Legal Review: Marriage and Divorce Rates Nosedive During COVID in the U.S.

While it may seem inherent that the marriage and divorce rates in the U.S. tumbled during the pandemic with the courts and wedding venues shut down, a new study from Bowling Green State University indicates the impacts of COVID on American couples were even more significant than predicted.

Bowling Green’s Center for Family and Demographic research analyzed five states that released their monthly marriage and divorce rates from last year: Arizona, Florida, Missouri, New Hampshire, and Oregon.

Analyzing the Data

Florida, the largest state in the study, saw a 33 percent drop in the marriage rate and a 28 percent drop in the divorce rate. Although Florida’s marriage and divorce rate decline was the steepest out of the five states analyzed, researchers at Bowling Green were able to aggregate trends from all five states and apply them on a nationwide scale.

Results from this analysis indicate that 339,917 marriages and 191,053 divorces were either canceled or postponed in 2020. Considering that in 2019 there were around two million marriages and one million divorces, this data depicts that the overall marriage rate dropped by over 15 percent in 2020, with the divorce rate declining by nearly twenty percent, an astonishing figure.

Drawing Conclusions

These results contradict a widespread sentiment amongst researchers and academics during the pandemic. Many believed that the complications and proximity forced upon couples in quarantine would compel many more to divorce.

Furthermore, the marriage and divorce rates did not see a sizable rise once restrictions were minimized in most states at the beginning of the summer, suggesting a lack of pent-up demand from quarantine. While this trend is not valid in every state, as Arizona did see a sizable uptick in marriages and divorces after the spring of 2020, it is clear that United States couples felt overall less inclined to commit to marriage or separation once COVID began.

Evaluating the Cause

Although we hope the reason behind the prolonged drop in marriages and divorce is because couples were, and continue to be, happier after lockdown, this is most likely not the case. Many family law attorneys have identified the financial aspect inherent in marriage and divorce as the reason behind the decline. Attorneys and other professionals in the field claim that practical fiscal responsibility dominated couples’ decision-making under the uncertain conditions of the pandemic, supplanting the desire to throw a wedding reception or file for divorce.

Happy couples were willing to wait until life returned to normal before they had their ceremony. Separating couples wanted to ensure their finances were stable before beginning the resource-draining process of divorce. In both cases, couples felt like they were in limbo, ultimately permitting more time to evaluate their initial decision.

Going Forward

In the future, it appears as though this drop in the marriage and divorce rate will continue, as many Americans have permanently changed their perspective on traditional marriage. Before the pandemic began, marriage and divorce rates had already been declining for years. Considering that in 1980, the divorce rate was 22.6 per 1,000 married women, and in 2019 it was only 15.5 per 1,000 married women, it is clear younger couples have less of a desire to get and stay married.

Previous studies have also shown that younger couples wait longer to tie the knot. Additionally, those who choose to get married are typically more educated and more affluent than the average American. Ultimately, the institution of marriage is under more scrutiny than ever before, as the pandemic exacerbated the already declining occurrence of marriage and divorce.

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