Marriage and Divorce Trends

Posted on October 3rd, 2010

In the New York Times bestselling book, The Next 100 Years, a Forecast for the 21st Century (George Friedman, First Anchor Books Edition, January 2010), the author analyzes the shift in marriage, child bearing, and divorce over the past two hundred years.  Two centuries ago, life expectancy was low, people married young and women had children in their teens and kept trying to produce children for many years, and few people had much education.  Now, in an industrialized nation a college education is considered a minimum for social and economic success and most people graduate from college at age twenty two, and then go on to graduate school.  As a result, marriage patterns have shifted poignantly – people marry later in life and have children significantly later.  Additionally, women have surpassed men in earning college degrees.

In most industrialized nations, couples average less than two children in their lifetimes.  That means that most women spend approximately ten percent of their lives devoted to child bearing and rearing, as most women re-enter the workforce.  Thus, childbearing has been reduced from a woman’s primary activity as it was several centuries ago, to one activity among many.  This trend gives rise to the fact that women spend much less of their time having and nurturing children, so they are much less dependent on men than ever before.  While it would have been economically impossible for women even fifty years ago to reproduce without a husband, this is certainly not the case today.  As a result, it follows that marriage is no longer imposed by economic necessity.

Mr. Friedman writes, “This brings us to a place where marriages are not held together by need as much as by love.  The problem with love is that it can be fickle.  It comes and goes.  If people stay married only for emotional reasons, there will inevitably be more divorce.  The decline of economic necessity removes a power stabalizing force in marriage.  Love may endure, and frequently does, but by itself it is less powerful than when linked to economic necessity.”

He continues, “Whereas many marriages used to take place when one or both partners were in their early teens, people are now marrying in their late twenties and early thirties.  It was typical for men and women to remain sexually inactive until marriage at age fourteen, but today it is, shall we say, unrealistic to expect someone marrying at age thirty to reman a virgin.  People would be living seventeen years after puberty without sexual activity.  That’s not going to happen.”

“There is now a period built into life patterns where people are going to be sexually active but not yet able to support themselves financially.  There is also a period in which they can support themselves and are sexually active, but choose not to reproduce.  The entire pattern of traditional life is collapsing, and no clear alternative patterns are emerging yet.  Cohabitation used to be linked to formal, legal marriage, but the two are now completely decoupled.  Even reproduction is being uncoupled from marriage, and perhaps even from cohabitation.  Longer life, the decline in fertility rates, and the additional years of education have all contributed to the dissolution of previous life and social patterns.”

Mr. Friedman’s analysis gives a stout explanation to today’s divorce rates, and provides parties going through a dissolution of marriage with perhaps some inclination as to why it’s happening.  If you are a party contemplating divorce, contact us today for a confidential consultation.