Could There Be a Rise in Divorces During COVID-19?

A great deal of press and chatter has been spent on the notion of baby booms after times of stress or crisis. For example, if a blackout takes out electricity in a major city for an extended period, newspapers will sometimes check to see if there was an uptick in childbirth nine or ten months following the blackout.

As it turns out, many of these reports are exaggerated, if not outright false. New York City’s 1965 blackout did not lead to a boom in new babies. Hurricanes, often the cause of intimate conditions for extended periods, usually do not lead to increased birth rates either.

One possible exception was found following Hurricane Hugo in 1989. A pair of researchers from UCLA and Penn State – Dr. Catherine Cohan and Steve W. Cole – looked at the 24 counties that were declared disaster areas during that massive hurricane. They found an increase not just in birth rates, but in rates of marriage and divorce in the year following the crisis.

Dr. Cohan went on to study the aftermath of the September 11 World Trade Center attacks as well. In what may be a surprising find, divorce rates decreased in the New York City following 9/11. As Cohan wrote at the time, “Marital preservation appears to be an immediate response to mortal threat but relaxes once the threat is acute. Under conditions of extreme stress, uncertainty, and threat, people maintain the status quo and refrain from making a major life change.”

We will not know for many years whether COVID-19 – and the effect of its enforced close quarters and lack of travel – will bump up those divorce rates. Does familiarity breed contempt?