Recession's silver lining: falling divorce rate

The US divorce rate declined for the first time since 2005, suggesting that more Americans may be sticking with marriage as a financial safety net, according to a new report.

These tough economic times may have at least one positive side effect: they might be encouraging greater family solidarity.

The evidence for this? The US divorce rate fell during the first full year of what might be called the Great Recession. That's the first such decline since 2005.

"Many couples may be rediscovering the long-standing sociological truth that marriage is one of society's best social insurance plans," said W. Bradford Wilcox, a sociology professor and director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, in a new report on the state of US marital unions.

The divorce rate fell 4 percent in 2008 to 16.9 divorces per 1,000 married women, according to Census Bureau data. It had previously been on an upward path, rising from 16.4 divorces per 1,000 married women in 2005 to 17.5 in 2007.

Some couples may be staying together only temporarily. If past trends are any guide, some of the decline in the divorce rate may be due to couples delaying divorce because they cannot afford it, or need the resources of an estranged spouse.

But others may be rediscovering why they got married in the first place. Recession reminds them that marriage can be more than an emotional relationship. It is also an economic partnership and social safety net, points out the National Marriage Project report, "The State of Our Unions 2009".

"There's nothing like the loss of a job, an imminent foreclosure, or a shrinking 401(k) to [help spouses] gain new appreciation for a wife's job, a husband's commitment to pay down debt, or the in-laws' willingness to help out with childcare or a rent-free place to live," according to the report.

However, it is also possible that recession will undercut marriage in working-class communities, the National Marriage Project reports.

That is because lob losses have been concentrated among working-class and poor men. This category has absorbed 75 percent of job losses since 2007.

Working-class husbands who work fewer hours than their wives are 61 percent less likely to report that they are very happy in their marriages, compared to men who work as many or more hours than their spouse.

"Husbands do not like it when they are clearly displaced as the primary breadwinner in their families," notes the National Marriage project.


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