Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Divorce Is Bad for the Environment

So it’s not just about the kids anymore. Families that split up use up more resources. How’s that for yet another motive for togetherness?

You think your kids are giving you moral sermons now about your lazy, environmentally poisonous behavior when you throw that brown beer bottle into the trash can? Just wait till they get hold of this piece of news:

Divorce is not just a family matter. It exacts a serious toll on the environment by boosting the energy and water consumption of those who used to live together, according to a study by two Michigan State University researchers.

The analysis found that cohabiting couples and families around the globe use resources more efficiently than households that have split up. The researchers calculated that in 2005, divorced American households used between 42 and 61 percent more resources per person than before they separated, spending 46 percent more per person on electricity and 56 percent more on water.

I’ve got news for these researchers. Divorce never was “just a family matter.” It affects the stability of the community when families founder and are ripped apart. Just ask the adult children who lived through the divorce of their parents at a young age.

But hey, we’re entitled to our freedom, right? Women have the right to move on if they aren’t fulfilled in their marriage, right? Yes, women: two thirds of all divorces are initiated by women - and of course they get the kids and usually the house.

In “Debunking Divorce Myths,” David Popenoe of the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University, lays out the reality:

Fact: Divorce rates are rising.

Fact: Nearly half of all marriages end in divorce.

Fact: There are ten myths of divorce.

Divorce Myth 1: Because people learn from their bad experiences, second marriages tend to be more successful than first marriages.
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Fact: Although many people who divorce have successful subsequent marriages, the divorce rate of remarriages is in fact higher than that of first marriages.

Divorce Myth 2: Living together before marriage is a good way to reduce the chances of eventually divorcing.

Fact: Many studies have found that those who live together before marriage have a considerably higher chance of eventually divorcing. The reasons for this are not well understood. In part, the type of people who are willing to cohabit may also be those who are more willing to divorce. There is some evidence that the act of cohabitation itself generates attitudes in people that are more conducive to divorce, for example the attitude that relationships are temporary and easily can be ended.

Divorce Myth 3: Divorce may cause problems for many of the children who are affected by it, but by and large these problems are not long lasting and the children recover relatively quickly.

Fact: Divorce increases the risk of interpersonal problems in children. There is evidence, both from small qualitative studies and from large-scale, long-term empirical studies, that many of these problems are long lasting. In fact, they may even become worse in adulthood.

Divorce Myth 4: Having a child together will help a couple to improve their marital satisfaction and prevent a divorce.

Fact: Many studies have shown that the most stressful time in a marriage is after the first child is born. Couples who have a child together have a slightly decreased risk of divorce compared to couples without children, but the decreased risk is far less than it used to be when parents with marital problems were more likely to stay together “for the sake of the children.”

Divorce Myth 5: Following divorce, the woman’s standard of living plummets by 73 percent while that of the man’s improves by 42 percent.

Fact: This dramatic inequity, one of the most widely publicized statistics from the social sciences, was later found to be based on a faulty calculation. A reanalysis of the data determined that the woman’s loss was 27 percent while the man’s gain was 10 percent. Irrespective of the magnitude of the differences, the gender gap is real and seems not to have narrowed much in recent decades.

Divorce Myth 6: When parents don’t get along, children are better off if their parents divorce than if they stay together.

Fact: A recent large-scale, long-term study suggests otherwise. While it found that parents’ marital unhappiness and discord have a broad negative impact on virtually every dimension of their children’s well-being, so does the fact of going through a divorce. In examining the negative impacts on children more closely, the study discovered that it was only the children in very high-conflict homes who benefited from the conflict removal that divorce may bring. In lower-conflict marriages that end in divorce - and the study found that perhaps as many as two thirds of the divorces were of this type - the situation of the children was made much worse following a divorce. Based on the findings of this study, therefore, except in the minority of high-conflict marriages it is better for the children if their parents stay together and work out their problems than if they divorce.

Divorce Myth 7: Because they are more cautious in entering marital relationships and also have a strong determination to avoid the possibility of divorce, children who grow up in a home broken by divorce tend to have as much success in their own marriages as those from intact homes.

Fact: Marriages of the children of divorce actually have a much higher rate of divorce than the marriages of children from intact families. A major reason for this, according to a recent study, is that children learn about marital commitment or permanence by observing their parents. In the children of divorce, the sense of commitment to a lifelong marriage has been undermined.

