Marriages and Divorces Fall Even Lower Amidst a Pandemic

According to a 2020 study from Bowling Green State University’s Center for Family and Demographic Research, the number of Americans who divorced from their partners declined drastically in the past year. In comparison, the number of formal marriages, ceremonies, and distributed licenses similarly took a significant hit, as well. Weddings became delayed, and some found themselves temporarily or outright abandoned due to the looming COVID-19 pandemic. 

The aforementioned study indicates widespread decreases in both divorces and marriages in five different U.S. states. The study’s data, conducted by sociology professors Wendy Manning and Krista Payne, challenges previously speculated numbers, even with the pandemic’s effects considered. 

These early speculations correctly considered a drop-off in marriages in response to state-initiated lockdowns, but many did not anticipate the decrease’s severity. Conversely, expectations for divorce rates sky-rocketed, as quarantine’s essential filing of people to their homes would only heighten tensions between couples with precursing and unresolved issues. 

The Study’s Irregular Data 

Of the five states analyzed, the most populated per square capita was Florida. Based on statistics from years prior, it would have been safe to assume that the state would experience a growth in marriages during the seven months from March to September. However, 2020 bucked the trend by putting forth a 33 percent reduction from the predicted number to the accurate total.

Like the drop in Florida marriages, the “Sunshine State’s” divorces also reduced to 28 percent less than previously forecasted. Florida is only one example of statewide decreases. In total, less than 50,000 marriages and 200,000 divorces transpired last year. 

For context, just over two million marriages and one million divorces occurred in 2019. In addition to the unforeseen depreciation of the two processes, one profession also saw a noticeable narrowing of their usual total. 2020 was a slow year for divorce attorneys. 

What do the Numbers Mean? 

While some may conclude the lower percentage of divorces is evident of a more significant portion of satisfied couples in quarantine, this can not be guaranteed. It is certainly plausible that disgruntled and despondent individuals in once-committed relationships could not escape their situations due to stay-at-home orders. 

“Divorce can be expensive,” commented Manning, “and couples may be reluctant while facing economic uncertainty and/or health issues.” In addition to Manning’s statement, both marriage and divorce rates trend downwards year after year. This may be due to the lofty expenses for wedding costs and divorce attorneys. This fact could very well ground in a generational divide. 

Young Americans, described as “Millennials” and “Gen Z,” could hold different marital philosophies to the generations, such as the “Baby Boomers” and “Gen X,” before them. On average, younger people are e the most likely candidates to get married on any given day. They tend to delay their marriage plans for later in life to stabilize their financial concerns first.

Where the Divorce Expectation Came From

In the United States, domestic violence cases and subsequent police responses increased nearly ten percent during the lockdowns in March 2020. The rise in violent household disputes could be factual grounds for the predicted growth in divorce. However, according to Manning, little to no survey respondents admitted to any new strife in their marriages spawned by the pandemic. 

The decrease in widespread divorces is not a “steadfast rule” for 2020, as a state like Arizona fell directly in line with prior predictions. The number of divorces increased over the summer months. The state settled on a total of around 12,000 marital annulments between March and September, and while the number only eclipsed the expected total by 200, it still supports the cause for prognostications like Manning’s. 

Nevertheless, states like Florida, Missouri, New Hampshire, and Oregon fell far below their expected threshold for divorce. All four states, surpassed their projection by at least one thousand. Additionally,  these states hold a less dense population, so their curtailment comes as even more of a surprise. 

Impacts on the Future

A year later, we will see how many scheduled marriages and planned divorces come to fruition after the surprise decreases. If the decline continues, COVID-19 may directly alter an entire generation of would-be families. Furthermore, young people, who already felt the pressures of securing a solid financial future before marriage, might face the setback of pandemic-related monetary impairments. 

As more states roll back their previously instated restrictions, there is a potential for a slight increase in the number of marriages and divorces. Of course, this depends on the effectiveness of the vaccinations. If successful, those divorce attorneys might see a modest uptick in 2021.