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Top Talker:
Is Divorce Good For The Economy?

According to Bloomberg, it’s a sign of good economic times when the divorce rate starts to go up. Divorces were at a 40-year low in 2009. America was in a recession for about half the year and spent the other half-year in the beginning stages of recovery. Fast forward to 2012 and the number of Americans getting divorced rose for the third year in a row to about 2.4 million.

When times are bad, people tend to avoid costly life changes like getting married, buying a home, and having children. The same is true of divorces. Couples in unhappy marriages tend to stay put simply because they can’t afford to break up. Attorney fees and trying to sell a home in a down real estate market are financial killers. To top it off, when the unemployment rate is high, it’s hard for stay-at-home parents to find jobs to support themselves and their children. It’s especially bad when they’ve been off the career path for years or haven’t kept up with changes in their field.

So, the unhappy couple decides to tough it out until the economy stabilizes. When it does, they proceed with divorce. There is a perversely good benefit for everybody else that works out something like this: the job market picks up -> the divorce rate goes up -> new households are formed (“Multifamily housing starts have almost tripled since the recession and accounted for 33 percent of residential construction in 2013, up from 20 percent in 2009.”) -> furnishings, electronics, and appliances must be purchased -> businesses expand and put more money in the bank -> businesses hire people and the job market picks up even more.

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Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics Inc. says, “As the economy normalizes, so, too, do family dynamics. Birth rates and divorce rates are rising. We may even see them rise strongly in the next couple of years, as households who put off these life-changing events decide to act.”

Should we be excited about this? There’s something a bit discomfiting about cheering on divorces to help move the economy forward. Of course, the article isn’t suggesting that people should run out and do it or that we should applaud it, but just the notion that someone else’s pain might indirectly be our gain should make us at least a little uneasy.

Sometimes divorce is absolutely the best thing a couple can do for themselves and their children. Even with the ensuing financial hardship and emotional toll, some families are better off with two people who are happier, better people and parents by themselves instead of two people condemning themselves to dysfunction as a couple.

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I’m so torn on this one. On one hand, I want the economy to get better. Who doesn’t? On the other hand, I hate that divorce might be an indicator of good times. I’m not naive; I know that money—too much of it, not enough of it, and the desire for more of it—is a very powerful thing. Still, I’ll celebrate the economic recovery with my champagne glass raised only halfway.

What do you think? Is divorce good for the economy? Do you think that view is too cynical? Share your thoughts below.


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Alexis Trass Walker lives in Gary, Indiana, with her husband and four children. She is managing editor of Good Enough Mother. Read more about Alexis on her blog or follow her on Twitter @LillieBelle5. You can email her at alexis [at] goodenoughmother [dot] com.