We try to report on this annually, but we are a little behind. Just how many divorces were concluded in 2020. How many people married. The reason to track this is that it speaks to the vitality of marriage as a part of our culture.
The data is aberrant because of the COVID 19 crisis. In late January 2020 news of a possible crisis began to emerge. By mid March the Governor essentially closed state government and the judicial branch followed suit. Courts in some counties began to re-open in early June but some remain more closed than open. We wrote recently that while pundits predicted that quarantine would cause domestic violence and divorce to explode, the data we have seen doesn’t seem to bear that out.
Now, let’s look at what the Pennsylvania Department of Health found about 2020. The year recorded 59,000 marriages 10,000 fewer than a decade earlier and 10,000 fewer than 2019. Numbers have steadily declined in 2016 when there were 74,000 marriages. Circling back, marriage today requires a trip to the courthouse and those building were effectively closed for 90 days or more in 2020 and access was limited even after the counties re-opened.
What makes this significant aside from Covid’s effect is that overall the state grew by 300,000 citizens in the last decade. 300,000 more citizens yielded 10,000 fewer marriages.
2020 brought us 29,000 divorces. These are not new cases but decrees ending marriage. This is the lowest number since 1972, which is eight years before the “no fault” law was adopted despite fears that no fault would make divorce easy. In 1970 there were 11.8 million residents. One divorce per 500 Pennsylvanians circa 1970. Today that rate is essentially the same. Meanwhile marriage statistics are what has tanked. In 1970 almost 95,000 marriages. In 2020 there were 59,000 marriages. In 2019(pre Covid), 68,000. So marriage seems to be roughly 30% less popular than half a century ago despite a population that has slightly increased and discarding 2020 as a non-standard year.
The other agency compiling this kind of data, the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts, has not yet published 2020 statistics. This will tell us about new filings claiming abuse and divorce. Stay tuned.