Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Amid Downturn, Divorce and Infidelity Decrease

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Sure, divorcing in tough economic times might involve the use of a Taser, but according to fresh data released on Friday from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the divorce rate is at its lowest point since the early 1970s. And infidelity has continued to decline.

The divorce rate per 1,000 married women sank to 16.4 in 2009 from 16.9 the year before and a far cry from 22.6 in 1980, according to an analysis of the data from the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia.

“It runs counter to this image people have of Tiger Woods and divorce,” Prof. Bradford Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project, says. “They get a sense from the media that divorce is prevalent but the reality is we’re not experiencing divorce that way.”

The divorce rate has long been a sticky statistic, with some figures functioning as projections, or using experiences from one generation to draw conclusions about the unions of others. Most statisticians agree that overall divorce rate has been on the decline since the so-called “divorce revolution” of the 1970s.

The CDC data more closely points to what actually happened with marriages, Prof. Wilcox says. As the downturn wears on, the divorce rate decreased more from 2008 to 2009 than from 2007 to 2008.

The downward trend in the divorce rate from 17.3 in 2005 to last year’s 16.4 speaks to the historical trend of the number of divorces in a downturn decreasing, even in an era when many couples waiting longer to get married and have kids. Legal fees, a dreary real-estate market and other economic malaise might be causing some couples to hold off from divorcing. Others may be banding together in tough times.

Further, infidelity has fallen modestly, especially among married men, Prof. Wilcox says. Infidelity overall hasn’t increased over the last 20 years, according to his research.

Among adults who were ever married in the 2000s, 21% of men and 14% of women reported that they had ever had sex with someone other than their spouse while they were married, according to the Project’s analysis of General Social Survey data. In the 1990s, 22% of ever-married men and 14% of ever-married women said they’d had an affair.


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