Most of us know all too well the effects of the Great Recession on Chicago: unemployment up 4 percent in 2009, one foreclosure every 22 minutes and so much more. Researchers recently delved into the effects of the Great Recession on married couples, with some expected and some surprising results. The “Survey of Marital Generosity” revealed two positive outcomes along with the negative. Overall, the study’s findings are consistent with research from other sources in its main conclusions: Divorce rates have declined since the onset of the economic downturn, and, as financial woes increased, so did the risk of divorce.
About 5 percent of all respondents said they had been thinking about divorce when the downturn hit. Of those, 38 percent said they had postponed the decision. This study did not investigate the reasons for the delay, but other studies have shown that couples were reluctant to incur attorney fees and to support two households.
One third of respondents said the recession provided an incentive to work harder to save their marriages. (The stability of marriages before the recession is unknown.) When asked if the recession had prompted them to redouble their commitment to one another, 52 percent said they were in “a very happy marriage.” In contrast, 25 percent of respondents in a very happy marriage disagreed that the recession had deepened their commitment.
Only 29 percent of respondents said the recession had added financial stress to their marriage, but 3r percent said they worried “often or almost all the time” about not being able to meet their financial obligations. Foreclosure or trouble making mortgage payments stressed out 12 percent of the couples; 29 percent experienced unemployment or a reduction in pay or hours during the recession.
A college degree seemed to make a difference to couples’ financial well-being during the recession. More couples without degrees reported experiencing financial issues during the recession — a full 25 percent of non-degreed couples reported 2-3 stressors, compared to 14 percent of couples with a degree.
The author of the report emphasized the double-edged impact on American marriages. The financial stress brought on by the recession has hurt some marriages, but it has also “fostered a new commitment to marriage that appears to have improved the quality and stability of their marriages,” he said.
Washington Post, “Study shows recession has weighed heavily on American marriages,” Annys Shin, 02/07/11
The National Marriage Project, University of Virginia, “The Great Recession and Marriage,” 02/07/11