Is recession good for marriage?

A new study says economic hard times keep more couples together, but the current recovery is releasing pent-up demand for divorce.

By Bruce Kennedy Nov 16, 2012 1:36PM
Bride and groom arm in arm, smiling, high angle view, portrait -- BLOOM image, BLOOMimage, Getty ImagesA new report says there is indeed something to what many people have sensed to be true lately: Recent financial hard times have kept divorce rates down.

According to a new Marquette University study, fewer American couples got divorced during the Great Recession -- and U.S. divorce rates actually decreased starting in early 2008 as the economic crisis deepened.

The study, scheduled to be released next year, looked at data from 45 states and found that, from 1978 to 2009, a higher level of disposable income indicated a higher incidence of divorce. Between 2005 and 2007, the divorce rate rose from 16.4 to 17.5 per 1,000 married women. But starting in 2008, the rate dipped to 16.9 per 1,000.

"The rate of decrease accelerated during this current recession," says Marquette economics professor Abdur Chowdhury, who conducted the study. "The drop was more significant than we have seen in previous recessions."

The average cost of a divorce is estimated at around $15,000. And Chowdhury says fewer jobs, high unemployment and reductions in martial assets such as homes have forced some couples to stay together.

"While we heard some anecdotal evidence of this during the recession, this study shows statistically how economic crises impact marriage and family, as well as glimpses into why," he says.

At the same time, according to the study, the divorce rate is once again moving higher as the economy recovers. And this isn't just an American phenomenon. Attorneys in Britain are reportedly bracing for a surge in new divorce cases as couples there once again find their financial footing.

 "As the economic outlook got progressively dimmer, fears about job security and concerns over the ability to sell property saw many couples postponing their divorce plans," Manchester-based attorney Catherine Jones recently told The Telegraph.

"Few, however, predicted that this would be the longest recession for 50 years, and for many the ongoing gloom proved miserable enough without having to deal with a marriage on the rocks. This recession-weariness has led to a steady rise in divorce proceedings in the last 12 months which is now set to gather pace with the economic recovery."

"When a couple decides to postpone divorce due to a recession," notes Chowdhury, "it does not usually mean their desire to ultimately split is reduced. For some couples, recessions actually stoke demand for divorce, even as they make it more difficult to achieve."

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