As China has emerged from lockdown, the number of divorce filings in several cities has jumped to record highs. This trend is an ominous warning of what the U.S. and other countries may be headed for; already, domestic violence reports are seeing a nationwide surge. (Bloomberg Businessweek)
NH: Already the reports are pouring in: With the COVID-19 lockdown, local governments around the world are seeing more instances of domestic violence and suicide. And now this story about how China is seeing a rush of divorce filings now that the lockdown has eased and courts are functioning again.
IMO, most of the evidence to date is scattered or anecdotal. We'll have to wait until we have more evidence before coming to conclusions.
Yes, there does seem to be some rise in domestic violence calls. But the rise may be no more than proportional to the rise in the amount of time that couples who fight are forced to spend together. And, on the flip side, it may be linked to a simultaneous decline in the incidence of violent crime as people spend a lot less time "on the street." As a general rule--to paraphrase Leo Tolstoy--lockdowns may tend to improve happy marriages and push unhappy marriages to the breaking point.
There is evidence that more people are now calling counselors to talk about their anxiety or loneliness. But there is no evidence yet that the suicide rate is rising. In fact, serious national crises often coincide with suicide-rate declines, perhaps because society feels itself "pulling together" (as in World War II) at a time of challenge. Historically, it is true that rising unemployment does probably trigger rising suicides. On the other hand, it is also true that mortality rates overall tend to fall during recessions. (The rise in suicides is more than compensated by falling auto accidents, falling homicides, and improved health due to more sleep and less work-related stress.)
The NYT has recently argued both sides of this one. When President Donald Trump said he feared a wave of suicides if the economy were shut down, the newspaper issued a brutal factchecker rebuttal. More recently, it explained that the shutdown would indeed lead to an avalanche to mental health problems, including more suicides.
And what about China? We'll see. At the height of the February shutdown, the CCP optimistically (if unromantically) suggested to couples that this might be a good time to help remedy China's birth decline. Well, in about nine months, we'll see about that one too.
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ABOUT NEIL HOWE
Neil Howe is a renowned authority on generations and social change in America. An acclaimed bestselling author and speaker, he is the nation's leading thinker on today's generations—who they are, what motivates them, and how they will shape America's future.
A historian, economist, and demographer, Howe is also a recognized authority on global aging, long-term fiscal policy, and migration. He is a senior associate to the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C., where he helps direct the CSIS Global Aging Initiative.
Howe has written over a dozen books on generations, demographic change, and fiscal policy, many of them with William Strauss. Howe and Strauss' first book, Generations is a history of America told as a sequence of generational biographies. Vice President Al Gore called it "the most stimulating book on American history that I have ever read" and sent a copy to every member of Congress. Newt Gingrich called it "an intellectual tour de force." Of their book, The Fourth Turning, The Boston Globe wrote, "If Howe and Strauss are right, they will take their place among the great American prophets."
Howe and Strauss originally coined the term "Millennial Generation" in 1991, and wrote the pioneering book on this generation, Millennials Rising. His work has been featured frequently in the media, including USA Today, CNN, the New York Times, and CBS' 60 Minutes.
Previously, with Peter G. Peterson, Howe co-authored On Borrowed Time, a pioneering call for budgetary reform and The Graying of the Great Powers with Richard Jackson.
Howe received his B.A. at U.C. Berkeley and later earned graduate degrees in economics and history from Yale University.