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Financial strain has commonly been identified as one of the key reasons married couples divorce, according to University of Maryland sociologist Philip N. Cohen.
However, in a new study recently published in Population Research and Policy Review, Cohen discovered that the divorce rate of couples in the U.S. dropped sharply during the financial difficulties of the recent recession — 2009 to 2011 — only to bounce back as the economy continues to recover.
While Cohen documents research that shows economic hardships often lead to divorce, he hypothesized a few reasons why the economic recession might have caused the divorce rate to lower, if only temporarily.
"Divorcing presents costs in housing, legal fees, childcare and losses from diminished economies of scale. The recession may have increased the economic barriers that make these costs insurmountable for someone considering a divorce," Cohen wrote.
He further elaborated in his study that economic troubles often take precedence over marital issues, which are pushed to the side.
"Second, hard economic times within families may draw some couples closer together in resilience, so that even those considering divorce might set aside their conflicts and pull together, resulting in declining divorce rates," Cohen wrote.
A report of the study by The Los Angeles Times dubbed the lower divorce rate a "silver lining" of the recession, but also quotes researchers as saying that some couples are just waiting for the economic freedom to go through with their divorces.
England and Wales experienced the opposite effect, according to a similar study by the Office for National Statistics. Whereas the divorce rate in the U.K. experienced a downward trend between 2003 and 2009, according to the study, it rose 4.9 percent in 2010.
"One theory suggests recession could contribute to a rise in partnership break-ups because of increased financial strain," the report said.
Other researchers, however, are slower to make an interpretation of data tying the divorce rate to the recession.
In a letter to The L.A. Times addressing Cohen's study, Pew Research Center senior writer D'Vera Cohn wrote that, "There still is a mystery. It is enormously tempting to say that bad economic times made that happen, but this paper concludes that the jury is still out."
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