Divorce Rate Declines In 2008
Special Report - December 30, 2009
In 2008, the divorce rate among American adults dropped for the first time since 2005, according to a new report by the National Marriage Project and the Institute for American Values. The annual “State of Our Unions” report, released on December 7, found that “the divorce rate fell 4 percent in 2008 to 16.9 divorces per 1,000 married women, after rising from 16.4 in 2005 to 17.5 in 2007 (a 7 percent increase).” The divorce rate peaked at 22.6 per 1,000 marriage women in 1980 after a precipitous rise from just 9.2 in 1960. It had been slowly, but steadily falling until the jump in 2005. The report looked at the relationship between the economy and divorce rates, and happiness in marriages. It also looked at birth rates, family structure, and teen opinions of marriage and other relationships.
According to the report, the current economic recession has resulted in more men than women being out of work since 2007. Men have absorbed three-fourths of the job losses since 2007. This so-called “mancession” is predicted to “undercut marriage in working-class communities, furthering a ‘divorce divide’ that has been growing since the 1980s between couples with college degrees and those with less education.” The State of Our Unions report found that “men are 61 percent less likely to be happy in a marriage if they work fewer hours than their wives.” Financial conflict in a household is a leading indicator of divorce. Couples with weekly disagreement over finances “are over 30 percent more likely to divorce than couples who disagree about finances a few times per month.”
Still, a drop in divorces follows a similar trend seen during the Great Depression. While economic factors may cause some couples to temporarily delay divorce, “tough times foster real family solidarity and encourage many couples to stick together,” according to W. Bradford Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project. According to the report, economic factors like job loss, home foreclosure, and dwindling retirement accounts could be “driving some couples to stick together.”
The study also looked at family structure. Over forty percent of American children were born to a single mother in 2007. While that overall rate has remained constant since 2000, the illegitimacy rate among black children rose three percentage points, so nearly 72 percent of all black children are born to an unwed mother. Over one-quarter of American children lived with a single parent in 2008a slight decrease from 2000. Fewer childrentwo-thirds overalllive with two married parents today than in 2000. However, the rates vary widely by race. While two married parents raise nearly 73 percent of white children, fewer than 35 percent of black children live with a married mother and father. The number of children living with a cohabiting, unmarried, heterosexual couple grew by more than one million since 2000, so that in 2008 there were 2.581 million children living in such homes.
Fewer high school seniors see a problem with unwed parenting. Between 1996 and 2000, 54 percent of girls and 49 percent of boys agreed that “having a child without being married is experimenting with a worthwhile lifestyle or not affecting anyone else.” Between 2001 and 2004 that opinion was held by 56 percent of girls and boys. The percentage of high school seniors who think “It is usually a good idea for a couple to live together before getting married in order to find out whether they really get along” has also dropped slightly in recent years, though 58 percent of girls and 65 percent of boys still think cohabitation is a good idea. A larger percentage (32 percent of girls and 39 percent of boys) agreed that marriage leads to a fuller and happier life than “staying single or cohabiting.” However, 57 percent of senior boys and 63 percent of senior girls think “it is very likely they will stay married to the same person for life”a slight drop in recent years.
The “State of Our Unions” report is produced annually by the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia and the Center for Marriage and Families at the Institute for American Values to monitor “the current health of marriage and family life in America.”
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