Downturns Dampen Divorce

Share When this journal’s editor asked Rep. Paul Ryan if his “Roadmap to Prosperity” included a provision to help reverse family breakdown, the chairman of the House Budget Committee conceded that his budget blueprint helps the family only indirectly. By presenting a plan focused on rebuilding the economy, he argued, the family would be able to take care of itself. Yet two studies that explore the economics of divorce undermine any notion that a recovery or boom will automatically translate into an economy that strengthens marriage and the family. The first study, by Paul R. Amato and his Penn State colleague Brett Beattie, finds that a high unemployment rate has exerted, since 1980, the opposite effect on marriage than what conventional wisdom might dictate. Rather than being associated with an increase in the divorce rate as was the case before 1980, higher rates of unemployment since the Reagan era have actually tempered the American propensity to divorce. Using data from 1960 to 2005 on unemployment and divorce rates for each of the 50 states (and D.C.) from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the National Center on Health Statistics, the Statistical Abstract of the United States, and the Current Population Survey, the two researchers conducted a pooled time-series analysis to measure the effects of the unemployment rate on divorce. In their bivariate model, the correlation between the two variables was both positive and statistically significant. But when state- and year-fixed effects were added to their second statistical model, the association collapsed toward zero and was no longer significant. Moreover, when the data were split into time periods, the positive association was only marginally significant before 1980 and turned negative (and significant) for the years after 1980. Amato and Beattie believe their findings are consistent with what happened during the first few years of the Great Depression, when divorce rates declined. They als
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