Wayne County, Indiana: Don't Blame Economy For High Divorce Rates

Does a bad economy mean more divorces?

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Why are divorce rates so much higher in some places than others? An AP story looks at recent Census numbers revealing a climbing divorce rate, and that Wayne County, Ind., is the nation's leader in divorced residents. Why that particular county?

Divorce counselors say the economy could be partly to blame for adding more stress to marriages. Indiana has been hit hard by the collapse of the auto and manufacturing industries. Wayne County had an average annual unemployment rate of 6.8 percent in 2008—when the census data was collected—a rate above the state average at the time but still below many other areas of the state and country.

It makes sense—times of great stress expose weaknesses in many institutions, and marriage could be one of them. It might not also be a coincidence that the county with the second-highest number of divorced residents is in Florida, one of the states hit hardest by the housing bubble collapse.

But, somewhat surprisingly, actual research done on the subject of divorce rates and the state of the economy seem to suggest there is little relationship. Check out this paper.

More recent research confirms that the rising level of female participation in the labor force, not unemployment or the overall state of economy, explains rising divorce rates to a much greater extent. In addition, female participation is associated with rising, not falling, incomes.

Another interesting point: Divorce rates apparently climbed in the Vietnam war. So certain periods of high stress can break up marriages. But it's easy to think of reasons why the same wouldn't go on during recessions. Bad economic times might encourage couples to stay together for financial reasons, for example.