Health: Why Oh Why Is Feminism Blamed for Divorce Rates? Britain on the Couch
James, Oliver, The Independent (London, England)
WHY OH why does the divorce rate keep rising? Actually, the rise is part of a century-long trend, of which the rate of acceleration is staggering and the statistics reward close inspection.
The number of divorces in England and Wales in 1857 - the last year in which divorce could be achieved only by decree of Parliament - was just five. With courts able to decree divorces, this had risen to an average of 215 per year in the period 1870-1874, to 590 per year in the period 1900-1904 and to 710 in the period 1910-1913. In short, until the First World War, divorce was virtually unheard of and confined to the rich.
The annual average for the four years immediately after the First World War was four times greater than immediately before it. The rise then settled down to a slower rate, reaching 4,000 by 1930, only to rocket again after the Second World War, stabilising at an average of 27,000 a year in the period 1952-1960. In other words, there were already about 45 times more divorces in 1952 than at the start of the century. In the Sixties the number of divorces doubled, and it doubled again in the Seventies, and, in 1995, there were 165,000 divorces in England and Wales - 280 times more than in 1900. With different timing, similar trends occurred in Germany, in much of the rest of Europe and in the US, so this is obviously not just a British disease. At the first level of explanation of this century-long trend are the reasons that divorcing couples themselves give. Like characters from situation comedies, the genders offer predictably different reasons. Wives tend to cite physical violence, verbal abuse, financial problems, mental cruelty, drinking, neglect of home and children and a lack of love. Husbands are wont to cite parents-in-law and sexual incompatibility. However, most students of the subject treat these explanations as symptoms of deeper causes. The next level consists of a series of conditions or antecedents that have been identified as correlating with divorced couples as opposed to intact couples and that include marrying young, marrying in a register office and being poor, among dozens of other factors. But these are not necessarily explanatory in themselves. That register office weddings are less enduring, for example, is not caused by the ceremony in itself, but by the reduced commitment to the concept of marriage that such a ceremony is assumed to indicate - and, consequently, a greater reluctance to stick it out if the relationship sours. The final level of explanation boils down to the effects of industrialisation and urban living. These are behind a range of factors such as rising expectations of what marriage can supply, liberalised divorce laws, increased numbers of working women, the decline of religion, improved education and welfare and reduced stigma as more people know divorcees and as the media reflects that trend. It is from this list that most explanations for the rise in the second half of the century are drawn. The introduction in 1969 of "no-fault" divorce is often blamed for the rise, but the numbers had already doubled in the previous eight years - if anything, the new act was an effect rather than …
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Publication information: Article title: Health: Why Oh Why Is Feminism Blamed for Divorce Rates? Britain on the Couch. Contributors: James, Oliver - Author. Newspaper title: The Independent (London, England). Publication date: October 27, 1998. Page number: 13. © 2009 The Independent - London. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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