It is certainly not news that the COVID pandemic has impacted nearly every part of our lives, both public and personal. As the threat is thankfully receding, we are all starting to take stock of the actual fall-out. This includes sociologists of the family who study marriage and divorce trends and are investigating the pandemic’s impact on the marriage and divorce rates. Research from reputable academic sources is starting to emerge that gives us an early picture.
Two leading scholars from Bowling Green State University’s Center for Family and Demographic Research provide what they describe as “our first opportunity to assess how the pandemic many have influenced both marriage and divorce levels” across the United States. Their newly published research explains that, compared with data from 2018 and 2019, our COVID year brought “about 21,000 fewer marriages and 16,000 fewer divorces” in the five states (Arizona, Florida, Missouri, New Hampshire, and Oregon) that published monthly vital marriage and divorce statistics in 2020.
These scholars admit that these preliminary data “are too few states to make firm conclusions about national trends.” But they extrapolate that “if these patterns persisted across the nation, there may have been up to 339,000 fewer marriages and 190,000 fewer divorces in the United States during 2020 than expected.” That is certainly good news for on the divorce side.
This research team adds, “The larger question is whether these numbers represent marriages and divorces that were merely postponed or will never occur.” Both marriage and divorce rates have been declining in the United States for some time, so it remains to be seen if troubled couples who didn’t divorce during 2020 will do so in 2021 as life returns to normal.
There is research-based evidence to believe that the COVID pandemic has brought married couples closer though. Sociologists at the Institute for Family Studies have found that even though American couples felt increased life-strain from the pandemic, they are also reporting the trials have helped their marriages in many ways, allowing them to develop a growing appreciation for each other. These scholars discovered that “the share of married people who said their marriage is in trouble fell in 2020.” They add, “While there is no question that some couples are struggling, the evidence generally points in the opposite direction.”
Specifically, married couples age 18-55 who said their marriage was in trouble declined markedly from 40% in 2019 down to 29% in 2020. In light of these findings, the lead researcher on this project, Professor W. Bradford Wilcox of the University of Virginia, told The Daily Citizen, “As the pandemic fallout unfolds, we are seeing that many husbands and wives are turning, not away from one another, but towards one another.” He adds, “they are seeking more practical and emotional support from one another.” Specifically, Wilcox contends, “From what I see, I think the people who are currently married will generally emerge from all of this trial and tribulation stronger in their marriages.”
This adds support to the wisdom we read in Ecclesiastes on the supportive partnership marriage can provide. Let us hope that these couples find helpful ways to hang on to this deepened appreciation for one another as post-COVID life struggles to return to normal.
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