Our new study Relationships, Recession and Recovery shows that couples worst affected by the recession are eight times as likely to suffer relationship breakdown.
We analysed data from Understanding Society (the UK’s prime longitudinal study) that detailed how people in the UK were affected by the economic downturn from 2009 to 2012. We then grouped them according to their experiences of recession: job loss, optimism for the future, perception of current and future financial situation, working overtime, satisfaction with employment and being behind with bills. We then assessed how couple relationships fared in each group.
The findings show that people who suffered negative impacts of the recession were considerably more likely to have experienced deterioration in their relationship stability. We also found that couples in the worst affected groups who remained in relationships had relatively poor relationship quality. This suggests that although the economic recession may be receding, the fallout – the ‘social recession’ – is still very much being felt by couples and families across the UK.
See the groups and how relationships were affected in our graphic:
(Click image to view a larger size)
The evidence suggests that, without action, the UK is likely to remain in this ‘social recession’ for some time after economic conditions have improved, and the full extent may be yet to materialise. Due to the costs of separation, reduced relationship quality may not manifest as breakdown until financial conditions allow.
Relationships are central to building a ‘social recovery’ alongside and reinforcing economic recovery. Positive, good-quality relationships are fundamental to our health and wellbeing; our ability to engage and progress in education, apprenticeships, and at work; and they are the key to building resilience and independence.
What we’ve found has important implications for how we understand the impact of recession; how, accordingly, we think and talk about recovery; and how policy can respond to build a happier, healthier and more productive society.
As the economy recovers, therefore, it is crucial to recognise that relationships have been weakened, and therefore to focus on relationships in public policy to shore-up relationship quality and stability, build resilience and individuals’ relational capability.
An effective social recovery relies on relationships being a priority in public policy and a cross-cutting effort by politicians and policy makers to invest in protecting relationships. Adopting a ‘relational lens’ for policy is especially important if we want to consider how we progress from social recession to social recovery.