In previous blogs, we've explored how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted people in different ways. At the beginning of the pandemic, statistics indicated that COVID-19 could spark a wave of divorces across the U.S., leading to an increased divorce rate, but more recent information seems to combat that narrative.
Today, we're taking a look at whether the U.S. divorce rate is really rising in the wake of COVID-19 and, if so, why.
Why Did People Predict that COVID-19 Could Lead to an Increased Divorce Rate?
Initially, statistics from China where the COVID-19 pandemic began indicated a sharp rise in the divorce rate there. For example, in the province of Miluo, staff in government offices were so overwhelmed by the number of divorce filings that they apparently didn't even have time for water breaks. Another city, Xi'an, also reported record numbers of divorce filings.
Divorce and family law professionals hypothesized two reasons for the dramatic increase:
- Government offices in most Chinese cities closed for at least a month at the outset of the pandemic. As a result, staff were hit with a month's worth of backlog when offices reopened, so what may appear to be a doubling divorce rate could just be a month's worth of divorce paperwork all being processed at once.
- According to some experts and sociologists, an increased divorce rate could also be explained by couples staying cooped up together at home for extended periods. Being unable to spend time with friends consistently or away from a romantic partner could exacerbate tensions within a relationship and lead to its eventual decline.
Initially, it appeared as though predictions that COVID-19 could increase the divorce rate in the U.S. and other western countries were correct.
Legal form website LegalTemplates reported a 57% increase in interest surrounding the term "legal separation" from February to April of 2020. Additionally, the business reported a 34% increase in sales of divorce agreements during early 2020 compared to the same time period in 2019.
So, Did the U.S. Divorce Rate Increase Throughout 2020?
Contrary to initial assumptions, it appears as though the divorce rate may be down throughout 2020 in the U.S. Sociologist W. Bradford Wilcox (University of Virginia, Institute for Family Studies) and research fellow Lyman Stone (Institute for Family Studies) recently took a deep dive into the U.S. divorce rate throughout 2020 and the pandemic.
The researchers noted the American Family Survey, which found that 34% of married individuals 18-55 reported increased stress in their marriage, as informing the study. However, increased marital stress isn't the only narrative here - the AFS also found that 58% of individuals in the same demographic reported that their appreciation for their spouses increased over the pandemic.
Wilcox and Stone analyzed divorce rates across five states, and their findings were surprising. According to their research, the divorce rate in Florida, Rhode Island, Oregon, and Missouri fell by 19%, 13%, 12%, and 9%, respectively year-over-year from 2019 to 2020. Arizona was the only state the researchers found had an upswing in divorce, with the divorce rate increasing by 9% year-over-year.
The researchers also noted that the divorce rate fell significantly during the Great Recession, decreasing by 20% shortly after the Recession. The COVID-19 pandemic was also a major source of economic instability in the U.S. - tens of millions of Americans have filed for unemployment over the last year. A decrease in the divorce rate over 2020 would mirror the precedent already set by the Great Recession.
However, it will be interesting to see divorce statistics for January and February of 2021. The beginning of the year is often the most popular time to file for divorce, and many people who have held off on filing for divorce over the past year may choose to do so throughout 2021.