Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Interactions between Cultural and Economic Determinants of Divorce in the Netherlands

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Interactions between Cultural and Economic Determinants of Divorce in the Netherlands

Article excerpt

This study examines the relationship between gendered family roles and divorce in The Netherlands. Cultural and economic aspects of this relationship are distinguished. Economic hypotheses argue that the likelihood of divorce is increased if women work for pay and have attractive labor market resources. Cultural hypotheses argue that divorce chances are increased if women adhere to emancipatory norms, independent of their labor market positions. An event-history analysis of a life-history survey among 1,289 Dutch women reveals evidence for both hypotheses. Interaction effects are found as well: The protective effect of a traditional division of paid labor is only present among couples in which wives have traditional gender attitudes. Hence, the validity of economic explanations of divorce is conditional on cultural values.

Key Words: divorce, gender roles, marital specialization, The Netherlands, women's employment.

As in most other modern industrialized societies, there has been a strong increase in divorce in The Netherlands over the past decades. The increase started in the mid-1960s and ended in the mid-1980s. In those two decades, the annual number of divorces rose from a low of 2 per 1,000 married men to a high of nearly 10 per 1,000 married men. The last 10 years for which data are available reveal fluctuations in the rate, but divorce remains high and there are no signs of a trend reversal. From a cohort perspective, the trend in divorce is even more pronounced (Table 1). Divorce increased from 2% after 5 years of marriage for couples married in 1960 to about 13% for couples married in the early 1990s. Life table extrapolations show that in The Netherlands, one out of every four contemporary marriages will eventually end in divorce, which is high by any standard (De Jong, 1999).

Several explanations have been offered for the increase in divorce. In this study, we focus on one explanation: the changing roles of men and women in society. The explanation of divorce in terms of women's and men's roles has both economic and cultural dimensions. From an economic perspective, gendered roles have changed in several important respects. Women have closed the gap in market resources; they now attain similar levels of education as compared to men and participate increasingly in the labor market (although in The Netherlands, primarily in part-time jobs [De Graaf & Vermeulen, 1997]). Changes are particularly marked for married women. In The Netherlands during the 1950s, 10% of married women worked for pay. This number increased to about 50% in the 1990s (Van der Lippe & Van Doorne-Huiskes, 1995).

The redistribution of paid labor among men and women has been accompanied by a cultural shift in norms and values. Hand in hand with long-term processes of secularization and individualization, The Netherlands has experienced a considerable shift toward emancipatory attitudes, particularly among women. Normative acceptance of the traditional subordinate role of women has disappeared, and the virtues of gender equality and women's independence have received increasing support. Data on gender attitudes in The Netherlands show a steady movement toward more egalitarian attitudes since 1970, the earliest point of measurement (Sociaal en Cultured Planbureau, 1994). These trends closely follow the pattern observed in the United States (Thornton & Young-DeMarco, 2001).

In short, the gender revolution is both economic and cultural in nature. This revolution occurred in exactly the same period as the rise in divorce, and often has been considered an important cause of rising divorce. In this article, we present hypotheses concerning the link between gender differentiation and divorce, and we develop hypotheses about how divorce probabilities depend on the interaction between the economic and cultural dimensions of gendered family roles. We test these hypotheses using individual-level data on divorce in The Netherlands from the 1950s to the 1990s. …

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