Academic journal article Journal of Family Studies

Analyzing Divorce from Cultural and Network Approaches

Academic journal article Journal of Family Studies

Analyzing Divorce from Cultural and Network Approaches

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT: Because of the high divorce rate and subsequent outpouring of research on divorce in the United States and other Westernized countries, divorce is often framed from an individualistic perspective as a process that is negotiated between two individuals--as 'his and her divorce. 'A primary assumption is that the spouses negotiate what is best for them and their children, seemingly irrespective of extended kin or culture. This study provides a more complex understanding of the role of culture in the divorce process by examining divorce from culture and network theory approaches. Interviews with 60 Mexican Americans who experienced divorce are combined with the extant literature to illustrate how culture and social networks shape divorce decisions and behaviors. Five themes surfaced from the interviews: (1) power differentials and gender roles, (2) female collective empowerment, (3) social capital, network density, and family members as stakeholders, (4) family members as bridges of structural holes and (5) religion as culture and law.

KEYWORDS: divorce, culture, social networks, Mexican American families

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Divorce rates have increased dramatically on a global scale since the 1960s, particularly in industrialized countries (Toth & Kemmelmeier, 2009). Perhaps nowhere has this change been more palpable than in the United States, where anywhere from 40 to 50 percent of Americans will experience divorce in their lifetime (U.S. Census Bureau, 2004). Because of the high divorce rate and subsequent outpouring of research on divorce in the United States and other Westernized countries, divorce is often framed from an individualistic perspective as a process that is negotiated between two individuals--as 'his and her divorce.' A primary assumption is that the husband and wife negotiate what is best for themselves and their children, seemingly irrespective of extended kin or culture. This assumption is cast widely to cultures within and outside the United States where it may not apply. Even though it is rarely mentioned in divorce research, in some cultures, extended family might view one's divorce as 'our divorce,' which can affect how divorce manifests itself and the ways family members communicate about it.

Research has shown that divorce varies according to cultural values (Toth & Kemmelmeier, 2009). Thus far, three primary conclusions can be deduced from the research on divorce and culture. First, as cultures become more individualistic and industrialized, divorce rates tend to increase (Fan & Lui, 2004; Tomassini, Glaser, & Stuchbury, 2007). Second, divorce rates increase as women become more educated and financially independent (Huang, 2005; Raymo, Iwasawa, & Bumpass, 2004; Simonsson & Sandtrom, 2011; Tilson & Larson, 2000). Third, divorce rates are lower when religion is a central part of the culture (Mullins, Brackett, Bogie, & Pruett, 2004, 2006). Yet, as Toth and Kemmelmeier (2009) point out, this research often assumes a rather simplistic perspective of cultures, missing much of the intricacy that characterizes them. Research does not readily capture the deeper theoretical properties that connect divorce trends. Even in the same culture, perspectives on divorce may differ because there is considerable variance in the communication patterns within cultures (Coon & Kemmelmeier, 2001; Komarraju & Cokley, 2008). Analyzing divorce from a network theory lens and a cultural lens allows researchers to elucidate cultural variations in divorce as they relate to family structures, power, and the flow of information within and across divorced families. Combining these two theoretical perspectives should help scholars articulate what divorce 'looks like' in different cultures and the subsequent effects it has on family members' relationships and communication patterns. Consequently, the purpose of this manuscript is to analyze divorce from these paradigms using interviews from Mexican Americans, most of whom were born in the United States and others who were born in Mexico, who experienced divorced to illustrate how culture and network structures intersect to explain divorce experiences, practices, and behaviors. …

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