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The Dark Side of a Dropping Divorce Rate

Sociologist Finds Marriage Increasingly Limited to Educated, Affluent

By Maryland Today Staff

Wedding cake

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Marriages are becoming more selective and more stable, sociologist Philip Cohen reports.

Divorce rates are falling and will drop even further as marriage becomes an increasingly elite institution, a University of Maryland sociologist says in a new report.

Marriages are becoming “more selective, and more stable” for people under age 45, despite increasingly permissive societal attitudes toward divorce, according to Philip Cohen, professor of sociology.Cohen

“People are getting married later and are getting married after they finish college,” he said in an interview with Maryland Today. “It’s this idea of delaying marriage until you have a more stable economic situation and a more stable romantic relationship."

His analysis of U.S. Census data from 2008 to 2016 showed that it’s not just a matter of age: While overall divorce rates dropped 18 percent, there was still an 8 percent drop even when findings are corrected for rising average age at time of marriage. 

While divorce declined across the board, college educated couples saw the biggest drop. Meanwhile, other studies have shown that marriage rates have plunged for less educated, less affluent Americans, who face barriers to family stability, including personal debt and job insecurity.

Cohen’s paper concludes that marriage is becoming an increasing component of social inequity.

“It’s not really a good news story for the whole society,” Cohen said.



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