Divorce Myth 8: Following divorce, the children involved are better off in stepfamilies than in single-parent families.

Fact: The evidence suggests that stepfamilies are no improvement over single-parent families, even though typically income levels are higher and there is a father figure in the home. Stepfamilies tend to have their own set of problems, including interpersonal conflicts with new parent figures and a very high risk of family breakup.

Divorce Myth 9: Being very unhappy at certain points in a marriage is a good sign that the marriage will eventually end in divorce.

Fact: All marriages have their ups and downs. Recent research using a large national sample found that 86 percent of people who were unhappily married in the late 1980s, and stayed with the marriage, indicated when interviewed five years later that they were happier. Indeed, three fifths of the formerly unhappily married couples rated their marriages as either “very happy” or “quite happy.”

Divorce Myth 10: It is usually men who initiate divorce proceedings.

Fact: Two-thirds of all divorces are initiated by women. One recent study found that many of the reasons for this have to do with the nature of our divorce laws. For example, in most states women have a good chance of receiving custody of their children. Because women more strongly want to keep their children with them, in states where there is a presumption of shared custody with the husband the percentage of women who initiate divorces is much lower. Also, the higher rate of women initiators is probably due to the fact that men are more likely to be “badly behaved.” Husbands, for example, are more likely than wives to have problems with drinking, drug abuse, and infidelity.

To this grim list, you can now add a larger carbon footprint for everyone:

Married households use energy and water more efficiently than divorced ones because they share these resources -- including lighting and heating -- among more people, said Jianguo Liu, one of the paper’s co-authors. Moreover, the divorced households they surveyed between 1998 and 2002 used up more space, occupying between 33 and 95 percent more rooms per person than in married households.

“Hopefully this will inform people about the environmental impact of divorce,” Liu said in an interview yesterday. “For a long time we’ve blamed industries for environmental problems. One thing we’ve ignored is the household.”

Back in the old days, single men and women lived in boarding house arrangements. Those have mostly been done away with by housing costs and prohibitive insurance rates. However, some college students live in a modern variety of the old arrangement: design built sharing in which each person has a bedroom and bath and everyone shares the kitchen and communal areas.

But once out of school, or established in a job with a steady income, it’s single habitation for most people. Northern Virginia and the District of Columbia are probably exceptions to this, since housing is so expensive. California no doubt has its share of single- unmarried- unattached-to-anyone-in-the-household living arrangements, also. Thus, they are environmentally correct.

So are the poor migrant workers all stacked on top of each other, or sharing shifts in a bed. They are the most evolved of all.

But the rest of you slackers, living by yourselves? For shame, you are a burden on the planet and don’t you forget it.

Now let’s just wait for President Hillary to get wind of this idea - bachelor apartments will go the way of the boarding house, the YWCA, and cars bearing only one driver and no passengers.

Life will simply get more interesting. And one of the unintended consequences may be a lowered divorce rate.

At least the children will like it.

Hat tip: “Don’t Leave Baby, Think of the Polar Bears!”


Alexis said...

When real conservatives (as opposed to the Ozzie and Harriet variety) talk about the family, they talk about the extended family. Not just Mom and Dad and a brother named Dick and sister named Jane and a cat named Puff and a dog named Spot. I think one of the reasons for family disintegration is ironically that the very ideal of the family in the West is actually a disintegration of the extended family.

The Deplorable Old Bulldog said...


i disagree. the extended family of the old world is any many ways simply clannishness.

however, i would agree that the post modern exaltation of the individual id above all other values.

as for the original post, let us simply say that al gore might even find this to be a reason to preserve families (although i doubt it, broken families are much more likely to be dependent on the government).

Dymphna said...

the real sporer--

Taking in your elderly parents or a retarded adult sib is not returning to the tribe. It's taking care of your family.

Your example is a reductio ad absurdum.

We have confused liberty and license and it shows in our divorce rate.

With the libs refusing to reproduce so as to lower their carbon footprint, however, the problem may take care of itself.

Barring dhimmihood, anyway.

Protestant said...

the extended family of the old world is [in] many ways simply clannishness.

A little clannishness is a good thing. It is specifically the dearth of 'clannish'/ethnocentrist sentiment among white christians that's landed us in the predicament we're in.

Alexis is absolutely right.