War, Recession, and Marital Instability: Conditional Effects of Uncertainty in Washington State, 2000-2010

Julie E. Brines, University of Washington
Brian J. Serafini, University of Washington

The first decade of the 21st century was a tumultuous and economically unstable period for many American families. Yet we know little regarding how the periods of recession and America’s extended participation in two wars affected the incidence of divorce. We use county-level monthly divorce filings from the past 10 years and updated estimates of the married at-risk population to test how sources of upheaval such as increases in unemployment, changes in property values and income, and military deployment affect the incidence of divorce. We also test whether these effects are conditional on the economic context in which they are embedded. Our findings suggest that sources of uncertainty tend be positively associated with divorce filings, but the size and significance of the effects depend on the greater macro-economic context. We conclude that economic instability destabilizes marriages, and families are not inherently slow to respond to structural changes at the macro-level.

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Presented in Session 22: Family Instability: Causes and Consequences II