Technology Paper on Historical Trends in Divorce
Early Americans had high expectations from marriage, as marriage was considered an appropriate and natural stage of adulthood. Additionally, they viewed stable marriage as a fundamental aspect of social order. Before the mid-nineteenth century, there was no legal divorce. Instead, separation and desertions were common among Americans. During the colonial era, abandonment and mutual separation were the most popular ways of ending a marriage. Divorce was preferable when distribution of property was involved. However, economic changes and change in gender roles have made an impact on divorce rates among Americans. The choices facing women have really changed, giving them more alternatives to marriage.
Early Americans’ Attitude towards Divorce, Desertion, Separation and Adultery
In most Native American societies, almost all adults were married, although marriage was not considered as a permanent state. People were expected to stay together in marriage for a considerable time and then separate. Divorce process was carried out quite easily because there was no joint ownership of property. Divorce was a private affair between the parties, as there was no law to regulate the activity. Things began to change when the Christian missionaries arrived in the U.S., and people were taught on how to value families. Divorce and separations were not big issues among the natives because children were safe with the relatives, even when their parents had separated.
In Massachusetts Bay, a divorce could occur on the ground of adultery (particularly to women), desertion, bigamy, cruelty, inability to provide, and impotence (Emery 515). An evidence was required for desertion, as some nagging women could have driven their men to beat them; hence, the woman was required to prove that she did not provoke her man. Thus, the acceptable reasons that could lead to divorce in the seventeenth century were adultery, bigamy, desertion, impotency, consanguinity, and deceptive contracts.
To avoid double standards, women were required to have numerous grounds for divorce while men were necessitated to verify an act of adultery. The immense problem in early America was that women were treated as legal non-entities; hence, they could not claim ownership of property. This practice made them avoid pushing for a divorce, which made divorce cases uncommon before the nineteenth century.
How Economic Changes Affected American Divorce Rates
The impact of the Great Depression on the U.S. family trends was quite apparent. Divorce cases fell in the same way as the birth rates owing to the rise in unemployment rates. According to Emery, divorce is a costly undertaking that can drain the family resources (465). People are likely to postpone divorce when they undergo economic crisis, since they do not want to incur the expenses of divorce. Although couples may conflict with each other during hard economic times, they rarely file for divorce. Instead, many couples turn to co-habitation and refrain from having a full commitment to marriage.
Having favorable attitudes toward divorce is normal, considering that individuals understand different options in case of misunderstandings in relationships. Such conception has eroded marital quality over time through decreasing the quantity as well as the quality of marital interaction while increasing marital conflict. When couples fail to tolerate each other, they can opt for a separation and allow each other to seek new relationship elsewhere. Women will find divorce favorable because they would have the freedom to take care of themselves, but they often suffer because they do have to be away from their children most of the time to earn a living.
Why Attitudes toward Divorce Have Changed
Divorce rates began to rise after the establishment of the Family Court system in the 1950s, when the judicial system began handling divorce issues. The family courts enable women to seek a divorce and oblige men to take care of children in case women are not financially stable. One of the reasons why people’s attitudes toward divorce have changed is that they got more choices to choose from. When job opportunities were opened for women, they became independent and were able to support their lifestyles. On the other hand, falling wages and increase in unemployment rates among men with no special skills reduced their dependability, which gave women a chance to pursue a divorce and explore their careers.
The federal government also contributed in transforming the attitudes toward divorce. Failure to establish the minimum wage and lack of insurance cover for the unemployed men led to the breakup of many families due to poverty. When men became unable to feed their families, women began to contemplate on ways to take care of their needs without men. When women who have separated from their men prosper in their career, they motivate other women to follow suit and leave abusive relationships.
Further, increased emphasis on individualism in the 1960s and 70s impacted the rate of divorce, as individuals endeavored to fulfill their individual goals. The culture of singlehood, cohabitation, and childlessness became acceptable during this time, while opposition to divorce was diluted. In addition, many observers have noted that higher divorce rates in the US are caused by the dwindling levels of marital satisfaction. Growing up in a single family has encouraged divorce, as most children from single families can hardly remain in committed relationships. Most women, particularly the career ones, have come to realize that marriage does not satisfy their personal needs and opt to remain single.
Today, divorce is acceptable in the U.S., and people are not afraid to state publicly that they are divorcing. Many Americans have accepted divorce as an ethical thing in ending marriage, as couples must have a good reason to split their relationships. Married couples are nowadays spending less time together compared to how they used to a few decades ago. They value personal fulfillment more than family, and if they can manage to achieve their personal goals without men, they end up filing for divorce.
Also worth noting is that marriage laws have made it easy for couples to apply for a divorce. The law awards custody to any parent, but in most cases, the mother takes the responsibility for the children, while the father is allowed to visit the children occasionally, in addition to offering financial support to them. Few women today can tolerate abusive husbands; hence, the best way to avoid cruelty and violence in marriage is through divorce. Besides, women are no longer dependent on their husbands to provide for their needs; they can afford to live an independent life. Thus, filing for a divorce enables women to enjoy their lives freely.
In early America, marriage was deemed as a social commitment, where people married for economic security, as well as procreation. Although divorce was an easy affair, many families chose to stay together, as women were dependent on their husbands for the needs. The grounds for divorce were adultery, cruelty, bigamy, fraud, and impotency. Nowadays, couples are free to divorce if they feel they no longer appeal to each other. Furthermore, marriage is currently perceived as a path toward self-fulfillment. Women have become independent and capable of providing for themselves due to equality in opportunities and rising unemployment rates among men.
The rate of divorce may, of course, fall due to economic hardship, but the views of divorce still remain favorable, particularly when relationships fail.
Emery, Robert E. Cultural Sociology of Divorce: An Encyclopedia. Los Angeles: SAGE, 2013. Print.