Divorce can be bad for the environment, because it tends to result in more households and less sharing of resources, according to a study published this week.
Divorce rates are rising around the world, and each time a family dissolves, the result is two new households.
"A married household actually uses resources more efficiently than a divorced household," said Jianguo Liu, an ecologist at Michigan State University whose analysis of the environmental impact of divorce appears in this week's online edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
More households use more land, water, and energy—three critical resources, Liu explained in a telephone interview.
Households with fewer people are simply not as efficient as those with more people sharing, he explained. A household uses the same amount of heat or air conditioning whether there are two or four people living there.
A refrigerator uses the same power whether one person is home or several are. Two people living apart run two dishwashers, instead of just one.
"People have been talking about how to protect the environment and combat climate change," Liu said. "Divorce is an overlooked factor that needs to be considered."
It Adds Up
Liu, who researches the relationship between ecology and social sciences, said people seem surprised by his findings at first and then consider it simple.
"A lot of things become simple after the research is done," he said.
Some extra energy or water use may not sound like a big deal, but it adds up.
The United States, for example, had 16.5 million households headed by a divorced person in 2005 and just over 60 million households headed by a married person.