Marriage drop now, divorce drop later?

It looks like a down year for weddings.

It takes a year or so for us to get marriage rates. But the winter’s Google searches may work for predicting the summer wedding volume.

Every year, since 2004, there has been a big drop in U.S. Google searches for “wedding invitations” and “bridal shower,” in the weeks leading up to the new year, followed by a spike up for invitations in January, and a wave upward for bridal showers in the spring. Like this:

After the holidays, people start planning weddings (maybe they had a proposal on New Year’s Eve?), and in the spring the bridal showers come along, and people start Googling to find out what presents to buy, or how to arrange the event.

In 2010, however, the holiday season brought a very anemic spike in wedding invitation searches, and spring’s bridal shower wave has been lackluster as well. With marriage rates already falling, that doesn’t look good for a lot of weddings this summer. (The green line shows the percent of adults ages 15-44 who have ever been married, as measured in March.)

So, that’s the “bad news.” Or is it? According to an analysis of marriage and divorce from 1860 to 1948, during economic hard times fewer people get married, but then fewer of them get divorced. The author, Thomas Cvrcvk, describes the trends like this:

Large marriage cohorts, formed in the years of economic expansion, disrupted in greater numbers… Conversely, during years of recession, many poorer couples were discouraged from marriage; smaller marriage cohorts with more resilient marriages were formed and their lifetime marriage disruption rate was lower.

So these fewer marriages, formed despite financial obstacles, may reflect the stronger relationships among couples considering marriage. Along with the recession‘s effects on current divorce and fertility rates, then, the future divorce rates will be something to watch for as well.

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