It's Official: Recession Kills Divorce

What Women Really Think
Dec. 7 2009 2:18 PM

It's Official: Recession Kills Divorce

Divorce is officially a casualty of the Great Recession. Rates are down for the first time in five years, according to the newly released study of the National Marriage Project . Michael Gerson has called this shift a kind of "cultural renewal"; the idea is that when times are tough, people connect with their cherished values and stop indulging in the kinds of luxuries a fat economy allows. Divorce rates also dropped dramatically during the Great Depression. The reality is, however, that divorce is just expensive. People can’t afford to get divorced during a recession. Marriage rates are down as well; they can’t afford that luxury either.

The researchers don’t quite say this but it seems as if the recession just keeps a lid on a lot of unhappiness. This weekend’s New York Times Magazine brought us a close examination of one companionate marriage , which seemed equal parts passionate, dull, rocky, exciting, and definitely salvageable. Companionate marriages-also known as "soulmate marriages"-the modern idea that spouses should choose each other as friends and lovers and that marriage is intended for happiness more than expediency-is working out well for the kids of people who may get to write about it in the New York Times one day, but not so well for everyone else.

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In less educated, less wealthy classes, women, now given the choice, are lately finding their husbands wanting. This is a form of feminism but also a form of instability. Researchers predict that once the recession is over the working class will start to look like the inner city-a matriarchy with struggling mothers and drifting men and unmoored children. The most amazing statistic comes late in the report-the percentage of people who describe themselves as "very happy" with their marriage is way down since 1960.

Photograph of wedding rings in mantle by Comstock Images/Getty Images.

Hanna Rosin is the founder of DoubleX and a writer for the Atlantic. She is also the author of The End of Men. Follow her on Twitter.