From 2015 to 2017 Duval County’s divorce rate has declined 28 percent. That's leading researchers to say something unique and significant is happening in Jacksonville.
Two studies on Duval’s dropping divorce rate were recently commissioned by the Florida religious nonprofit Live the Life, which has its own Jacksonville programs designed to strengthen marriages.
One of those studies was conducted by Florida State University’s Florida Center for Prevention Research. Executive Director Tommy Bowermeister said his team found Duval’s divorce rate is much lower than what was projected.
For the trend analysis researchers looked at the past 20 years of divorce numbers in Duval to predict future divorces. The team predicted 2015’s divorce rate would be 4.2 divorces per 1,000 people and the actual rate was 4.1.
“So the trending analysis was very accurate,” Bowermeister said.
But 2016’s and 2017’s rates were predicted to be around 4.09 and 3.98, and instead were 3.3 and 2.95, respectively. At the same time, other big Florida cities aren’t having dramatic declines in divorce.
“Other counties’ rates are going down by a tenth, or two tenths,” he said. “We believe there is something significant in Duval County especially with the divorce rate dropping three years in a row.”
Some reasons for the decline FSU researchers hypothesized included couples getting married when they’re older and dating longer before marriage. An improved economy and fewer military deployments were also cited as possible reasons.
Bowermeister said counseling organizations are probably also contributing to the decline.
He pointed out there are more than 500 clinical social workers and 360 marriage counselors doing the work in Duval in addition to more than 800 faith-based organizations, like Live the Life. It’s been implementing a church-focused program and an intensive weekend program in Jacksonville since 2016.
“Our report definitely states we cannot state Live the Life is the reason for the divorce decline,” he said. “The fact is we do not have participant data.”
But Bowermeister said “there is something happening in Duval County that is unique in the state of Florida.”
Live the Life also commissioned a second study by W. Bradford Wilcox, Director with the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, and Spencer James, an assistant professor for the School of Family Life Brigham Young University.
That report pointed to Live the Life’s work and other non-profits — religious and secular — as reason for Duval’s declining divorce rate. It also pointed out Duval’s marriage rate has slightly declined over the past couple years, but only by less than half a percentage point.