Back in 2007, marriages in the United States appeared pretty solid. As the National Marriage Project’s annual “State of Our Unions” report put it, stress from the economic downturn seemed to have made American marriages slightly more stable overall. Lead author Brad Wilcox said that couples had developed a “new appreciation for the economic and social support that marriage can provide in tough times.”
That thought, however, appears to be completely bogus.
University of Maryland sociologist Philip N. Cohen recently published a paper that examined what effects the economy played on the divorce rate in America. There was a drop in divorces during the recession, but Cohen believes this may have occurred because divorce was too expensive — not because couples had grown stronger during those stressful economic times.
Cohen came to this theory after analyzing divorce statistics from 2008 to 2011. He noted that divorces per 1000 married women dropped from 2008 to 2009, but began rebounding in 2010. He says this suggests that as the economy improved, so did the divorce rates.
“History shows that fluctuations in divorce rates resulting from changing economic conditions may reflect the timing of divorce more than the odds of divorce,” he said.
Johns Hopkins University sociologist Andrew Cherlin agrees. He notes, “This is exactly what happened in the 1930s. The divorce rate dropped during the Great Depression not because people were happier with their marriages, but because they couldn’t afford to get divorced.”
That said, these facts are not set in stone as there are some conflicting data points as well as additional factors involved. Cohen’s study found that unemployment had no apparent effect on divorce rates, but there is prior research claiming the opposite. Cohen also found that divorces for college graduates seemed to decline in times of joblessness, but statewide foreclosures pushed up divorce rates within this same group.
As Pew Research Center senior writer D’Vera Cohn told The Times, “There still is a mystery. It is enormously tempting to say that bad economic times made that happen, but this new paper concludes that the jury is still out.”