I think this graph, from an upcoming paper in The Journal of Economic Perspectives1, is interesting.
There’s a “sky is falling” mentality among many so-called marriage advocates. According to their storyline, marriage in America had a golden past until the culturally permissive 60s and 70s, during which drug addicted and probably communistic social scientists convinced legislators to pass no-fault divorce laws, after which divorce rates shot up as parents abandoned their tow-headed big-eyed children to go inhale the demon weed with Abbie Hoffman while having loose and quite possibly lesbian sex with Janis Joplin on top of a LSD-themed painted car while hairy-legged feminists kick men out of the home creating the fatherlessness crisis which has led to the trifecta of evil: skyrocketing divorce rates, Janet Jackson’s nipple ring, hip-hop music.
I never hear any of the divorce chicken littles talk about divorce in non-apocalyptic terms; in their narrative, things are always getting worse. But it’s not the sky that’s been falling since the 1970s – it’s the divorce rate. And to blame divorce on gay marriage – when divorce has been dropping like George Bush’s approval ratings for as long as same-sex marriage has been on the national agenda – is lunacy. On the other hand, marriage rates have been falling.
The dotted lines on the graph show where the century-old divorce trend would have been if not for the recent rise and fall. The question is, will divorce rates return to their long-established slow rise, or will the current fall in divorce rates continue?2
More on divorce in future posts – including a post on that most unjustly framed institution, no-fault divorce. No-fault didn’t cause rising divorce rates in the 60s and 70s; if anything, it was the other way around. Plus, the rise of one great American institution and the fall of another: birth control and shotgun marriages. Woot!
- “Marriage and Divorce: Changes and their Driving Forces,” by Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers, The Journal of Economic Perspectives, Winter 2007. Pdf link to paper. [↩]
- Or it could always level out, I guess, or do any number of inbetween choices. [↩]