The number of Americans getting divorced plummeted last year, while the marriage rate also dropped precipitously as thousands of weddings were postponed or canceled, according to a new study.

The early look at Covid-19’s effect on U.S. divorce and marriage statistics comes from Bowling Green State University’s Center for Family and Demographic Research, which analyzed five states that have released monthly numbers for much of last year.

The data contradict early predictions that Covid-19 and the stresses of quarantine would cause divorce rates to surge.

In Florida, the largest state analyzed, marriage numbers from March through September were 33% lower than researchers would have expected based on previous years’ trends. Divorces in the Sunshine State dropped 28%.

If trends in Florida and other states -- Arizona, New Hampshire, Missouri, and Oregon -- were repeated nationwide, the U.S. had an estimated “shortfall” of 339,917 marriages and 191,053 divorces, according to the paper by Bowling Green’s Wendy Manning and Krista Payne. In 2019, there were roughly 2.2 million marriages in the U.S., and about 1 million divorces.

The sharp decline in divorce doesn’t mean couples are necessarily happier together in lockdown. Instead, the pandemic may be forcing dissatisfied spouses to stay together for practical reasons.

“Divorce can be expensive, and couples may be reluctant while facing economic uncertainty and/or health issues,” said Manning, a sociology professor who’s director of the Center for Family and Demographic Research. “These folks may feel ‘stuck’ and they could be delaying divorce until life feels more normal.”

Both divorce and marriage rates have been declining for years, as Americans have changed how they approach the institution of matrimony. Young people are waiting longer to tie the knot, and many couples are forgoing marriage entirely, choosing to live together without a wedding. Those who do marry tend to be better educated and more affluent, a self-selected group that’s also likelier to stay together.

In 2019, the U.S. divorce rate was 15.5 per 1,000 married women, according to the National Center for Family & Marriage Research, down from its peak of 22.6 in 1980.

A dearth of weddings and divorces in March and April of 2020 was probably inevitable. Government offices were closed and Americans were being told to stay home. However, the data don’t show a big rebound in the summer and autumn -- when states mostly re-opened -- that would reflect a large pent-up demand from the spring.

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