Saturday, June 24, 2017

Why Do Marriages Fail?

Why do marriages break up? Does it have anything to do with shifting gender roles? Are other economic variables playing a decisive role?

Last year Harvard sociology professor, Alexandra Killewald, published an important study on the topic. It has been reported by Jon Miltimore at the Intellectual Takeout blog (via Maggie’s Farm.)

Killewald considered three options:

A core unresolved question is how trends in marital stability relate to changing family and economic circumstances. Have wives’ greater earnings power and work experience increased divorce by reducing the costs of exiting bad marriages? Are strained household finances associated with heightened risk of divorce? Or do spouses’ work and earnings patterns alter marital stability by conveying signals about whether each partner is fulfilling the implicit, symbolic, gendered terms of the marital contract?

Are more people getting divorced because it’s cheap and available? Or do they opt out of marriage because of financial strains? Apparently not. The most significant factor was that men had not fulfilled their roles as breadwinners. You will note, as we all do, that this role has supposedly been rendered obsolete by women’s liberation. And yet, apparently, a man’s failure to support his family will lead even liberated of wives to seek a divorce. Or perhaps a man who is not a breadwinner will be more likely to stray. 

Killewald explains:

…the strongest evidence for the gendered institution perspective is that, for marriages begun in 1975 or later, divorce is more likely when husbands are not employed full-time. Consistent with my hypotheses, there is no evidence that this association is weaker for later than earlier marriage cohorts. Just as male breadwinning has remained important for marriage formation (Sweeney 2002), the results here demonstrate its enduring importance for marital stability. The results are consistent with claims that bread-winning remains a central component of the marital contract for husbands (Nock 1998).

Many feminists will respond that it just shows how entrenched sexism is. Other, more rational folk, will conclude that people who ignored traditional roles paid a price for it.


James said...

"MARRIAGE, n. The state or condition of a community consisting of a master, a mistress and two slaves, making in all, two."
Ambrose Bierce

Ares Olympus said...

Stuart: Are more people getting divorced because it’s cheap and available? Or do they opt out of marriage because of financial strains? Apparently not.

We know divorce rates are much lower for the affluence. And divorce is extremely expensive for the lower middle class, but if the man wants to jump ship and let the government take care of his kids, perhaps that makes sense.

And single fathers do have a lot more flexibility, being able to move long distances to find certain types of work.

And actually I just did talk to a man, maybe around age 58 who said he was recently divorced, and the primary reason was his 2 kids, twins, started college last fall, and financial aid was better for kids with divorced parents. He pays child support, but the rest of his income doesn't count. But I'd still think the cost of having 2 homes. That is, even a single bedroom apartment, might be more expensive than financial aid.

College, even public universities are just too expensive, even if you can shift costs into debt and 30 year repayment plans. I'm all for "creative arrangement" that shifts the cost of college away from the burden next generation. Resentful people in life long debt slavery can't be expected to make good citizens.