home to the Vatican, has the world’s lowest divorce rate - a mere 0.4 in 1993.
Mexico, another Catholic stronghold, is close behind with a 0.6 divorce rate in 1992. In both Italy and Mexico, less than one-twelfth of marriages ends in divorce.
Lithuania may have the world’s most quarrelsome couples. In 1993, the former Soviet republic had a divorce rate - 5.9 - almost as high as its marriage rate, 6.3.
Sweden is similar, with its unusually low marriage rate nearly eclipsed by its divorce rate.