Divorce has become a major issue in our society, and many causes have been attributed to the incline in divorce rates. Divorce rates have spiked during the past few decades and no on really knows why, but several theories have been formed in an attempt to explain this recent phenomena. Feminist theory, Individualism, and dual income theories will be discussed and analyzed to determine if they apply to the recent rise in divorce rates in North America. These theories do not act alone, that is, a not one of the above theories can be labeled as a definite cause of divorce, but when all three are examined together, a formula for divorce can be seen. The rise in divorce can not be, and should not be, attributed to a single theory, but rather the rise in divorce rates can be linked to all three, and one can see that these theories act collectively, as opposed to individually to cause the dramatic spike in divorce rates.
In recent years, Feminist theory has become pushed its way through traditional theory to become recognized. This theory directly applies divorce rates, as it taught women to stand up for their rights, and that they could do anything they wanted. This included activities that were previously occupied by men only. Feminist theory taught women that they did not need to depend on men for emotional support, financial support, or even to give them status in society, rather, feminist theory taught independence. Some forms of feminist theory has established that women do not need men to survive; a quote to back this up is one from Gloria Steinem, and she says “ A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.” This backs up the idea that women do not need men to function, and this can be seen as a cause for a higher divorce rate. Some feminist theories are seen as extreme and Eva Figes displays the radical feminist theory when she says, “Either one goes on gradually liberating the divorce laws, until marriage stands exposed as a hollow sham in which no one would wish to engage, or one takes a short cut and abolishes marriage altogether.” (Figes, pg. 121, patriarchal attitudes, 1972, Feminism Opposing Viewpoints, 1986) Since feminism has shown women that they no longer need to rely on men for support, some of them have begun to remove men from their lives. This, in turn can be correlated with the spike in divorce rates since the beginning of the feminist movement. “The end of the institution of marriage is a necessary condition for the liberation of women. Therefore it is important for us to encourage women to leave their husbands…” -Declaration of Feminism. This idea, again, shows the way that feminist theory has attributed to the divorce rates. This idea is essentially telling women that they must divorce their husbands in order to liberate women. This idea directly tells women to divorce their husbands in order to be liberated, and to aid in the liberation in all women. This is a main reason that Feminist theory has aided in the rise of divorce rates since the start of the feminist movement.
A second theory on the rise of divorce rates is the theory of individualism. William J. Goode says that “In our time people have been reducing their personal investments in the collectivity of the family.” (Goode, pg. 9, World Changes in Divorce Patterns, 1993) This statement accurately portrays the idea of individualism as it is saying that people of the past few decades have stopped emphasizing the collectivity of society, and on a smaller scale family, and have begun to focus on personal gain and investment. Individualism is a mainly North American viewpoint that involves placing emphasis on the individual, rather than focusing on the group. Individualism looks at the “I” instead of the “We”, and this can be translated into a cause of the recent divorce rates seen in North America. With individualism, people stop staying together for the kids; if a person from an individualistic society feels unhappy, or just simply wants out, they get out. Along with individualism has come a need for personal happiness. Goode believes this may be a reason for the rise in divorce rates and says, “One might also suggest that the culprit has been the incorrigible romanticism of this population, cherishing the dream of romantic life in marriage, believing in the individual’s right to pursue happiness, so that the grubby reality of daily married life seems to many a personal defeat.” (Goode, pg. 180-181, World Changes in Divorce Patterns, 1993) This shift from cultural values to individual values has put major pressure and stress on existing ideas about what marriage is about. It is this stress that leads to many splits; therefore one can presume that individualism correlates with divorce.
A third theory about the rise in divorce rates is a theory brought on by feminist and individualist theory. This is the idea that more families are converting to a dual-income household; that is; both partners in marriage are working and pursuing separate careers. Some people believe that some of these careers move away from each other and can pull two partners apart so each individual can pursue his or her career. Most dual-income families spend less time together than single income families; therefor these families have less time to grow to love each other and more time to grow apart. This theory can also be linked to divorce rates in the sense that if you are focused on making a career work, then it becomes more difficult to provide the focus it takes to make a marriage work. People are just giving up on marriage because it has become less important to them than economical status. The need for dual income families has, indeed, shifted mentalities to economics, rather than marriage or love, and this can impact on existing marriages. When it became almost necessary for both partners to have careers, a strain was put on marriages, and this strain has aided in the spike of divorce rates. The focus is no longer on traditional male/breadwinner, female/homemaker roles, and this has been hard to adapt to for many people. Some people can not adapt, or could not adapt quickly enough to this change, so the force of separate careers pulled couples apart, often times ending marriages in divorce. A branch of the dual income effect is role conflict. Role conflict exists when there is scarce time to be divided between work and family. Gary L. Cooper and Suzan Lewis say “When people feel torn between the needs of their children and the demands of work, the subsequent conflict can be very distressing.” (Cooper, Lewis, pg. 78, Managing The New Work Force, 1994) This distress can, and often does lead to separation, or, in some cases, Divorce. Cooper and Lewis go on to say “ Problems may arise if partners lack the time and energy to provide the practical or emotional support associated with having a homemaker wife.” (Cooper, Lewis, pg. 120, Managing The New Work Force, 1994) this is essentially saying that with the incorporation of new family ideas comes a change from traditional roles, that, in turn, may produce a lack of actions or support that has grown to be the norm in society. This can cause many problems as dual income situations may remove comfort areas of a relationship and, by doing this, a more stressful situation is created, which may eventually lead to divorce.
Each of these theories can provide valuable insight on the rise of divorce rates over the past sixty years, but not one can be considered a cause, and one can not be labeled as more important than the other can. Feminist theory brings up a good point in the sense that it discusses the liberation of women and the new ideas and rights of women today. The points listed above are solid arguments to support the fact that divorce rates do correlate with the feminist movement. The same can be said for dual income families. One can see that there is a correlation with the movement from traditional families and an increase in divorce rates. Again, the same can be said for individualism. With society moving from collectivism into individualism, the sense of family solidarity can be lost. This is why all three theories are applicable to the rise of divorce rates, and these rates will continue to rise as societal value changes.