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Will recovery be bad for marriages?

Published: Friday, Feb. 10 2012 5:30 p.m. MST

More couples stayed married in the U.S. during the recession, but it may have not been out of love.

Mike Konczal, a fellow with the nonprofit Roosevelt Institute, used Census data to show correlations between state unemployment rates and family dynamics during the economic downturn.

As the state unemployment rate increased, from 2005 to 2009, the divorce rate decreased.

“We knew that the divorce rate across the country declined with the recession; the fact that it correlates with unemployment rates by state gives us more evidence that this is related to the weak economy,” Konczal said.

And this makes sense to him.

“Getting a divorce is an expensive and economically risky move,” Konczal said.

Now some predict that with the rebound in the economy, married couples will again have the luxury of divorce.

An NPR story showed pent-up demand for divorces were beginning to find an outlet, according to divorce lawyers.

Other than the necessary stability for couples to separate, the economic recovery will finally allow some partners to claim a more valuable share of assets.

"If a person receives a business, for example," said Linda Lea Viken, president of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, "and the other person receives a house, the value of those two assets is extremely important in determining what else happens."

An increase in people tying the knot, on the other hand, is not correlated with state unemployment increases, according to Konczal.

Although Bryan Caplan, an economics professor at George Mason University, talks in his popular blog Econlog about how marriage is often a good deal economically.

"I'm baffled by people who blame declining marriage rates on poverty. Why? Because being single is more expensive than being married. Picture two singles living separately. If they marry, they sharply cut their total housing costs. They cut the total cost of furniture, appliances, fuel and health insurance. Even groceries get cheaper: think CostCo," Caplan said.

Last year the "The Great Recession and Marriage Report" by the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia provided some research with a little less economically calculated focus.

The researchers showed that 29 percent of couples "reported that the downturn has brought financial stress to their marriages" while another 29 percent "agreed that the recession led them to deepen their commitment to their marriages."

"For some, the financial stresses associated with the Great Recession have hurt their marriages. But for others, this recession has fostered a new commitment to marriage that appears to have improved the quality and stability of their marriages," said Bradford Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project and a sociology professor in the University of Virginia's College of Arts & Sciences.

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