Divorce Research Paper
Divorce: Causes and Consequences
Divorce is a serious problem in many countries with divorce rates increasing from year to year. This paper focuses on divorce, its definition, problems associated with divorce, its causes and consequences, concentrating specifically on divorced women. The paper also offers a list of possible solutions the government may find in order to help divorced women to cope with post-divorce problems.
1. What is divorce?
All definitions of divorce take into account the legal aspect of this phenomenon. Emerys.com defines divorce as “the legal ending of a Marriage so that the husband and wife are free to re-marry” (emerys.com).
US divorce statistics have shown a dramatic increase in the rates of divorce in the past years. In 1920 only one marriage in seven broke up, in 1960 this number was up to one in four, and in 1974 it was approaching one in three. Since then, the number has been growing and now threatens to hit one in two, meaning that approximately every second marriage in the US will be dissolved sooner or later (Gutierrez 1988).
2. What are the problems of divorce?
Divorce enhances many risks for both male and female divorcees. Researchers at Erasmus University in Rotterdam have conducted a study that indicates that “married people have the lowest morbidity rates, while the divorced show the highest” (Stanton). Divorcees have higher risk of injuries as well as diseases such as tuberculosis and mental illness. Overall, a divorced woman is more twice likely to die from any cause than a married woman. The numbers is 3.4 times for men.
A study on suicide published in Social Science Quarterly demonstrated that divorce is directly related to suicide rates, enhancing the risk of suicide threefold.
The rate of violent crime victimization is significantly higher for divorced women than for married women, 45:11 for a thousand females over twelve (Stanton).
3. What are the causes of divorce?
Causes of divorce are diverse, and very often it is more than one cause that brings the spouses to the fatal decision. Moreover, in a legal trial, almost everybody involved – the lawyer, both spouses, and their children may have each their own ideas as to the causes that led to the couple’s divorce.
Minor causes, exemplified by bad or unpleasant habits possessed by one of the spouses, or disagreements over details of children’s upbringing are usually the shield behind which the marriage partners want to cover their more profound contradictions that have deeper causes of discontent.
In an analysis of divorce issues of the contemporary America posted on the website of “Americans for Divorce Reform” a divorce lawyer lists the reasons for divorce, given by spouses themselves that most often surface in court trials. The list includes “poor communication”, “financial problems”, “a lack of commitment to the marriage”, “a dramatic change in priorities”, and “infidelity” (Americans for Divorce Reform). The list of second-popular causes includes “failed expectations or unmet needs”, “addictions and substance abuse”, “physical, sexual or emotional abuse”, and “lack of conflict resolution skills” (Americans for Divorce Reform).
Out of the reasons contributed by the lawyer “a lack of commitment to the marriage” seems to be the most crucial and substantial one. Ultimately, almost all divorce causes can be reduced to lack of commitment, since a marriage that has commitment on the part of both partners is definitely going to be more successful as husband and wife are more readily able to find solutions to financial problems and remove any vestige of emotional or sexual abuse from their marriage.
While the above-mentioned list included the reasons that are directly responsible for the dissolution of marriages, there are also factors, noted by sociologists, that do not directly lead a couple to divorce but still contribute to greater danger of divorce as people in some groups are more prone to dissolve marriages than others.
Thus, people who have a low educational level divorce more often than those who are educated. As a result, divorce tends to be a more frequent phenomenon in couples with a low socioeconomic status as they usually have a worse education. Professional groups tend to have more stable marriages. Racial factors are also reflected in the divorce statistics of the US marriages. Nonwhite marriages separate more often than white marriages. Family background does play a role too. Children from unhappy families or those whose parents divorced are more prone to divorce themselves. Spouses who are not believers and do not attend church divorce more often than believers. Some other groups are also in greater danger of divorce than others, for example, spouses of different races, different religions, and a significant age gap between spouses (Gutierrez 1988).
