Have divorce rates gone up since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic? From a logical standpoint, it is easy to see both possibilities. On one hand, the pandemic has led to an increased number of Americans working from home. In fact, according to Stanford economist Nicholas Bloom in an article for Stanford News, as much as 40% of the American labor force has been working from home. With so many people now at home, along with their spouses, during the time they would otherwise be at a workplace, it is not a stretch to suggest that conflicts in a marriage may be magnified and exacerbated by the increased amount of time together.
Further supporting this position is the increased level of stress individuals have been reporting due to the pandemic. Experts believe the Covid-19 pandemic has had disastrous, widespread effects on mental health. According to the American Psychological Association’s annual Stress in America poll, the average reported stress level in 2019 was a 4.9. But as of May 2020, the average reported stress level for adults in the United States was reported to be 5.4 – an increase that the APA characterizes as “significantly higher.” So much higher, in fact, that the APA noted it “marks the first significant increase in average reported stress since the survey began in 2007.”
Stress is a huge factor in a marriage and one of the things most likely to lead to a divorce. Shelby B. Scott, Galena K. Rhoades, Scott M. Stanley, Elizabeth S. Allen, and Howard J. Markman conducted a study, published in 2013 in Couple and Family Psychology. They found that the top cited reasons for divorce were lack of commitment, infidelity, and “conflict and arguing.” The next four reasons were marrying too young, financial problems, substance abuse, and domestic violence.
The Covid-19 pandemic has likely led to an increase in several of the stress factors that lead to divorce for many individuals. Higher stress levels can lead to more conflict. Both spouses being at home as opposed to work can mean more frequent arguments. The financial impact of the pandemic has, of course, increased financial stress for many families. The pandemic has also led to an increase in alcohol sales and substance abuse. For married couples with children, these stressful issues could have been further exacerbated by the pandemic. Couples may have had disagreements regarding parenting time, the division of parenting duties during the day if both parents are working from home, in-person schooling versus virtual learning, etc.
On the other hand, however, the pandemic may have had the opposite effect on some couples. Giving couples more time together and a chance to reconnect could lead spouses to resolving underlying issues that they may not had the time, attention span, or emotional capacity to resolve before. In one study by the USC Center for the Digital Future, 41% of respondents stated their relationship was actually better since the pandemic began, with only 12% reporting that the relationship had worsened.
But what do the numbers say? Divorce attorneys told Business Insider, which was subsequently reported on Fox News, that the weeks preceding Thanksgiving 2020 have been busier than in previous years. The New York Post reported that the number of individuals seeking a divorce was up 34% between January and April 2020. This had a particularly significant impact on newer married couples, as 20% of couples who sought a divorce were married within the last five months. It was anticipated by some experts that divorce rates would increase between 10 and 25% during the latter half of 2020.
Divorce rates in the United States, in general, have been decreasing over the last few decades. Pursuant to the CDC, the divorce rate in 2000 was 4.0 per 1,000 (total population), which had decreased to 3.6 by 2010, and was down to 2.9 by 2018. The “divorce rate” is, however, a number that even experts have trouble deciding – as mentioned, the CDC reported 2.9 divorces per 1,000 people in 2018, while the Institute for Family Studies’ 2019 American Community Survey reported a rate of 14.9 divorces per 1,000 marriages. This is because different states report marriage and divorce data differently.
Some experts disagree that the divorce rate has increased due to the pandemic. In an article for the Washington Post, sociologist W. Bradford Wilcox wrote that, based on the data from the five states that report such statistics in real time, there may actually be a decline in divorce filings for 2020. Those five states include Florida, Rhode Island, Oregon, Missouri, and Arizona. Out of those five states, only Arizona has reported an increase in year-to-date divorce filings, and that trend appears to have started in late 2019.
Dr. Wilcox reported that in his own study conducted in September 2020, 45% of married women surveyed reported that the pandemic made them less likely to divorce, with only 5% responding that the pandemic made a divorce more likely. He also noted that divorce rates fell significantly following the Great Recession as well. Despite financial stress being a precursor to divorce, disasters and other trauma can lead individual to strengthen their social bonds.
We will have to wait for the complete data from all states to determine if divorce rates have truly fell or risen during 2020. The pandemic has also caused major delays in the management of legal matters, so we may not know the truth about how much of an effect the Covid-19 pandemic has had on marriages until all of the divorce cases filed in 2020 are finalized.
Further, there are likely individuals who, as people did during the Great Recession, are considering getting a divorce but need or want to wait because of the pandemic. There could be issues with securing a new residence, not being able to afford to support two households, issues with a lack of childcare, and other factors to be considered. If you are considering a divorce, it is wise to seek the advice of an experienced attorney, who can help you determine the best way to prepare for an impending divorce.