In the United States (U.S.) in 2005, divorced households spent 46% and 56% more on electricity and water per person thanmarried households. Furthermore, U.S. households that experienced divorce used 42–61% more resources per person than before their dissolution.
The divorced household is smaller than the married household
An interesting new study shows that divorce has an environmental impact as well as an economic one. The major factor appears to be that divorce leads to more households. According to this study, the average household size in divorced households was 27–41% smaller than married households in 12 countries across the world between 1998 and 2002.
Divorce leads to an increase in number of households
We already know that running two households after a divorce is more expensive than running the original household but the less obvious fact is that we, as divorced people, are consuming resources at a higher rate also. While it is well known that population size has an impact on resource use, population size does not explain increased resource use in countries where the population is stable. However large increases in the number of households have been seen even when the population is stable.
Divorced households use more resources
Divorced households spent 46–56% more money per person than married households on water and electricity. More than 73 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity and 627 billion gallons of water could have been saved in the U.S. in 2005 if the efficiency per person in divorced households had been the same as that in married households. This likely results in increased consumption of fossil fuels and emissions of greenhouse gases as well as an impact on water quality.
Remarriage reduces resource consumption
Remarriage joins two households into one and so there are both economic and environmental savings. In fact, this study shows that the levels of resource consumption in remarried households return to levels seen in married households. Other social factors are likely to also have effects on resource usage including cohabitation, separation and delayed first marriage.
What can be done to remedy the increased environmental impact of divorced households?
Exactly what can be done to alleviate these issues is less clear. Governmental or social policy that interferes with the trend towards increased personal choice is not likely to work. Encouraging divorced households to be energy efficient and sensitive to resource consumption also seems unlikely to help. Divorced households already have a more powerful incentive to be "green" and that is an economic one. The financial stress of divorce already prompts people to minimize their spending and usage of resources to the best of their ability.
Ultimately the social, economic and environmental impact of divorce may be the necessary price we have to pay for increased personal choice and a trend towards more transitional relationships.