The attempts to pinpoint the reasons of divorce from the point of view of the society as a whole have led some sociologists to claim that this phenomenon is the result of “growing individualisation and secularisation in society” (Sociological causes and consequences of divorce). Individualisation and secularisation exert influence on traditional value system shaving priority off the value of marriage. As a divorce decision often weighs on the trade-off between the cost of marriage dissolution, researchers suppose that divorce rates should be higher among people with a good education and a high income, since this lowers the cost of divorce for them (Sociological causes and consequences of divorce). This supposition, however, contrasts with reality: as mentioned in the previous paragraph, couples with lower education tend to divorce more often. Perhaps, the explanation here lies in the fact that decision to divorce is conditioned by a complex interplay of factors, and the cost of divorce may not be the most influential of them.
Other demographic factors that have been seen to raise the risk of divorce are the age of the spouses when they get married (people who get married younger divorce more often), rapid upward social mobility; cohabitation and premarital birth; presence of a large number of unmarried women in a working environment stimulates men to divorce, as well as the opposite situation enhancing the chances of meeting a more eligible spouse (Ambert 2002).
Anne-Marie Ambert from York University confirms the point that the higher divorce rate is the consequence of an increase in individualization and secularization. She notes that the divorce rates have been picking up since the 19th century as marriages became increasingly desacralized, losing their religious basis. Since then the importance of individual choice has made marriage more of a sacral matter and less a covenant with the Creator. Another aspect that historically contributed to the popularity of divorce was liberalization of divorce legislation that led to an increase in divorce and made the severance of family ties easier from the legal point of view (Ambert 2002).
But perhaps the most important factor Ambert mentions lies on the psychological plane: the contemporary “emphasis on rights rather than duties” has formed a hedonistic mentality leading people to put individual enjoyment above responsibilities that are associated with marriage. If a person puts the satisfaction of one’s sexual and emotional needs above marriage ties, this kind of union is likely to run into problems if spouses feel the union does not meet their needs. When personal gratification is the priority, marriage is most important only when love and support is present, and loses its attractiveness when love is gone. The “threshold of tolerance” when young Westerners decide they no longer need marriage has been lowering of late (Ambert 2002).
4. What are the consequences or bad effects that divorce will bring to divorced women both economically and socially?
In a study, Anne-Marie Ambert has found that divorce leads to poverty for a great number of women and their children. In Canada, women’s household income loses about 50%, in comparison to 25% lost by men (Ambert 2002). One could assume that a similar proportion could be observed in other developed nations, while in developing countries the disparity can be even greater as the difference between men’s and women’s income is even greater.
A study by Finnie shows that women’s poverty jumps to 43% after divorce against 16% before divorce. After three years elapse after the divorce, women still have an income well below what was available to them before and below the income of their former husbands (Ambert 2002).
Thus, the economic consequences for women are more serious than for men. This is caused by the fact that in practically any society men earn more than women, and thus after the divorce men retain their higher incomes while women lose their support that earlier came from the husband.
Now, however, the situation has been changing causing men to suffer larger economic losses than before, which has partially equated them with women. First, the legal system in Western countries has become stricter in enforcing support payments, simultaneously raising their size. Second, the discrepancy in pay among men and women has been shrinking, and men whose wives have a higher income are going to lose more.
The divorce is hardest on children, and as mothers tend to be the primary caregivers after the dissolution of marriage, their fate as single mothers is far from enviable. In 1994 the study of the Vanier Institute of the Family showed that 21% of children lived in poverty, the rate that jumped to 65.8% for children brought up by single mothers (Ambert 2002). A single mother after she divorces has to provide for the children no matter how big or small support payments are.
Besides economic issues, women are also suffering from social and psychological effects of divorce. Socially, divorced women are subject to social discrimination in many societies while men are usually exempt from it. However, this inequality is shrinking as the status of the divorced woman is elevating due to higher divorce rates as divorce becomes a more common phenomenon (Gutierrez 1988). Higher divorce rates have been believed to contribute to the removal of stigmatisation of the divorcees, as society begins to see divorce as more acceptable (Social causes and consequences of divorce).
