Divorce Rate in American Families

Over the past 30 years, a family in the United States has undergone a significant transformation. Staying the central institution of American society, the family now plays a smaller role than before. The percentage of adults who have never married, for the 1972 – 1998 years increased from 15 to 23%. This is due, firstly, the increase in the average age at marriage (for 1960-1997 from 22.8 years to 26.8 years for males and from 20.3 to 25 years for women), and second, the increasing number of divorces; and thirdly, the proliferation of cohabitation, the so-called civil marriage. The level of divorce of women for the years 1960-1980 increased from 9.2 to 22.6 for divorce a year in 1000 married women, partly due to the growth of women’s economic activity and declining fertility in 1980-1990 years of divorce has declined slightly – to 19, 8 % in 1995, but it is still two times higher than in the 60-ies. In addition, the reduced rates of re-marriage. Among women born in the years 1933-1942, the proportion of those who marry before entering civil marriage was in the 1963-1974 years of 7%, and among born in the years 1963-1974, this proportion reaches 64%. Among men, civil marriage is equally distributed.

The increase in the number of divorces, lower fertility rates, and the percentage of children born in wedlock, changed the model of a typical family. In 1998, a representative model of the family beginning 60-ies – consisting of a married couple with children – is no longer dominant. At the same time, the proportion of children in the family, consisting of one parent increased from 10% in 1972 to 18% in 1990, then declined to 12% in 1998. On the contrary, the proportion of children who are brought up in a stable family declined from 73% in 1972 to 49% in 1996 and 52% in 1998. Thus, a stable family is not the norm (Jasper, 2008, p. 64).

The next important change is the distribution of family roles. The level of economic activity among women rose from 49% in 1970 to 71.5% in 1995 primarily as a result of increased economic activity of women with small children. The proportion of traditional families with a wife, a housewife in 1972 was 53% of officially registered families by 1998 it had dropped to 21%. In contrast, the proportion of families with two economically active couples increased from 59% of married couples in 1995 to 32% in 1972. Moreover, women’s contribution to family income does not cease to grow. Since 1994, 22.5% of households wife’s income exceeds the income of her husband.

Thus, for a generation American family has undergone profound changes. Society changed its attitude towards the institution of the family. While most Americans continue to recognize the importance of marriage, still about half the population admits that divorce is the best option for couples who are not able to solve their problems. Most Americans want to have children, but the desired number of children per family has decreased. So has the model of upbringing and education of children. The emphasis is less on obedience to parents and more – on the autonomy of children. The higher value has got the minor family values such as the need for hard work.

Family roles of men and women have become more homogeneous. Significantly there decreased the resistance to increase the political responsibility of women and participation in professional activities. Currently, more than 2 / 3 of Americans positively related to women’s economic activity and do not believe that it harms children. But many think that mothers of young children should not work full time (Ambert, 2000, p. 284).

There is a view that after the sexual revolution in the United States freedom of manners dominates. But the reality is more complex. Of course, society has become more tolerant towards premarital sexual relations, but it is characterized mainly by the ’70s and early 90-ies. Now more than 2 / 3 of Americans do not approve of sexual relations between teenagers 14-16 years old. Attitudes toward homosexuality have never been sympathetic. Most Americans condemn homosexuality and especially homosexual marriage. In addition, condemning adultery, the negative attitude that said 70% of those surveyed in the 70-ies and 80% at present. Thus, changing attitudes and behavior does not fit into a simplified scheme of the liberalization of mores (Difonzo, 1997, p. 137).

The main feature of the traditional American family is to maintain good neighborly relations and participation in public life. But over the past 30 years, such ties weakened, but the intensity of communication with parents and friends remained almost the same level. This is due to the fact that more women are now working.

Comparing the patterns of families in 24 countries shows that everywhere prevails more positive attitude towards the work of women who do not have school-age children and less positive – for women with young children. In the U.S., according to polls, 97% of Americans approve of the professional activities of childless women or women who have graduated children from school. Only 45% of those surveyed approve of working women with children under school age, only 11% – with a full working day. In general, the international comparison reveals the typical approach to the family in the U.S.: Americans are seeking a compromise between traditional and modern models, trying to extract the best from both.

With regard to changes in family structure, the main change is the significant reduction of the proportion of families with children with only one parent (28% in 1972 and 8% in 1998) and increasing the proportion of families with children where both parents work (8 % In 1972, 21.5% in 1998). The second major change is to increase the number of single-parent families and unemployed childless singles. Marked changes in varying degrees, affected all social categories, the differences in classes are now more pronounced than in 1970. The proportion of single-parent families with a working head of the family since 1970 doubled from representatives of the working class and increased by 50% among the middle class. The model of incomplete families is becoming more frequent among the first category, 37.5% in 1990 to 21% in the early ’70s, and is found less frequently among middle-class – 22% in 1990 to 20% in the 70-ies.

Attitudes towards the family and family values depend on the type and social class of families. The type of family is the key to the division of family roles. Families where one spouse works, are traditional roles. For example, only 26% of men and women, families with one working spouse feel that professional activity is the best way to ensure that women have a certain independence. This percentage rises to 42.5% in families where both spouses are working and up to 56% in single-parent families. Similarly, while only 58.5% of households with one wage believe that the mother has a profession, can establish better relationships with their children, such an opinion 77% of working couples (Jasper, 2008, p. 78).

The U.S. will continue the transformation of the traditional family, will change attitudes on gender equality and women’s economic activity. The number of divorces has stabilized at a relatively high level, as well as the proportion of children born out of wedlock, and the incidence of premarital relationships.

Among the reasons for the increase in the number of divorces, there are several groups of factors. Economic factors – the frequency of divorce decreases in difficult times, rising in times of economic prosperity. For example, the frequency of divorce in the U.S. fall during the First World War, improved when it was over, declined after the collapse of the stock market in 1929, and has been relatively low during the Great Depression and World War II. At the end of the war – the growing number of divorces (peak accounted for about 1946), the 1950th year – the stabilization and reduction (possibly influence generations growing up during the Great Depression). Political factors influence that the «liberal» times and in the years of social experiments, the number of divorces usually increases (late 1960’s and 1970’s in the U.S.). In more conservative times the number of divorces is falling (as in the USA in the 1980s). Racial differences (the divorce rate among the black population in the U.S. is twice higher than for whites and Hispanics – the likely impact of differences in the socio-economic status). Provision is also religious differences (the Catholic divorce rate is lower than that of Protestants) (Jasper, 2008, p. 91).

From a statistical point of view of comparing the number of married and the number of divorcing incorrectly, as well as different people together, but the number of divorces and now stands at over 60% of the total number of prisoners in the same year marriage.

In the USA in 1994 2.36 million people married and 1.19 million divorced. In other words, the number of divorces marriage was about half of married that same year. The peak of American divorces is in the age group 20-24-year-olds in this age group going on a steady decline in the proportion of divorcing. There are currently more than 40% of marriages end in one or both spouses re-marriage.

The psychologists provide the following reasons for divorce: fundamental changes in marriage and family relations – the highest level of female employment in social production, the education level of women of a conflict between parent and productive roles of women.

The institution of family is gradually dying and is supported only with the religious view, though sometimes even religion can not save marriages. Young people pay more and more attention to their place in society and they try to focus on their work and career. Young mothers start to work when their children are too small. The divorce rate is increasing among young people and decreasing among those who get married being mature.


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  7. Trafford Abigail , Crazy Time: Surviving Divorce and Building a New Life, Revised Edition, Harper Paperbacks; Revised edition, 1992
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