Thursday, December 10, 2009

Marital Status Still Follows the Business Cycle, But Not as Much as It Used To.

Alex Roberts has a fine article in the new State of Our Unions on the declining relationship between the business cycle and the divorce and marriage rates.

The divorce rate goes down in recessions. It appears to be going down now. So does the marriage rate. Divorce and marriage are expensive. Most of the reduced demand for these expensive changes is just being put off - when economic times get better, the marriage rate will go up (yeah!) and so will the divorce rate (boo!).

The interesting new development is that these family rates are less tied to the business cycle than they used to be. Roberts' reading of this change: marriage is less of an economic decision. For men and women with careers, marriage is more of an emotional union. They can afford to both marry and divorce when they feel like it. For people without steady work, both marriage and divorce as seen as so risky that they just skip the whole thing - shacking up and splitting up whenever.

The irony, Roberts points out, is that marriage is still the great wealth producing institution for most people. The folks who benefit most from marriage financially are the poorest - the very people least likely to marry.

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