Divorce rates in the United States are notably higher today than 40 years ago, despite a slow downward trend since about 1980. After a long-run slow increase since the early twentieth century interrupted by a spike at the end of World War II and a leveling off for the 20 years afterward, the divorce rate more than doubled in the period between the mid-1960s and the early 1980s. Divorce, like all family topics, is fundamentally intertwined with gender. The causes and consequences of divorce are gendered in various ways because the family itself is historically a gendered institution. The causes of increased divorce rates are also gendered, with changes in the expectations of marriage playing a role along with changing employment opportunities for men and women.
Causes of Divorce
At the societal level, there are several causes of rising (or high) divorce rates. Since the Enlightenment era, marriage in United States has increasingly emphasized romantic love and self-fulfillment, in line with a broader trend toward individualism. In contrast to a marriage model that stresses duty and commitment, this individualistic marriage model is more fragile and subject to dissolution. These types of changes have begun to occur in countries with traditionally low rates of divorce-such as Japan, Indian, and Korea-as well. Some commentators emphasize the personal liberation aspect of a “divorce culture,” while others decry the same as reflecting a lack of commitment to marriage, in relation to this employment trends also play a role in divorce rates. Theoretically, women's employment could increase the likelihood of divorce by increasing women's alternatives for economic support outside of marriage, but alternatively, women's employment could reduce the likelihood of divorce by raising the standard of living and reducing marital stress. (Greenstein and Shannon, 2006)
When the cultural norm is a specialized model in which men are ...