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Divorce Rates: Higher-Income and Lower-Income Families

According to a 2014 study conducted by the Pew Research Center, 80 percent of never-married women said “finding someone with a steady job would be very important.” The idea of “steady job” could be defining factor in the difference between the divorce rates of higher-income families and lower-income families.

Divorce Rates

Divorce rates among lower-income families remain stagnant, roughly where they were in the 1980’s, while new research shows higher-income families are seeing a decline in divorce rates. For higher-income families, the phrase “half of every marriage ends in divorce” is no longer true. In fact, the divorce rate has been dropping. In a piece posted on Upshot, the New York Times’ data blog, the divorce rates seen in the late 1970s and early 1980s may have just been a “historical anomaly,” rather than a trend.


Divorce Rate Statistics

Below, are a few statistics noted in the Upshot blog:

  • Roughly 70 percent of marriages that began in the 1990s reached 15 years. That’s up from only 65 percent for marriages that began in the 1970s and 1980s. Couples wed in the 2000s are divorcing at even lower rates.
  • According to economists Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfer, the 1970s feminist movement had a considerable impact on where the divorce rate is now. During the movement women entered the work force and gained reproductive rights. As a result, marriages began to evolve into the “modern-day form, based on love and shared passions, and often two incomes and shared housekeeping duties.”
  • There are more mature marriages now as people are marrying later on in life. The median age for marriage during the 1950s was 23 for men and 20 for women. In 2004, it increased to 27 for men and 26 for women.
  • According to Wolfers, if the numbers continue to decrease, roughly two-thirds of marriages will never end in divorce. That’s a giant change from the 50 percent statistic that’s often thrown around.

When it comes to comparing higher-income divorce rates to lower-income divorce rates:

  •  The number of married, college-educated couples that split by their seventh anniversary was 20 percent in the 1980s and is now just 11 percent.
  • Meanwhile,  17 percent of lower-income couples ( in the study this was couples making no more than twice the federal poverty line of just over $30,000) get divorced at roughly the same rate as the 1980’s: 20 percent.

Similar Ideas Regarding Children

But it might not just be the idea of having a steady income that’s impacting divorce rates among lower-income families. It might be more of a shift towards the idea of having a more equal division of domestic life. The Pew Research study found 70 percent of women also want to find a mate that has similar ideas about having and raising children. A 2007 poll conducted by the Pew Research Center found couples want a more even distribution of responsibilities.

This idea of equal responsibilities: the idea of both parents bringing in an income, sharing time with the family, being equal contributors has become a defining feature of a good marriage. According to the poll, it outranks having an adequate income, sharing religious beliefs, or even having children.

50-50 Marriage

Motorists and Cyclists

“What we have is historically high expectations for what young people call a 50-50 marriage,” says Bill Doherty, a professor of family social science at the University of Minnesota.

“People are looking for a high-intimacy, high-income marriage where both partners contribute, regardless of income bracket,” he continued. “Unless you have a good economic base and a certain level of personal maturity, it can be very hard.”

According to The Washington Post‘s Darlena Cunha, this trend towards wanting a 50-50 marriage has it’s downfall for families that night not be able to achieve that standard. Lower-income families, who are struggling economically, are having a harder time managing this kind of ideal marriage belief. And as a result, more lower-income marriages are leading to divorce.

The differing divorce rates between lower-income families and higher-income families is something researchers have been trying to comprehend for years. It can be especially difficult to see a link when studies over the years show that lower-income families value marriage just as other demographics.

“A lot of government policy is based on the assumption that low-income people hold less traditional views about marriage,” says researcher and UCLA professor of psychology, Benjamin Karney. “However, the different income groups do not hold dramatically different views about marriage and divorce — and when the views are different, they are different in the opposite direction from what is commonly assumed.”

According to The New York Times‘ Stephanie Coontz, “Since the 1970s, families have become more egalitarian in their internal relationships. But inequality among families has soared,”she wrote. “Women have become more secure as their real wages and legal rights have increased. But families have become more insecure as their income and job instability have worsened.”

While parents have grown more equal in their internal roles, “rising inequality has changed family dynamics for all socioeconomic groups.”

Women Making Leaps

According to Cunha, women seem to have exited the recession better than men. Following the recession, unemployment levels dropped from historic highs. But this was more so for woman than men. In summer 2013, roughly 7.5 percent of men over age 20 were unemployed. That number was only 6.5 percent for women, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That, coupled with the ever-increasingly polarized workforce, where high and low income jobs are increasing and middle-income jobs decreasing, has caused women to make even greater leaps. As a result, it seems women are becoming increasingly impatient with the economic stagnation of their male counterparts and family members.

“I realized that since I was the only reliable person in the family making money,” said Cece Azadi of Alabama. “there wasn’t much reason to hold onto that marriage.

Seeking Alimony

It makes sense that women and men are both striving for 50-50 marriages. If you do not feel that is attainable for your marriage and are seeking  divorce, you’ll want to understand the idea of alimony, regardless of if you will need to pay alimony or receive alimony.

Alimony, often called “spousal support” is when one spouse pays the other spouse in order to help that spouse maintain the same financial standard of living as was experienced during the marriage. A divorce court will often require the higher earning spouse to assist the lower earning spouse.

Awarding Alimony

A California judge can award temporary support (“pendente lite”) either during the divorce proceedings, or after the divorce has been finalized.  Alimony payments are made from one spouse to the other in a specified amount for a predetermined period of time. A support payment can also be paid in a single lump-sum. In collaborative process divorce agreements, spouses often come to agreement on the terms and conditions of support payments, which often includes tax agreements and child support tax agreements. As long as an alimony agreement meets legal requirements, a court will uphold an agreement. This is the case even if the divorce agreement provides for a complete waiver of support to the lower-earning spouse.

Duration of Spousal Support

In California, the duration of spousal support agreements are typically determined and based on the length of the marriage. A general rule of thumb is that for a marriage of less than 10 years, a court will not order support payments be made for longer than half the length of the marriage. But if a marriage has lasted 10 years or longer, a court typically will not set a definite termination date for support. Both spouses are able to request modifications to the spousal support agreement indefinitely, unless a termination date has specifically been agreed, or if the court expressly terminates the support at a later hearing.

Awarding Permanent Support

The awarding of “permanent” (meaning the support lasts for a lifetime) is rare, even for marriages that last over 10 years. Family law courts in California tend to require a spouse seeking support to make an effort to become self-supporting through obtaining employment. A spouse making claims they are unable to work, or unable to become fully employed, is required to support the claim with evidence. This typically means a  vocational evaluation must be done. For long term support orders, the support gradually reduces over time by a nominal amount. Permanent support is usually only awarded to spouses that are unable to become self-supporting due to age or disability.

A Family Law Attorney

There are a number of things that need to be considered during a divorce: child support, spousal support, marital property division, and other things. Working with a skilled attorney can help ensure you get a fair case.  For advice on divorce, child custody determinations, setting up a co-parenting agreement, dividing marital property, and spousal support you need the expert law firm of Divorce Law LA. Schedule a consultation today.

Divorce Law LA, Esq.

Divorce Law LA

33 S. Catalina Ave. Ste. 202

Pasadena, Ca. 91106

(626) 478-3550