What has always been painful is now desperate and confounding, with a growing number of couples deciding to wait out the economic storm while others take new approaches — such as living together as they separate.
Experts say that divorce claims slightly more than 40 percent of marriages. Rates calculated by the National Marriage Project show a modest decline in divorce during 2008, the first year of the recession, when 838,000 cases were granted in 44 states — at a time when growing economic strain might have produced a spike in divorce. A year earlier, 856,000 divorces were finalized. Scores of studies show a link between tough times and divorce.
In terms of divorce, the recession bears similarities to the Great Depression, says Johns Hopkins University sociologist Andrew Cherlin, noting that in the 1930s, divorce rates fell amid the worst of the economic crisis, only to rise as the country recovered. “Troubled economic times breed troubled marriages,” he says. “But whether those marriages end in divorce right away is another thing.”
Cherlin said the recession has probably created “a backlog of unhappy married couples who would like to get a divorce soon but can’t afford it,” and he predicted a surge in cases during the first several recovery years. “The longer this severe economic downturn continues,” he said, “the larger the backlog will be.”