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In a difficult economy, divorce may not be an option

During the Great Depression of the 1930s, many American families found themselves under incredible pressure as they struggled to make ends meet, and as a result, marriages began to fracture. Surprisingly, the divorce rate did not increase. Just the opposite happened, actually: the divorce rate dropped. And during what many economists have labeled the “Great Recession,” the same thing happened. More and more couples were driven to the brink of separation, but fewer actually divorced.

There is likely a simple explanation for the fact that the divorce rate drops during difficult financial times. Couples just can’t afford to get divorced; to pay the family court costs and to separate their households. However, forcing couples to remain together in unhappy marriages may have serious consequences. Studies have shown that domestic violence increases during economic recessions.

Research has shown that unemployment, divorce, and domestic violence are all connected. With every 1 percent increase in the unemployment rate, the divorce rate decreases by 1 percent, studies show.

Further, a study of women who sought treatment at emergency rooms found that women who had come to the hospital because of intentional injuries were more likely to have experienced recent unemployment in their families than women who had unintentional injuries.

Although no research has specifically and conclusively points to a link between the unemployment rate and domestic violence, sociologist Phil Cohen told NPR that the two are definitely linked. “I’m quite confident from the research on couples…that among the people who are experiencing economic shock or dislocation or unemployment there is an increased risk of violence,” he said. “And I would not expect that to be any different during this recession.”

Source: NPR, “Marriage Economy: ‘I Couldn’t Afford To Get Divorced’,” Shankar Vedantam, Dec. 20, 2011

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