Marriage is Declining: Part II
© 2012 By Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq.
I was very appreciative of the feedback on my blog last week (1-12-12) about marriage rates declining. The responses triggered a look into more research statistics and some more thoughts for family professionals. Here’s some results:
Remarriage rates: I don’t know if this has changed since 2004, but a U.S. Census report showed that the remarriage rate for men 25 and older who were divorced was about 52% and for women was about 44%. This study indicates that men remarry sooner than women (not a surprise).
The speed of remarriage: An interesting article in Newsweek a couple years ago reported that American kids experience their parents’ divorce, new relationships and re-marriage faster than kids in other countries, such as Sweden – which has a higher cohabitation rate. This was surprising, but they found that 40% of U. S. children in two-parent families (married or not) experienced their parents splitting up by age 15, whereas 30% of Swedish children experience a parental breakup by age 15. Then, new partners move into the child’s household within three years of the divorce at a 47% higher rate than in Sweden.
Since I was in Sweden last year, I would agree that there seemed to be less marriage but more stability of relationships. While I taught social workers who were providing divorce mediation services about dealing with high-conflict personalities, their level of conflict was reportedly less and I was told that only about 7% of families use court hearings to make their divorce decisions, whereas over 20% do in the U.S.
Incomes of cohabiting couples: One of the comments last week from Australia was that many couples are living in stable cohabitation relationships there, so that their incomes may be similar to married couples, rather than much poorer (which I had implied in my blog). I couldn’t readily find credible statistics on that, although several sources indicate that cohabiting couples in the U.S. have less income than married couples (although they have more income than single parent families). One reason for this may be that cohabiting couples want to get married, but feel they can’t afford it. (http://www.unmarried.org/cohabitation-f.a.q.html)
Some Thoughts: I generally believe that living as a single, cohabiting or married person does not make much difference for adults – the important factor is the quality of one’s relationships, whether with friends, lovers or spouses. However, these recent marriage statistics concern me in the long-term sense for society and child-rearing. They reflect instability of relationships, especially of parenting relationships, and a decrease in relationship skills concurrent with an increase in individualism. And “family instability” seems to be a factor in the increase in personality disorders. (Disorders of Personality: DSM-IV and Beyond, Millon, 1996)
There needs to be an increase in teaching and reinforcing conflict resolution, communication and negotiation skills. People shouldn’t get married because they are “supposed to.” They should get married because they are two people (of any sex) who have the skills for a committed relationship and because it satisfies them more. As a society, we need to provide more support for such skills and satisfaction, rather than endorsing an extreme “do your own thing” philosophy (which reinforces narcissism) or a guilt trip (which reinforces unhappy marriages). It doesn’t need to be “me versus us.” It can be “me AND us.”
Bill Eddy is a lawyer, therapist, and mediator. He is the co-founder and Training Director of the High Conflict Institute, a training and consultation firm that trains professionals to deal with high conflict people and situations. He is the author of several books and methods for handling high conflict personalities and high conflict disputes with the most difficult people.