Divorce is surging. This is the impression many media reports have conveyed, suggesting marriage in America is crumbling under the pressures of lockdowns, job losses, school closures, and the general uncertainty of 2020. As The Daily Mail reported in August: “Divorce rates in America soar by 34% during the COVID-19 pandemic.” But there is some good news to report about the state of our unions in 2020.
Here are two positive pieces of news on marriage during COVID.
1. Reports of marital commitment and stability are actually up.
While some couples are struggling, the majority of husbands and wives report that their marital unions are stronger in 2020. According to the American Family Survey (AFS), a new survey of American families conducted by Deseret News/Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy, 58% of married men and women 18-55 said that the pandemic has made them appreciate their spouse more, while 51% of husbands and wives said their commitment to marriage had deepened. Furthermore, the AFS found that the share of married people reporting their marriage is in trouble fell from 40% in 2019 to 29% in 2020, as the figure shows below.
2. State divorce trends appear to be down in 2020.
Despite media reports suggesting otherwise, the initial state data we have indicates a decline in divorce filings for 2020, with year-to-date divorce filings down 19% in Florida, 9% in Missouri, 12% in Oregon, and 13% in Rhode Island. As the figure below shows, there's been a marked decline in divorce during the COVID months (these are the five states for which data is available).
Although divorces are up 9% in Arizona, that increase began in late 2019 before the pandemic. Part of the reason divorce is down in these other states during the COVID months is because lockdowns prevented some distressed couples from filing. It’s possible that, after COVID, there will be a period where pent-up divorce filings increase due to delayed divorces getting finalized, but it’s likely that the dramatic divorce decline in early 2020 will not be fully offset. In fact, because divorce ended up falling more than 20% in the wake of the last Great Recession, we expect the divorce rate to continue to decrease over the next decade.
When faced with massive social upheaval, we often develop a deeper appreciation for our families—including our spouses. For many couples who make it through this pandemic together, then, their marriages will likely emerge stronger and more stable, and that is a bit of good news to take away from this year of mostly bad news.
W. Bradford Wilcox is director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, senior fellow of the Institute for Family Studies, and visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. Lyman Stone is a Research Fellow at the Institute for Family Studies, Chief Information Officer of the population research firm Demographic Intelligence, and an Adjunct Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.