Posted on Jul 17, 2012

The idea that low-income couples divorce at higher rates due to a lack of family values is a misconception, according to a new divorce study published by the Journal of Marriage and Family.  Instead, researchers found that impoverished couples are more likely to divorce due to money problems and substance abuse issues like alcohol and illegal drug use. In short, low-income couples struggle with conflicts stemming from their poverty, not from their lack of respect for or understanding of the institution of marriage.

The study, which was conducted by Thomas Trail and Benjamin Karney at the University of California, Los Angeles, questioned 6,000 different couples located in four states across the country. The average age of the couple was 45. The study found that low-income couples value the institution of marriage and go through a similar process of choosing a partner to marry. The divorce rate is different, they concluded, because of social and economic problems, most notably addiction issues and financial strains.

How can this information help us lower overall divorce rates and strengthen relationships? One of the study’s co-authors pointed out that the United States government has spent millions of dollars in attempts to strengthen marriage in certain socioeconomic groups – all based on the assumption that impoverished couples don’t value the idea of marriage or don’t understand how to navigate long-term relationships. In the future, the government may benefit by focusing funds on the real issues leading to divorce in low-income families: social issues that put too much stress on marriages.

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Molly B. Kenny
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Divorce and Child Custody Attorney Serving Bellevue and Seattle Washington