Why Is the Divorce Rate Declining in Indonesia?

By Heaton, Tim B.; Cammack, Mark et al. | Journal of Marriage and Family, May 2001 | Go to article overview
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Why Is the Divorce Rate Declining in Indonesia?


Heaton, Tim B., Cammack, Mark, Young, Larry, Journal of Marriage and Family


This article examines trends in marital dissolution in Indonesia. Analysis considers the impact of educational expansion, delayed marriage, urbanization, increasing employment before marriage, legislative change, and increased free choice in marriage on the decline in marital disruption. Trends such as delayed marriage and educational expansion account for about one third of the decline in marital dissolution. Moreover, factors associated with marital disruption are shifting in importance. In particular, age at marriage and marital duration are becoming less reliable predictors of marital stability, whereas education is becoming more important. We conclude that the shifting forces governing marital formation and dissolution in Indonesia have modified the linkages between the conjugal couple, broader kinship systems, and modes of economic support such that traditional patterns sustaining high levels of marital instability are no longer in effect.

Key Word: divorce, Indonesia.

WHY IS THE DIVORCE RATE DECLINING IN INDONESIA?

Divorce rates have increased precipitously in several Western societies in the last several decades (Cherlin, 1992; Goode, 1993; Popenoe, 1988). Ideological and structural changes associated with modernization and economic development generally are cited as explanations for increasing marital disruption. Ideologically, increased emphasis on self-fulfillment, intimacy within marital unions, and gender equality have challenged beliefs underlying family stability. At the same time, economic growth and increased economic independence of women have facilitated individual choice (Cherlin; Goldscheider & Waite, 1991; Popenoe). Although the relative importance of each of the above-noted changes may be in dispute, there is general consensus that collectively they account for increasing rates of marital dissolution in Western industrial societies.

The picture becomes more complex if we consider trends in non-Western societies. Indonesia and Taiwan are two cases in point (Guest, 1992; Jones, 1994, 1997; Thornton & Lin, 1994). Although their histories and current levels of economic development differ, each of these nations has experienced economic development and has been exposed to Western beliefs about gender equality, self-fulfillment, and intimacy within marital unions. Female participation in the formal labor force has increased substantially in each country, yet each country has experienced declines in divorce rates that are as sharp, if not more so, than are the increases observed in Western societies. Clearly, general reference to economic development, changing gender roles, and a rising ideology of individualism cannot account for two trends that are diametrically opposed.

Goode (1993) did not assume that changes associated with industrialization automatically lead to rising rates of divorce. Rather, changes in economic circumstances lead to disruption of established family patterns that may raise or lower divorce, depending on the preexisting levels of marital stability. This formulation recognizes that linkages between economic production, kinship structures, and ideology are not tightly constrained, but the generality of his formulation also implies that the linkages are not yet well understood.

The purpose of this article is to identify characteristics associated with the decline in divorce in Indonesia over the last half century. First, we describe aspects of the marriage system in Indonesia that facilitated high marital instability at midcentury. Second, forces of change that might account for increasing stability are discussed. Then, empirical analysis examines whether indicators of these changes can account for the decline in marital disruption since the 1950s. Finally, we consider change in the relative importance of these factors associated with marital dissolution. As linkages between kinship ties, economic conditions, and the marital dyad shift, we anticipate that some factors will become better predictors of marital stability, whereas other factors will decline in importance.

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