As the COVID-19 pandemic enters its third year, it goes without saying that it has impacted the personal lives of Americans in countless ways, including in the areas of marriage and divorce. In a Pew Research Center survey conducted in March 2020, nearly nine-in-ten respondents had already confirmed this, with 44% stating that the Coronavirus outbreak had “changed their life in a major way”. From how and where Americans work to behavioral changes related to eating out, attending events, visiting friends, churchgoing/praying and practicing self-care, nearly everything was impacted. So how has COVID impacted marriage and divorce? The answer varies depending upon where the data comes from and how it is interpreted.
One challenge is that even two years into the pandemic, we still lack suitable data to be able to make definitive statements and/or predict the future, and even early data was conflicting in many instances. Headlines in the Daily Mail in August 2020 shouted, “Divorce rates in America soar by 34% during the COVID-19 pandemic with marriages crumbling three weeks into quarantine…”, while the New York Times reminded us that “Divorce rates are falling…”, with the exception of the 55-and-older crowd.
An authoritative study, the American Family Survey (AFS) conducted in July 2020 by the Deseret News and Brigham Young University’s Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy was analyzed by congress in July 2020. Their analysis of the AFS survey concluded that, “Although the COVID-19 pandemic is challenging the strength of some marriage and family relationships, the American Family Survey indicates marriages and families in America are doing well and may be stronger in some ways than before the pandemic started.”
“Still,” the statement continued, “the families who have experienced economic struggles as a result of the pandemic are facing greater challenges than others, and single parents report significantly greater tension in the home than married parents. Furthermore, the pandemic has likely increased barriers for single people interested in building relationships.”
The AFS survey found that, “…the majority (56 percent) of adults in a relationship say the pandemic has made them appreciate their partner more and nearly half (47 percent) say the pandemic has increased their relationship commitment.” 84 percent said their thoughts about divorcing or breaking up had not changed since the pandemic began. At the same time, over 37% of those who experienced financial crises indicated that the pandemic had placed more stress on their marriages, as did 25% of single parents.
The U.S. marriage rate (pdf) has been in a steady decline for decades, from more than eight marriages per 1,000 down to six marriages per 1,000 population in 2019, an historic low. Some attribute this to macro trends like female education, labor force participation, women’s economic independence and gender equality.
Unstable jobs, strained finances and public disenchantment with marriage generally have also played. Delaying marriage has become increasingly common. The median age for a first marriage is currently 30 for men and 28 for women, a full eight years higher than the ages in the 1950s. While some say that COVID helped facilitate a bottoming out of marriages in 2020 due to increased economic insecurity, home confinements, socializing limitations and other factors, in the broader context, it is hard to state definitively.
Similarly, divorce has also been in steady decline for years (2.7 per 1000 population, nationally in 2019). The divorce rate in the state of Florida has dropped per 6.3 divorces per 1,000 population in 1990 to a low of 3.5 per 1,000 in 2019. As fewer people choose to marry or decide to delay marriage, this mirroring trend makes sense. And once again, understanding whether the recent historical low divorce rate is the result of COVID making couples value their marriages more; forcing them to delay a future planned divorce due to roadblocks like economic circumstances, court closures or devalued assets; or something that is simply reflective of long-term trends, is still unclear.
As the country continues to navigate its way through the pandemic and more data is collected and analyzed through the lens of time, we will have a clearer idea of the impacts that COVID is having on marriage and divorce. One thing that we know for certain is that it has been a challenge for all of us.
If the past months have put strain on your relationship and you have been considering a dissolution of marriage, know that you are not alone. Many others are dealing with similar issues. Our compassionate team of family law attorneys at Parra Harris law are here to assist you in all matters of divorce, child custody, domestic abuse and other areas of family law. Call us today for quick assistance at (904) 900-1617 or email us at [email protected]