An Improved Divorce Rate with a Smaller Denominator

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On the surface, this looks like a great thing:

New data show younger couples are approaching relationships very differently from baby boomers, who married young, divorced, remarried and so on. Generation X and especially millennials are being pickier about who they marry, tying the knot at older ages when education, careers and finances are on track. The result is a U.S. divorce rate that dropped 18 percent from 2008 to 2016, according to an analysis by University of Maryland sociology professor Philip Cohen.

The problem is that the improving divorce rate results from a shrinking denominator:

Many poorer and less educated Americans are opting not to marry at all. They’re living together, and often raising kids together, without tying the knot. And studies have shown these cohabiting relationships are less stable than they used to be.

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The article leaves no way to know the ultimate result, but it could be that more couples in a marriage-like situation, including with children, are separating.  They just aren’t filling out all the paperwork their elders did, and children are the ones who’ll suffer.

As I’ve been arguing for years, marriage was an institution in which responsible couples invested their expectations for the benefit of less-responsible couples.  Our society brushed that responsibility aside, and we’re seeing the results all around us (public turmoil, suicides, opioid overdoses, inequality, and so on).  What the lower divorce rate indicates, therefore, may be that those “poorer and less educated Americans” have learned an unfortunate lesson from those who have more resources.

Unfortunately, having fewer resources makes it more difficult to deal with the consequences.



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