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Family Life and Divorce: A Comparison Between the 1940's and the 1990's
The family has changed significantly in the fifty-year period from 1940 to 1990. The decade of the 1940's is one where World War II had just ended and people were beginning to adjust to life after the war. One of the major impacts the war had involved the fact that it put women into the workplace and established that women could be more than just homemakers. This is often seen as the beginning of a shift towards women and men being more equal, a shift that is continuing today.
One of the major issues of the 1990's is divorce, with divorce having a significant impact on the family. Some argue that the family is dying, others argues that the family is finally working. Either way, there is no doubt that the family is changing.
To consider these issues further, firstly the family of the 1940's will be presented. It will be shown how this period of time planted the seeds for the changes now being seen in the family. This will lead to a discussion on the modern family, and specifically, the modern family in relation to divorce. The modern family will then be looked at to see what sociological impact divorce has. Finally, it will be considered how technology impacts on the issue of divorce.
The Family of the 1940's
The family of the 1940's was one of change. World War II meant that women found themselves forced to take on greater roles at home. Women became part of the workforce and became more independent. At this time on history, divorce was allowed but not totally accepted. One book on the subject of the changing nature of divorce notes that the law represents the dominant social views of this time (Phillips 314). The divorce law at this time was one of fault-based divorce. Weitzman (48) describes this approach as one that was based on protecting marriage. Divorce was still allowed but only based on proving a fault of one party, such as abusiveness, adultery or cruelty.
In the year 1940 the divorce rate among the total population was 2.0% and the divorce rate among married women 15 years and over was 8.8% (Clarke). In 1946 these figures made a significant increase to 4.3 and 17.9% respectively (Clarke). The increase shows that the war had a major impact on the divorce rate.
This increase can be attributed to one major fact: because of World War II, women learnt that they could be independent. While men were away at war, women had little choice but to take on the traditional roles of men including entering the workforce. This was a major change for women, and as the doubling of the divorce rates shows, one that had a significant impact.
Phillips (422) describes three factors that are contributors to increasing divorce rates, "Easier access to divorce, married women's employment, and changes in social values." World War II is the beginning of a major change in social values.
As noted, for the first time, women became independent and took on the traditional male roles of society while men were at war. This is the basis for a continual change towards equality for the sexes.
This was also the beginning of women being employed. This trend continued with women finding roles within the workplace. As this continued, women felt more valued because of their working lives. Traditionally, men were the money earners and this gave them a certain power over their wives. With women now equally able to work, this power was reduced and the husband and wife relationship became less about domination and more about equality.
As noted earlier, the law is a good measure of the values of society. The change in social values continued and by the end of the 70's divorce laws across America had changed with no-fault divorce laws now the norm. Weitzman (40) describes these no-fault divorce laws noting that they are based on facilitating divorce, rather than protecting marriage. This shows that society has now changed with divorce being allowed and accepted as a right of every person. Importantly, these laws also equalized the sexes unlike previous fault-based laws. Fault-based laws had been based on women gaining custody of the children, while the men were responsible for paying alimony. By the end of the 70's this had changed with men and women both equally responsible for the child support and equally eligible for custody. This indicates that the gender roles had now been largely equalized with women no longer seen as homemakers and men no longer seen as the breadwinners.
In summary then, it can be seen that World War II had a major impact on the family and on divorce. World War II was the beginning of a change in society's values. This initial change meant that women began to enter the workforce, with this increasing the change of social values. To reflect these changing values, divorce laws changed, making divorce easier for all parties. This represented a change from protecting marriage and the family to giving all individuals, both male and female, the power to decide to end their marriage at any time.
The Family of the 1990's
The family of the 1990's has divorce as a central part of it. The divorce rate has steadily increased from 1946 to 1990, with 1990 figures showing a divorce rate of 4.7% among the general population and 20.5% among married women 15 years and over (Clarke). These figures compare with the 1940 and 1946 figures of 2.0 and 4.3%, and 8.8 and 17.9% respectively (Clarke).
Statistics for 1990 show that a total of 1,182,000 divorces occurred in the year, that the wife was awarded custody in 72% of cases, that the husband was awarded custody in nine percent of cases, that in 16% of cases joint custody was granted, and that 16.8 per 1000 children under 18 are involved in divorce (Clarke). These statistics show that divorce has a major impact on the family, changing the structure significantly.
The modern family has been described as including: married homosexuals and their children; blended families; single-parent families; childless couples; single persons; and lesbian and gay couples (Bessant & Watts 127). Families no longer have the traditional mother and father. Instead, families include single-parent families, ones where custody is shared between two parents and ones where children have parents, stepparents, stepsisters and stepbrothers.
The Impact of Divorce
It has now been seen that divorce is a part of modern society and the modern family. The next step is to consider what impact this has. One of the major considerations is the impact on the children.
One study conducted in 1993 found that children of divorced parents have poorer relationships with their parents, are more likely to drop out of school, are more likely to need psychological help and are more likely to get into trouble with the law (Zill, Morrison, & Coiro).
Other authors, such as Coontz in her book The Way We Are: Coming to Terms with America's Changing Families, argues that divorce and the changing family is not the problem, but the fact that society has not yet adapted to the changes. Coontz argues that society and society's institutions are still based on a traditional view of the family, with two parents, a mother as housewife and carer and a father as breadwinner. As Coontz (7) argues, "We cannot help contemporary families if we...insist there is only one blueprint for how all families should look and act." Coontz argues that workplaces, schools, childcare centers and the media all need to accept that families come in many different types. In Coontz's view, the family has changed and society needs to recognize this and adapt to it. Looked at in this way, the important thing is not whether or not divorce and changing families are good or bad, but how the reality of the modern family can be made most effective.
Technology and Divorce
There are two reasons why technology has a significant impact on divorce. Firstly, Internet technology makes divorce easier and secondly, Internet technology makes resources and support more accessible.
It was noted earlier that one of factors that impacts on the divorce rate is the ease of access to divorce. The Internet is making this easier than ever. An article in the Los Angeles Times in 2001 described a web site that allows for Californians to divorce over the Internet. The web site allows people to complete the legal papers in less than two hours, the papers are then mailed to the courthouse and a legal divorce is the result (Miller). This type of service makes divorce quick, simple and easily accessible.
The second reason is that Internet technology makes support and resources more accessible for those considering divorce. Many individuals may consider divorce, but without support from others, may not have the strength to make a definite decision about it. Internet technology however, makes…[continue]
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