The romanticized institution of matrimony, celebrated by an endless array of song and story, is a concept that is as old as civilization itself. Marriage is something that virtually everyone does but hardly everyone is successful at doing. Few, if any, couples that exchange vows are prepared either practically, emotionally or psychologically in dealing with the realities of a life-long commitment with another person. This is a disturbing and heartbreaking truth because failed marriages bring about lasting detrimental consequences to not only the couple but their children as well. This discussion takes a look at divorce including statistics and trends regarding divorce and the many varied contributing factors.
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The status of marriage, the cohabitation of couples in general, has changed substantially over the past 80 years or so (Saluter & Lugaila, 1996). In 1920, the divorce rate stood at about 12 percent. In 1960, about a quarter of marriages failed and by 1974, the number jumped to a full third of all marriages ending in divorce (Gutierrez, 1988). In 1996, it was reported that almost half (43 percent) of first marriages ended in either divorce or separation by the15th year of the relationship, according to a study conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics (Saluter & Lugaila, 1996).
There were 95 million married adults in 1970 as compared to 38 million single adults in the U.S. A quarter century later the number of married adults climbed to 166 million (23 percent higher) and the number of single adults was 77 million (more than 50 percent higher).
Seventy-two percent of adults were married in 1970 but only 60 percent in 1996 (Saluter & Lugaila, 1996). From 1970 to 1996, the number of people whose marital status was ‘currently divorced’ grew by four times, from 4.3 to 18.3 million. This represented three percent of adults in 1970, 10 percent in 1996. Half a million couples cohabitated without benefit of marriage in 1970. In 1996, this number grew to four million, seven times higher than 1970.
More than seven percent of households are made of unmarried couples (of the same gender). This compares to one percent during the ‘free love’ era of the late 1960’s. The current trend indicates that not only is the divorce rate steadily increasing but also results from the fact that a greater percentage of people are postponing their first marriage for a few years. This and other changes, such as a greater number of adults living without a partner and more children living in homes that contain just one parent, is causing a widespread change and a re-alignment in the common perceptions of marriage.
No Fault Divorce
In every developed country, the rate at which couples divorce has climbed, although not necessarily steadily, from whatever point in modern history one may choose. Though many reasons can be cited as to why couples divorce, it has been demonstrated through various studies that there are two prevalent causes driving the divorce rate consistently higher, not only in the U.S. but in all other parts of the world. The degree to which women depend on men for their financial survival has consistently decreased over the years. Second, the availability of birth control allows people to segregate sexual relations from bearing children (Saluter & Lugaila, 1996). Another reason for a rise in the divorce rate is attributed to “no-fault divorce laws, which give all spouses unrestricted access to divorce” (Family Research Council, 2004).
The Bra Burners
When examining the cultural issues regarding marriage and divorce, the redefining and subsequent confusion regarding specific gender responsibilities has caused a negative impact on marriage. In part because of the Women’s Liberation Movement, women’s status in society and the way they view their role in the marriage and family changed radically in a relatively short period of time. Men have responded to this change in different ways and many remain largely uncertain of exactly how to react to it.
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The gender role they learned as children by observing their parents’ behavior are seldom relevant in an age where women either want a career or simply need to be employed. By and large, both partners did not need to work in the 1950’s, for example, but in the economy of today, they do. “The rapidly changing status of women and the resultant demands on men being aspects of social changes to which many people have not adjusted, particularly in relation to concepts of marriage” (Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, 1998).
Several studies have suggested that when many couples marry, each member of the couple believes an individual’s rights and desires supersede compromising for the sake of the marriage. It is argued these couples are improperly equipped to handle a lifelong marital commitment. They frequently have impracticable expectations regarding the challenges of marriage. It does not help that the media often projects idyllic marriages which also contributes to heightened expectations to those that do not necessarily possess marital skills.
Living Longer Increases Odds of Divorce
In terms of the interpersonal aspect of marriage, the ability to effectively communicate is often cited as one of the main causes for the breakdown of a marriage. Couples frequently convey that their emotional needs are seldom acknowledged and that they want their partner to listen without becoming angry or defensive. “There appears to be a lack of social/relationship skills in dealing with problems in relationships.
Parties need assistance in developing negotiation skills to relate effectively” (Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, 1998). From a purely statistical and scientific perspective, the divorce rate has grown in large part because of the increased life span during the past century. In 1900, the life expectancy was 47. Today it averages 73. Marriages could last more than 25 years longer thus the divorce rate will naturally increase (Gutierrez, 1988).
The Class Divide
One of the only comprehensive studies examining the motives for divorce scrutinized the counseling reports from more than 600 couples who had applied for divorce. Men responded that inattentiveness of the children and home, mental cruelty, sexual incompatibility and infidelity were the main reasons for filing. Women cited mental and physical cruelty, alcohol abuse and financial difficulties. In general, persons in the economic middle class are concerned with emotional and psychological satisfaction. Lower-class couples are concerned more with physical actions of their husbands and financial difficulties within the relationship.
Numerous background elements are associated with higher rates of divorce. For instance, couples who are better educated have a lower risk of divorce than do those who are less as well educated. Accordingly, “divorce is more common among lower socioeconomic groups than among professional groups” (Gutierrez, 1988).
Many dynamics are involved in the rising divorce trend. Several studies have suggested that when many couples marry, each member of the couple believes an individual’s rights and desires supersede compromising for the sake of the marriage. It is argued these couples are improperly equipped to handle a lifelong marital commitment. They frequently have impracticable expectations regarding the challenges of marriage.
It does not help that the media often projects idyllic marriages which also contributes to heightened expectations to those that do not necessarily possess marital skills. People live increasingly longer, women are increasingly more independent and society is increasingly more tolerant of alternative lifestyle which has allowed for more options in life including divorce. Some argue that liberating oneself from a failed relationship is positive and others believe it to be negative. Obviously both are right.
Family Research Council. “Deterring Divorce.” Defending Holy Matrimony. (2004). Web.
Gutierrez, Peter. “On Divorce.” The Skeptic Files. (1988). Web.
Saluter, Arlene F. & Lugaila, Terry A. “Marital Status and Living Population Characteristics, Arrangements.” U.S. Census. (1996). Web.
Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs. “Factors Contributing to Marriage Relationship Breakdown.” To Have and to Hold. (1998). Web.