Divorce often takes a devastating emotional toll on families, and it has significant impacts on the environment as well, a new study suggests.
When couples split and form additional households, it dramatically boosts the consumption of water, land, energy, and other resources. In many parts of the world, such resources are becoming severely limited, says Jianguo Liu, an ecologist at Michigan State University in East Lansing.
In the year 2000, nearly 15 percent of U.S. households were headed by divorced people, U.S. Census Bureau data suggest. The separation of families aggravated urban sprawl, boosting the number of households by more than 6 million and increasing the number of rooms to be heated and cooled by almost 36 million, says Liu.
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Because the number of people in a household decreases after a divorce, efficiency of resource use drops as well, Liu and his colleague Eunice Yu note in an upcoming Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. As a result, average per-person costs for electricity and water in a household headed by a divorced person are about 46 percent and 56 percent higher, respectively, than in a married household.
Using survey data gathered in 2005, Liu and Yu estimate that divorce increased water use in the United States that year by more than 627 billion gallons, at a cost of nearly $3.7 billion. Also, the team reports that divorce boosted electricity consumption that year by about 73.5 billion kilowatt-hours—about 2 percent of the nation’s electricity use—at a cost of nearly $7 billion.