Both genders are hit by psychological effects of the divorce. Clearly, if divorce is caused by the decision of one party to abandon another, the party most affected by stress is the one abandoned. Still, women are severely hurt by stress that relates to the deterioration in post-divorce socioeconomic status, while men are plagued by negative sentiments over losing custody of their children (Gutierrez 1988).
Some researchers believe that divorce leads to inequality because divorce often happens in families where the cost of divorce often outweighs the benefits. Unless there is a serious clash between the spouses resulting in some extremely adverse behaviour on the part of one of the spouses, such as physical abuse or alcoholism, the costs are almost certain to be heavier than the benefits. Among the negative consequences are “waste of energy, emotional instability, loss of resources, the hardening of the battle between the competing ex-spouses, less parental authority over children, lasting tension in the family” (Social causes and consequences of divorce). In case the costs of the divorce are more serious than the benefits, the divorce is going to exacerbate inequality of the divorcees as compared to the other members of the society.
The general rule of thumb is that the dissolution of a good marriage results in costs that outweigh the benefits, while breakup of a “bad marriage” is bringing greater benefits to one or both of the spouses. Even so, the post-divorce reality shows that divorced men are more likely to suffer from alcohol abuse and divorced women are more prone to depression. Ambert has found that a lot of divorcees believe that “they are not any happier and even are more unhappy than during their marriage” (Ambert 2002).
Thus, divorce results in many negative consequences for women in the economic, social and psychological spheres. However, the bright side of the divorce need not be neglected as well. Sometimes, closing one door in fact opens another, and divorcees get a chance to meet their new love. Besides, the sharp deterioration in the economic status can inspire a woman to make quick advances in career building, or open up horizons for self-realization in other areas.
5. What should the government do in order to help divorced women in the society?
The government can take active part in alleviating the negative consequences of divorce for women and increasing their chances to adapt to their post-divorce life.
The government could be the crucial agent in helping divorced women with their careers, offering employers incentives in promoting or hiring new divorcees, as well as offering them vacancies in public organizations to help them cope with a sharp fall in income that is going to hit many after the divorce proceedings.
Besides, the government needs to pay close attention to the procurement of women’s rights to financial support from their husbands, especially for those women who retain custody of their children after the divorce. Probably, the threshold of the payment amount could be raised for single mothers who are below the poverty level.
In order to assist in the social adaptation of women, the officials could promote the public’s view of divorced women as society members that enjoy equal prestige and respect with other members. This is relatively difficult to accomplish as it is often difficult to separate the view of the divorce as a negative phenomenon and the perception of divorcees as social failures. As mentioned above, the factor that mostly promotes the lessening inequality between divorced women and their married or single counterparts is the increase in divorce frequency. Hopefully, other reasons can be found to promote the improvement in the image of the divorced woman, such as professional achievements of the divorcees or their successes in building new marriages.
It is difficult to assist the divorced person on a psychological level, as divorce is an individual misfortune that has to be conquered be a divorcee personally. Yet, the government can set up a free or affordable counselling service that will be aimed at helping divorced women to fight the divorce consequences.
As divorce statistics are becoming threatening in many developed nations, the alleviation of the negative consequences of divorce gains in importance. At the moment a growth in number of divorces is caused by the change in societal values as people tend to place greater emphasis on self-enjoyment that is often hampered by family burdens. This makes people less committed to their marriages, although they often tend to substitute more specific problems such as alcohol abuse or financial problems when they name the reasons for the breakup of their marriages.
The government has to take an active part in helping the divorced women to struggle with post-divorce effects that are often harder for them than for divorced men, offering employment assistance, regulating support benefits, and offering affordable psychological counselling.
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