As more American families are climbing out of the Great Recession and trying to get back on track with regard to their financial situations, divorce rates in the United States resumed their gradual decline since their peaks in the 1980s. The widely mentioned 50 percent divorce rate has already been debunked by sociologists and demographers, but there is a chance that an uptick in marriage dissolutions could take place as the 21st century matures.
The Real Cost of Divorce
Getting a divorce is not always an affordable option for all couples who wish to separate. A 2012 research study by the American Sociological Association revealed that up to 15 percent of American couples who had separated waited up to ten years to get divorced because they could not afford to do so. In fact, approaching poverty is often a factor that precipitates marriage separation; case in point: a study by a sociologist from Ohio State University who found that unemployed husbands are a significant factor that often leads to divorce, even if the wife is employed.
Even stronger evidence of the economically damaging effect of divorce can be gleaned from the 2010 U.S. Census, which revealed that 28 percent of American children whose parents divorced were living in poverty. By way contrast, 19 percent of children living in poverty were not the progeny of divorced couples.
Economic Stability Means Marriage Stability
It is not difficult to determine why divorce rates tend to freeze or drop during tough economic times. Various law firms polled in 2013 by the Huffington Post indicated that the average cost of a divorce in the U.S. was about $15,000, and this is largely considering the procedural expenses.
When married couples hit financial strife, their levels of marital satisfaction are bound to drop and they are more likely to seek separation. Such were the findings of a 2011 research study by the University of Missouri, which determined that couples earning $20,000 or less were more likely to think about separation, especially if they also received government assistance to make ends meet.
Couples with lower incomes are more likely to suffer the consequences of alcoholism and substance abuse, but these factors do not lead to separation as often as financial difficulty does. In fact, researchers from the University of California Los Angeles found that income levels do not make a difference insofar as the values that married couples hold dear, but there is no question that difficult financial situations prompt more couples to separate.
Poverty and Divorce at Different Ages
A 2012 study from the U.S. Government Accountability Office indicated that divorced women are more likely to live in poverty after the age of 65. Even when divorced, women draw benefits from retirement plans, their annual income is bound to be 25 percent lower if they are divorced. In this sense, divorce can be as damaging as widowhood for women as they get older.
It is natural to think that couples who get divorced at a younger age are more likely to be able to get back on their feet; alas, this is not always the case. Going back to the 2010 Census, we can find that divorcees who live in the Bible Belt often earn income levels below the median households, and they tend to get married at younger ages than those who live on the West Coast, New England or the Midwest.
What the Future Holds for American Couples
In the current first quarter of the new century, there seems to be a tendency towards getting married and remarried. The Wall Street Journal recently cited figures from a Pew Research Center report showing that 23 percent of American couples who are currently married consist of at least one spouse who was in a previous marriage.
Considering the facts and research above, it is safe to assume, on one hand, that there is a correlation between marriage and economic solvency. On the other hand, divorce and financial hardship tend to go hand in hand. As the American economy continues to recover and strengthen, sociologists can expect a slight spike in divorce rates followed by stabilization and later a decline. It is important to remember that the aforementioned facts and figures are mostly related to income and family budgets; other factors that must be considered when looking at divorce and marriage prevalence include education and ethnicity. In the end, however, there is no question that financial hardship is one of the major causes of divorce among American couples.