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Marriage and Divorce

Sociologists who study marriage and divorce aim to explain the causes of marital dissolution in the 21st century. A popular hypothesis explains four different variables that effect the probability of divorce:


1) Rise in cohabitation

Since the 1970s there has been a rise in cohabitation in western countries. Cohabitation has long been viewed as an alternative to marriage, however there is increasing evidence that cohabitation is more of an alternative to single life rather than a substitute for marriage.(1)

There are many different forms of cohabitation in the 21st century including first-time cohabitation, pre-marital cohabitation, post-marital cohabitation and subsequent cohabitation. Surprisingly, premarital cohabitation has been linked to increased risk of marriage dissolution.(1)


2) Age at first marriage and marital duration

Marital stability increases with the wife’s age at marriage. Statistically, the older a woman is when she gets married, the longer the marriage is likely to be.(1) From the 1970s and onwards, women’s median age at marriage has been increasing.(1)

Possible explanations for this include cultural pressure to experience life whilst young, third level education delaying people’s financial and emotional preparedness for marriage, desire to pursue a career, rise in house prices and the cost of weddings.(1)

It should also be noted that marriage after being acquainted for less than six months or after an engagement of more than three years have been found to increase risk of divorce.(1)


3) Multi-tasking of women’s roles

The increase in married women’s workforce participation has been accompanied by delays in timing of marriage and declines in marital stability. Women’s workforce participation means increased relative contributions to household income and increased power in the marital relationship.

Women are no longer financially or socially as dependent on their husbands and with the increase in workforce participation, the economic barriers to leaving a strained marriage have weakened.

Despite research indicating that childcare has become less gender segregated, women continue to assume the burden of parental and household responsibility, resulting in an unequal division of domestic labour between women and men.


4) Expectations of marriage

Studies in the USA have shown that people view marriage not as a vehicle for economic survival but as one for personal happiness. There is a new emphasis on ‘happy ever after’ and if those expectations are not met, there is a larger probability for divorce.(1)

The marital ideal is getting harder and harder to achieve with salaries not rising at the same rate of inflation. There is definitely a clash between the idea and reality of marriage.



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