“A Pony Here Someplace”

January 29, 2014
Posted by Jay Livingston

The Great Recession has brought out all the pessimists with their hand-wringing complaints about economic hardship.  We need a few more optimists pointing out the silver linings.  Like this
When people can’t keep up the payments, their cars get repossessed.  But many people appear to be developing an appreciation for public transit and just plain walking.  The silver lining in this financial pain is a healthier life style.  Without cars, people produce less carbon emissions. That’s good for the health of their neighborhoods, their cities, and the planet. It’s also good for them as they will enjoy the many health benefits of walking. 

As Herman Schmidt of Moline, IL told the Moline Sentinel, “After they repo-ed my Explorer, it took me a while to get used to walking that two miles to the Wal-Mart [there’s no local bus route he could take], what with my bad knee and all, and in this weather lately I got a touch of frostbite, but I don’t buy as much ’cause I can’t carry it. Since 2009 when I got laid off, I’ve lost four pounds.”

No doubt some of these people, if their incomes rebound, will get another car. But some of them just might use part of that money to buy a treadmill.
OK, it’s just my snarky spoof.  The template for it is Bradley Wilcox’s various writings (here for example) about the wonderful effects the recession has supposedly had on marriage. Wilcox seems think that any marriage is better than divorce.  So if divorce rates fall in hard times, well, hey, that means that more people are staying married.  Wilcox says things like,
But there may be a silver lining in all this financial pain. . . .The divorce rate is actually falling.
the Great Recession is leading some spouses to develop a renewed appreciation for the social and economic solidarity engendered by marriage and family life
For evidence, he offers this:
But anecdotal evidence suggests that other couples have responded to the recession by rededicating themselves to their marriages. “I had one couple who started to file for divorce but put the proceedings on hold because the husband lost his job," Florida family attorney J.J. Dahl told the Orlando Sentinel. Eventually, the couple decided to remain married. "They said, 'We made it through this tough time, and we learned how to compromise, so we've decided to stick it out.'”
Wilcox’s rosy view extends to other virtues. Do people have less money to buy stuff?
The recession has encouraged Americans to rediscover the virtue of thrift.
Wilcox seems to assume that the foregone purchases were frivolities rather than things like clothes for children. 

When households had two people working, time constraints forced them to grab meals at restaurants.  But now
They are also eating at home more often.
Where others might be looking at the reality of families at or below the margin, the families in Wilcox’s vision seem to be something out of TV – sure, there’s been some economic setbacks, but we’re all gathered round the dinner table, pulling together happily to overcome it.

Philip Cohen at his Family Inequality blog has been taking issue with some of these claims, and he is far less less sanguine.
With marriages in a recession, more are miserable, yet the bar for divorcing is raised (or lowered) by the costs relative to income. So there are more miserable marriages not ending in divorce.
He is also more honest in his use of data and more modest in his claims about what the data can allow us to conclude:
It is very common, yet wholly unjustified, to always assume falling divorce rates are good. As I argued before: We simply do not know what is the best level of divorce to maximize the benefits of good marriage while mitigating the harms caused by bad marriage.

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