Perhaps this trend can be credited to gender roles becoming more balanced. More women are working outside of the home than they were in the 70s and 80s, more men are able to balance work-life and are more involved in the raising of their children. Is there more partnership and equality happening in marriages now than there was with the “breadwinner/homemaker” model of generations gone by?
Some of this decline in the divorce rate has been attributed to couples delaying marriage until they are a little older, and ostensibly more mature. For example, in 2004, the average age of marriage in the U.S. was 26 for women and 27 for men. In 2013, according to the U.S. Census Bureau numbers, the median age for women was 27, and for men was 29. The 2011 Canadian census listed average ages as 28 for women and 31 for men. Perhaps one could surmise that marrying later in life means relationships will last, that families will hold together, and that the divorce rate will continue to decline. Well, maybe not.
In 1996, with the economic downturn, the US government stopped spending money on tracking marriage and divorce statistics. While statistics are still being generated, they are now extrapolations and it is unclear as to exactly how accurate the resulting figures are.
Still, the results being reported are worth considering:
If we do the math, unmarried couples are four times more likely to separate than married couples. With this information, that previously-mentioned declining divorce rate is not really a positive indicator for the health and well-being of the family unit.
Instead it seems, people just aren’t getting married in the first place.
Studies show an overall decline in married households in the U.S. from 72 percent in 1960 to 50.5 percent in 2012. There is also a high correlation between economic stability, education and marriage. The more educated you are and less in debt you are, the more likely you are to marry. This aligns with studies that indicate married people are typically more financially secure. The National Bureau of Economic Research conducted a study in 2012 that found the average married senior couple to have nearly 10 times the savings of a single person.
Therefore, one could wonder whether rising costs of post-secondary education, widespread economic depression, and an overall shift in long term and stable employment opportunities contribute to the reluctance of couples to “tie the knot”.
Not to mention how much money it costs and how much organizational energy and sheer stress is involved in throwing that “once in a lifetime” wedding shindig. According to a market research report by Ibis World, the U.S. wedding industry is worth 60 billion dollars annually. Those cupcakes aren’t cheap.
I would also like to toss in the idea here that time, or lack thereof, may also be at play in this. Some couples put off the big event for years -well past the birth of children – until they “get around to getting married,” or until the timing is right, or until they accumulate sufficient savings or pay off enough debt to be able to afford the celebration they dream of having. This is not an uncommon practice.
So is separation the “new” divorce?
Let’s face it, divorce is an expensive venture. The costs associated with the dissolution of a marriage can render a couple destitute. In a bad economy, the divorce rate actually drops. It is entirely possible that given the widespread (and as we’ve shown, inaccurate), belief that fifty percent of marriages will result in divorce, couples forego the formality in order to save money when the inevitable split occurs. This cynical, yet fiscally responsible idea may have legs, given the average divorce in the U.S. costs $15,000.00 and can take a full year from initial filing to final decree. Based on Old English law, the process is adversarial by nature and often difficult and damaging to those involved.
Separation, while also messy at times when children and assets are involved, has less stigma attached to it, and fewer laws governing it.
Non-married couples are not assumed to have shared assets, unless they’ve opened joint bank accounts or bought a home together. If they have, assets are assumed to be divided evenly between them, like the ending of a business relationship. Unless there was some kind of support agreement written in advance, there is no obligation for alimony-type support for either partner, nor are the courts involved. If children are involved and both partners are the legal or biological parents (unless there are custody issues), partners are able to work out arrangements independently. If custody issues arise and the court becomes involved, the same rules apply in most cases as they do for married couples. If one partner is not the legal guardian or biological parent of the child, (has not formally adopted the child), he or she has no further rights in most cases.
Separation can be just as emotionally challenging and draining as divorce is, but often is less expensive and more straightforward legally. Perhaps this “easier extraction” is contributing to the declining divorce rate statistics.
So there you have the “skinny” on the current trends in long-term, committed relationships. The next time you hear someone say that half of all marriages end in divorce, you will be able to grab one of those pricey wedding cupcakes, and shed a little light on what’s really going on.
Founder and CEO