Environmental Impacts of Divorce
Special Report - December 6, 2007
A new study from Michigan State University has reached a notable conclusionrising divorce rates around the world contribute to environmental decay. The article, entitled “Environmental Impacts of Divorce,” is written by Eunice Yu and Jianguo Liu and appears in the scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Among other conclusions, the study found evidence that divorce leads to a rise in new households, causing the consumption of more energy and natural resources. “Divorce usually causes a former spouse to move out and form a new household, thus increasing the use of materials and land for housing,” the authors said. “Because divorce usually splits households into smaller units, it contributes to the global trend toward smaller household sizes and reduces the efficiency of resource use per person.”
Across 12 countries monitored in the year 2000, the average size of a divorced household was between 27 to 41 percent smaller than the average size of a married household, leading to more energy consumption per person, the study found. In 2005, approximately 38.5 million rooms in U.S. households would have been saved “if the average number of rooms per person in divorced households had been comparable to that in married households.” On utility consumption, U.S. citizens in 2005 could have saved 73 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity and 627 billion gallons of water if the per person efficiency of divorced households had been the same as married households. In addition, the study pointed to other research suggesting that divorce might generate more greenhouse emissions that contribute to “climate change and biodiversity loss.”
Although the study focused on divorce, the authors noted that divorce is only one factor influencing the decline in household size and the increase in new households with fewer occupants. Decreases in “multigenerational households, delays in first marriage, increases in empty-nesters, and increases in separated couples” play a role as well, the study found.
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