Great Recession Reshapes Marriage and Divorce: Study

According to researchers at the University of Virginia, the recession has transformed the way men and women experience marriage – and divorce.

By Josh D. Simon
Updated: January 22, 2015
Divorce News

The Great Recession has dramatically re-drawn the global economic framework; but that’s not all that has changed. According to researchers, the violent financial landscape has also transformed the way men and women experience marriage – and divorce. 

In their jointly-sponsored study The State of Our Unions 2009: Marriage in America, researchers at the University of Virginia’s National Marriage Project and the Institute for American Values discovered that:

  • In 2008, the first full year of the recession, divorce rates fell .1% from the year before (2008: 16.9 per 1000 women; 2007: 17.0 per 1000 women). 

Researchers suggest that two forces worked together here: tough economic times forced some couples to delay getting a divorce because it was financially impossible, while other couples were drawn together because of hard times. “Tough times foster real family solidarity and encourage many couples to stick together,” noted University of Virginia Sociology Professor W. Bradford Wilcox . He also added that many couples are discovering that “marriage is one of society’s best social insurance plans.”

  • Couples who fought once a week over finances were 30% more likely to divorce compared to couples who only argued about money a few times a month. 

In fact, Family Studies professor Jeffrey Dew of Utah State University goes as far to say that financial conflict and worries is a top trigger for divorce regardless of economic circumstances. It’s an equal-opportunity marriage destroyer for rich and poor alike. 

  • Couples without assets were 70% more likely to divorce compared to couples with $10,000 in assets.

Researchers concluded from this that marital assets – even as little as $1000 – help strengthen a marriage, while lack of assets can erode a marriage; especially for new couples.

  • Working class men suffered 3/4ths of all job losses since 2007.

Researchers agree that this has led more men to performing child care and housework roles – roles typically held by women. However, researchers disagree on the implications. Sociology professor Christine Whelan at the University of Iowa sees it as positive in the struggle for gender equality. University of Virginia Sociology Professor W. Bradford Wilcox , however, believes that this will ultimately weaken marriages in working class communities and lead to a “divorce divide” between working class and college-educated couples. To fortify his views, Wilcox cites statistics from his Survey of Marriage and Family Life in 2000, where he noted that husbands who worked fewer hours than their wives were 61% less likely to be “very happy” in their marriage compared to those who work as many or more hours than their wives.

  • Couples can improve their financial picture – and their marriage – by turning the stereotypical division of domestic labor on its head. That is, let her do the investing and let him do the shopping.

Interestingly, researchers found that men tend to be thriftier shoppers because – and this seems reasonable – they don’t take much pleasure in shopping compared to their wives. On the other hand, women are better investors, because they have a clearer understanding of the limits of their financial IQ, and are therefore more willing to talk with a professional.

To read the complete 116 page The State of Our Unions 2009: Marriage in America, click here: 

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By Josh D. Simon| July 22, 2010

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