How Unemployment Is Rocking the Love Boat
Life + Leisure

How Unemployment Is Rocking the Love Boat


Unemployment is leading to trouble in the bedroom. With the jobless rate stuck at more than 9 percent, studies show that unemployment  is taking a toll on all stages of relationships – from courting to marriage, and of course, to divorce. Instead of the traditional arch of a relationship, the trajectory of unemployed love looks a whole lot different.

A study in the Journal of Marriage and Family says – not surprisingly – that marriage is sensitive to economic indicators, especially men's earnings, unemployment, and education. According to the research by academics Pamela J. Smock, Wendy Manning, and Meredith Porter, co-habitating men and women want both to be employed to consider marriage, but it is more important for the male to show he can be a consistent “breadwinner." Here’s a rundown on how unemployment is affecting decisions of the heart:

No Job? Have That Beer by Yourself.
A recent study by ForbesWoman and YourTango found that 75 percent of women polled would not marry a man who was unemployed. But regardless of this barrier to marriage, singles are dating more than ever during the recession. Online dating site saw a 30 percent growth in paid users in 2010, despite the $35 monthly fee. Sam Yagan, CEO of, a free dating site that saw traffic double in 2010, says humans seek companionship and community during hard times. But should singles bring up their unemployed status on a first date?

If you can’t take a girl out for dinner or cocktails, or even Olive Garden, you shouldn’t be dating

Patti Stanger of Millionaire Matchmaker says it depends on gender. Men should avoid the topic or wait until they’re employed to start dating. “If you’re a man and you said [you were unemployed] to a woman, we’d run to the nearest exit,” she told CNN. “If you can’t take a girl out for dinner or cocktails, or even Olive Garden, you shouldn’t be dating.” For women though, being unemployed can sometimes be an advantage. “If you’re downtrodden, the man wants to rescue you. He wants a woman that doesn’t challenge him and doesn’t have a better job than him,” said Stanger

At Least We’ve Got a Love Nest
Once a couple gets past the first few dates and falls in love, they’re likely to quickly combine living expenses. But census data show the increase in opposite-sex couples living together comes at a time when unemployment is rising. The number of unmarried couples living together increased 13 percent between 2009 and 2010. Nearly 7.5 million couples were cohabitating in 2010, up from about 6.7 million in 2009. And census data show that the co-habitants are more likely to have at least one unemployed spouse than married couples.

Unemployment’s Knottiest Problem.
Unemployment hasn’t stopped people from falling in love, but it’s delayed their plans to tie the knot. "If you look at the broader trajectory, since the 1970s we've seen a marked reduction in the marriage rate, both in postponing marriage and getting married," said Bradford Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project, a non-partisan research institute at The University of Virginia that monitors the health of marriage in America. "People tend to postpone or forego marriage when the economic conditions are not good," he said. In addition, nearly 4 in 10 U.S. births are now to unmarried women, a record high.

The Shrinking Guest List.
Many couples are postponing their wedding plans, or radically downsizing their budgets. Dena Davey, a spokesperson for the Association of Bridal Consultants, said couples are moving away from a Saturday night wedding, where rental rates are higher, to a Friday or Sunday wedding. Micki Novak, a wedding planner in the Dallas/Ft. Worth Texas area, who charges $6,000 per wedding, says her business is down a third, from 15 to 5 weddings this year. "Even in Texas, we're feeling it," she said.

A Spike in Pre-nups.
In addition to budget weddings, pre-nuptial agreements, once confined to the very wealthy, are now becoming far more common among the middle-class. A survey by The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers reported 73 percent of divorce attorneys cited an increase in prenuptial agreements over the past few years. Ken Altshuler, president-elect of the Academy, said the recession is prompting couples to "cling on to the lesser amount that they have." Pamela Smock says "even if individuals haven't been devastated themselves by the economy, they probably know someone who has been, so their approach to life is to minimize uncertainty." Mim King, a 48-year-old money manager living in Lexington, New York, plans to sign a pre-nup before her upcoming wedding next January. "Hopefully the need won't arise, but I've seen too many couples lose years of their life arguing about stuff and money. Neither of us wants to do that."

No Time for Babies.
High unemployment and the growing costs of raising children are creating a baby gap. The birth rate has declined every year since the recession started, falling over 7 percent. Couples are either downsizing their dream family, or skipping out on having children all together. Nearly 20 percent of women today choose not to have kids, up from 10 percent in the 1970s. A 2009 Pew Research Center survey reported that 14 percent of people in their prime childbearing years put off having a child because of the recession. The largest birth rate declines were also in states with the greatest job loss and foreclosures: Arizona, Florida and California.

Andrea Hoffmann, a mother of two in New Jersey, says she and her husband always planned to have three children until they started feeling the financial strains of the recession. “When you want to do things like travel, buy a second home or, you know, have a life, you start thinking three kids isn’t really a possibility,” she said. At age 37, she’s also worried about two life stages coinciding: retirement and paying for college. “You also don’t want to retire and have three kids in college at the same time.”

When Breaking Up Is Harder to Do.
"There's no doubt about it. In tough times, people hold off on divorce," said Altshuler, of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. Census bureau data indicates a rapid decline in divorce rates between 2008 and 2009, the first year of the recession. Rutgers University sociologist Deborah Carr said many unemployed workers are so preoccupied finding a job that they don't have the time or emotional energy to file for divorce.

It’s also expensive. Altshuler says that prices vary by state, but an average divorce is around $5,000, though it can often be as high as $50,000. And that doesn't include the cost of setting up an additional household. His members saw a 15 percent decrease in filings for the first six months of 2009. Andra Brosh, who with Allison Pescosolido runs Divorce Detox,  a program that helps couples cope with separation or divorce, says financial concerns can force some to remain married even if one spouse is having an ongoing affair.

Arthur, age 58, and his wife depend on each other, but not for love. "We each have our own bedroom on different floors in the town house that we rent. We never talk, eat together, or do anything else together," he said. Arthur, who lives in Westchester County, New York, says he's on disability, the result of severe chronic medical problems including diabetes and kidney problems, and relies on his wife's health care coverage. "If we each had enough money, we would definitely be divorced," he said.