Divorce is officially a casualty of the Great Recession. Rates are down for the first time in five years, according to the newly released study of the National Marriage Project . Michael Gerson has called this shift a kind of “cultural renewal”; the idea is that when times are tough, people connect with their cherished values and stop indulging in the kinds of luxuries a fat economy allows. Divorce rates also dropped dramatically during the Great Depression. The reality is, however, that divorce is just expensive. People can’t afford to get divorced during a recession. Marriage rates are down as well; they can’t afford that luxury either.
The researchers don’t quite say this but it seems as if the recession just keeps a lid on a lot of unhappiness. This weekend’s New York Times Magazine brought us a close examination of one companionate marriage , which seemed equal parts passionate, dull, rocky, exciting, and definitely salvageable. Companionate marriages-also known as “soulmate marriages”-the modern idea that spouses should choose each other as friends and lovers and that marriage is intended for happiness more than expediency-is working out well for the kids of people who may get to write about it in the New York Times one day, but not so well for everyone else.
In less educated, less wealthy classes, women, now given the choice, are lately finding their husbands wanting. This is a form of feminism but also a form of instability. Researchers predict that once the recession is over the working class will start to look like the inner city-a matriarchy with struggling mothers and drifting men and unmoored children. The most amazing statistic comes late in the report-the percentage of people who describe themselves as “very happy” with their marriage is way down since 1960.
Photograph of wedding rings in mantle by Comstock Images/Getty Images.