Recession Divorce Rates: Marital Unions Unraveling As Economy Bounces Back?

Fewer couples get divorced in times of economic difficulty, but is that because their marriages are great, or because they're too broke to get divorced?

"The Survey of Marital Generosity," the latest study from the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, seems to suggest that both things may occur in times of national hardship.

Despite previous findings that financial stress tends to weaken marriages, the survey--culled from a nationally representative sample of 1,197 married Americans aged 18 to 45, released earlier this week--found that 29 percent of Americans believe the most recent recession deepened their commitment to marriage. What's more, 38 percent of couples who had been considering divorce prior to the recession put those plans aside.

"Classically one of marriage's core functions was to provide mutual aid to adults in times of need," said the study's author, W. Brad Wilcox. "Sometimes, not always, when couples suffer together they may develop a deeper appreciation for each other and for their marriage."

Still, the reasons couples had for putting divorce aside seem to vary. While 43 percent of Americans with no financial stressors reported their marriages to be "very happy," only 27 percent of those with two to three stressors did the same, which suggests that the couples' decision to stay together during the recession may have as much to do with the financial obstacle divorce presents as it does with learning to work together to preserve their unions.

"In the face of tough times, some couples spiral downwards and other couples prove to be resilient and tough times can make them even stronger," Wilcox said. "There's some evidence at the collective level that everyone is suffering and there's a message in the society that we're facing tough times economically that can paradoxically foster a spirit of solidarity."

"Some people are postponing their divorce until someone can buy their house or they reach some threshold where they can divide some asset and live more comfortably after the divorce," he continued. "As the economy improves we'll see an uptick in divorce--after the great depression there was an uptick in divorce."

That observation is in line with a NPR report which aired yesterday and pointed out that the country is, indeed, experiencing such an uptick as the economy bounces back from recession. Though the divorce rate fell around 7 percent during the recession, as the financial situation eases, unhappy couples are divorcing more readily, NPR reported. One reason for that? The ability to split home assets that were previously unsellable.

Wilcox emphasized that the impact of the recession on marriages involves a complex set of factors: "In most marriages there are ebbs and flows--marriage is a dynamic relationship for anyone," he said "My biggest concern about this recession is that it's only reinforcing this kind of class divide [in marriages]. Americans who've been hardest hit are working class and poor men. It just makes it that much more difficult for these guys and their families to keep it all together."

MORE IN Divorce