Thursday, December 5, 2013
Maine is known for the bounties of its rocky coast, for its hard-working people and, more recently, for its high divorce rates.
Hair stylist Dathan Hunter talks about the two divorces he has gone through during a break at his Milk Street salon.
John Ewing/Staff Photographer
Source: 2011 American Community Survey
Yes, divorce. Maine has the second-highest rate of divorced people in the nation, according to the latest U.S. Census data.
The census estimates that 13.7 percent of Mainers age 15 and older are divorced, based on the 2011 American Community Survey. Nevada is No. 1 at 14 percent. Both are well above the national rate of 11 percent.
Experts say a variety of factors contribute to divorce trends, including the struggling economy, education levels, religious practices, social values and, more recently, social media. And several of those divorce risk factors may be especially high in Maine.
"I listen to people all day long talk about their divorces," said Dathan Hunter, owner of a Portland hair salon by the same name.
The 36-year-old Cape Elizabeth resident said a lot of those people regret their divorces, something he can relate to after two divorces of his own. "It happens so quickly, that it's done and then you kind of lift your head up and say, 'Wow, we're divorced,'" Hunter said.
Despite his own experience and the stories he hears, Hunter said he was surprised that Maine had a rate of divorce that's higher than so many other states.
Maine's distinction at No. 2 sets it apart from its neighbors in the Northeast, where the overall divorce rate is 9.4 percent. That includes New Jersey, which at 8.6 percent is the lowest in the nation.
In fact, Maine's divorce rate is more akin to the South, where several states have divorced populations well above the national average, including Arkansas at 13.4 percent and Kentucky at 13.2 percent.
Some experts say that is partly because the economic struggles of working-class Mainers, and the lower percentage of college-educated citizens, put the state in league with its Southern counterparts more than its Northeast neighbors.
"Maine is a relatively poor state, which is something we have in common with the South," said Jeanette Andonian, a professor of social work practice and human behavior at the University of Southern Maine.
Maine's median household income of $46,033 is comparable to the $46,548 median income in the South but far less than the $56,728 in the Northeast, according to the census.
"I think the economy is playing a huge role here," Andonian said. "For the last several years, you keep hearing about businesses downsizing and people losing their jobs. Stable, living-wage jobs are harder to come by in Maine. That job insecurity trickles down, which not only makes it harder to put food on the table, but also creates social and relational stress that leads to arguments and worse."
As with incomes, Maine stands apart from its Northeast neighbors when it comes to education levels. In the Northeast overall, 32.8 percent of post-college-age adults have bachelor's degrees or higher, compared with 28.4 percent in Maine and 26.4 percent in the South, according to census data.
"Without a college education, people are three times more likely to get divorced than people with a college education," said Brad Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia.
The gap between divorce rates among the more and less educated has grown in the past 30 years as fewer first marriages have remained intact overall, according to Wilcox's 2010 report, "When Marriage Disappears."
The percentage of intact first marriages among people with no high school diplomas dropped from 67 percent to 39 percent from the 1970s to the 2000s, according to the General Social Survey, National Data Program for the Sciences, University of Chicago. Among people with bachelor's degrees or more, the percentage of intact marriages dropped from 73 percent to 56 percent.
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