So, nothing to worry about then? Not exactly.
It may surprise readers of the NYT, or nerdy consumers of pop-quant articles in general, but marriage is supposed to produce children, who are to be raised by the parents. The integrity of the spousal relationship is not really that important -- sure, falling divorce rates among childless spouses makes society and its institutions look a little less flaky, but childless couples are not being put to much of a test (have kids and find out why). When a group is not being tested, we cannot infer much about what they're like. Who's more athletic and who's less athletic -- you need to run them through an obstacle course to find out.
To reiterate an earlier post as a reminder, children growing up without both parents in the home has become an increasingly common phenomenon, starting with those born circa 1960, whose parents would have divorced sometime in the '70s. This has continued at least through those born circa 1990, although unfortunately we won't have the data in on later cohorts for awhile.
The timing of the trend, starting around the mid-'70s and continuing steadily upward after that, links it to the status-striving and inequality cycle. Parents who put their individual happiness above the integrity of their own family -- including the welfare of those helpless little things known as children -- is a clear sign of the Me Generation's break from norms of social accommodation and toward socially laissez-faire norms.
The NYT author devotes a whole clause (not even a full sentence) to the broken homes phenomenon at the very end of the article, even though that's what worries most folks about divorce -- its effects on children. The commenters were more likely to bring the topic up, not to point out how absent it had been from the article, but simply because normal people associate marriage with children, and don't need to be prompted to bring up family dynamics in the context of marriage and divorce.
What is keeping today's marriages together, then? The article reviews several factors, all of which stem from the status-striving behavior of the spouses -- late marriage (gotta establish your career first), birth control (kids get in the way of your career), and modern dual-earner households (two incomes are better than one).
The article also mentions that the falling divorce rates are mostly concentrated among married couples higher up on the class pyramid, while lower status couples are just about as likely to divorce as they were at the peak divorce rate circa 1980. That follows from the status-striving explanation -- upwardly mobile strivers are the ones who marry late, rely on birth control, have fewer / no children, and form dual-breadwinner households.
Perhaps the most direct explanation of why upwardly mobile strivers stick out their bumpy marriages comes from a crass transplant to DC (where else?), in the comments. She's the wife:
Sometimes the downs are so severe and so prolonged that I want to pack my bags and run away. I don't - partly due to my own maturity, partly due to an intensely stubborn unwillingness to fail - but also because we can't afford to live apart without sacrificing everything we've worked for. Together, we do OK but apart, neither one of us makes enough money to live the way we do. I often wonder what would happen if we hit the lottery jackpot during one of the down periods.
A sympathetic follow-up to that comment:
In cities like New York and San Francisco, where a two-bedroom apartment can easily cost $4,000/month and a beer is often $6, even a couple making $200,000/year would face a dramatic change in their living standards if they spit up.
Now it all comes out: marriage for the striver class is primarily a cynical business arrangement calculated to maximize the individual's standard of living. For those components that are private goods, the striver doesn't need marriage -- he can squander his own dough on an expensive personal gadget, and she can rack up her own debt on expensive shoes and handbags.
But then there are the collective goods and services where economies of scale can be exploited. The people you're trying to impress don't really mind if your house or apartment is occupied solely by you, or you plus your spouse (plus any kids you may have). So why not cohabit and then marry someone who can double the amount going to rent or the mortgage? If you're swimming in old money, you don't need to lower yourself to marriage to accomplish this, but if you're a striver, you're going to have to pool resources with a housemate (as a bonus, a housemate who you occasionally have sex with).
At the high end, doubling the budget will have diminishing marginal returns for how impressive the purchase is -- a Manhattan penthouse that costs $20 million vs. $10 million. Strivers can't aim that high, though. They're thinking more like going from a $250K house to a $500K house, or making the jump from a $500K house to a million-dollar house. Those gains are dramatic, and you get more than you pay for. Double your budget, but enjoy ten times the status boost.
There is also a quantum leap effect, where pooling resources allows you to clear a threshold of visibility and respectability. A single striver can't clear the threshold for owning a half-million-dollar house, but two strivers pooling resources could. A single striver can't afford the upscale refrigerator or the Viking range stove or the fully equipped home theater system, but two teaming up together could.
True, the individual could afford a quarter-million-dollar house, an older model refrigerator and stove, a 30-inch TV without audiophile surround sound or rows of club chairs, but c'mon, who's going to be impressed by that stuff? That individual is not merely less visible or respectable in the status contest, they are invisible and pitiful. Pooling resources allows two invisible and pitiful individuals to form a household that clears the threshold of visibility and respectability (plus that occasional roll in the hay).
What other "club goods" fall under this pattern? Those are goods and services that are excludable (the household excludes those outside of the household from enjoying them), but are not rivalrous among those using them within the household (one spouse's use doesn't really subtract from the other spouse's use).
For goods, there's the residential building itself and its real estate location, landscaping and architecture outside the house (fence, porch, patio, deck, yard, trees, bushes, flowers, etc.), the large kitchen appliances, dining room furniture, living room furniture, the TV, bathroom furnishings (sink, vanity, toilet, shower / bathtub), bedroom furnishings (bed, dresser, walk-in closet -- husband doesn't own enough clothes to rival his wife's use of that space), and on and on.
For services, there's the bills for housekeeping and cleaning (wife works too much), the bills for yard maintenance and home repairs (husband works too much), child care if they have kids (wife works), goods and services they provide to their kids, utilities, and media access (cable, internet, maybe a phone line).
Other infrequent luxury goods and services include the wedding, hosting parties, travel and vacations. Pooling resources allows a quantum leap here as well. The wedding is way more awesome than your friends' weddings. A couple can successfully host a party through division of labor vs. an individual being overwhelmed and unable to pull it off. And a couple can share a cab ride to the airport, perhaps get a couple's discount on the plane tickets, share a room, share cab rides at the vacation site, and so on and so forth.
Married people also get tax benefits, but those are on the back of the minds of most strivers. They're mostly thinking about all the awesome new stuff they can own and experience, not a somewhat lower amount to enter on their tax return once a year.
Marriages are as fragile as ever among the lower majority of society, while it has become more stable among the elites mostly because they're desperate to climb the status pyramid, realize that it's easier / possible at all to do this by pooling resources, and fear the loss of material and immaterial standard of living if they were to divorce and give up their tag team / power couple benefits.
Meanwhile, parents are only more and more likely to break up a family, and let their offspring fend for themselves in the aftermath.
Analysts, especially if they're pseudo-cons or quasi-libertarians, have fooled themselves into fixating on marital stability per se, isolating it apart from the larger gestalt of which it is a piece, and ignoring the purpose of marriage, which is creating a family. When they zoom in on the divorce rate by itself, they see only reasons to be sanguine about recent trends and near-term prospects. But anyone who sees the bigger picture has plenty to be worried about.