We’ve all heard about the toll that COVID-19 is having on Americans—well, on humans in general, really. There are reports of unemployment, depression, divorce. It’s a pretty bleak picture. And while it’s true that we are facing more hardship than ever right now, the impact on our relationships may actually be more positive than negative. In an op-ed recently published by the Washington Post, University of Virginia sociologist W. Bradford Wilcox and accomplished family studies researcher Lyman Stone teamed up to show that divorce rates in fact seem to be going down.
The Numbers Show a Lower Divorce Rate for 2020
There are five states that report divorce statistics in real time: Florida, Rhode Island, Oregon, Missouri, and Arizona. All of them except Arizona show divorce filings declining for 2020, and Arizona’s increase actually started before the pandemic in late 2019.
|Rhode Island||13% decrease|
How Can I Get Divorced when I Can’t even Leave the House?
It’s true that quarantine and general distancing make many people less likely to go to a lawyer’s office or a courthouse right now. Additionally, money problems due to unemployment or other issues make divorce less of a priority for some couples in 2020. Wilcox confirmed this in an interview with UVA Today, and said that divorces will likely go up in 2021 initially. However, he noted that after the Great Recession there was also an initial uptick in divorces followed by an overall decline. He believes the same thing will happen at the end of the current crisis. The basis for this conclusion is the American Family Survey (AFS).
People are Reporting Less Trouble in Their Marriages
The AFS, described by Wilcox and Stone as “a major new survey of American families”, found that most people have reported more stress in their marriages in 2020. However, instead of this stress weakening marriages as one might expect, most people (58%) reported a greater appreciation for their spouse. In fact, 51% of those surveyed reported a deeper commitment to their marriage, and only 8% felt their commitment had weakened. The Washington Post piece points to “The Happiness Hypothesis” by Jonathan Haidt for explanation in which he says that adversity is more likely to “lead to growth, strength, joy, and self-improvement”. Maybe the picture isn’t so bleak after all.