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Marital Dissolution: Risk Factors in the US Research Paper

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Updated: Jun 6th, 2020

Introduction

One of the most pressing demographic challenges, associated with the realities of today’s living in America, has to do with the fact that, as time goes on, the overall rate of divorce in the U.S. continues to remain rather high. After all, there can be only a few doubts that described state of affairs, in this respect, cannot have any other, but a strongly negative effect on the systemic integrity of American society. Therefore, it is fully explainable why throughout the course of the recent decades; there have been a number of sociological studies conducted to identify the actual driving forces of marital dissolution in the U.S. Nevertheless, the findings of these studies appear to be rather inconclusive, at best.

One of the reasons for this is that, due to being multidimensional, in the discursive sense of this word, the issue of marital dissolution in this country is much too complex, to be concerned with the application of sociological inquiry alone. In its turn, this implies that when it comes to researching the factors that contribute to marital dissolution, one will be much better off adopting an interdisciplinary approach to address the subject matter in question. Moreover, this approach must also be phenomenological/interpretative to an extent – the main precondition for the would-be undertaken research to prove discursively enlightening (Larkin, Watts, & Clifton, 2006).

The above-stated helps to explain the rationale behind my decision to conduct this study within the methodological format of an interpretative phenomenological analysis, concerned with reviewing the relevant academic sources of interest and analyzing/interpreting the actual significance of the would-be obtained qualitative insights into the issue. The appropriateness of choosing in favor of this specific research-format can be further illustrated, in regards to the fact that so far, the collection and quantification of the cross-sectional data, concerned with the phenomenon of marital dissolution, as the method of attaining a better understanding of the factors that trigger it, has not yielded any tangible benefits.

The main hypothesis that will be tested in this paper can be formulated as follows: The would-be identified risk factors for marital dissolution in the U.S. should be seen reflective of the on-going process of American society growing increasingly multicultural, on one hand, and affected by the discourse of political correctness, on the other. The rationale behind this suggestion has to do with the fact that there are indeed many reasons to believe that, when it comes to assessing the risk factors of marital dissolution, one must be aware that there are both: biological and environmental aspects to how this process is being initiated. This again calls for the analytical approach to defining these factors to be interpretively interdisciplinary.

Some of the main questions that I expect to be able to answer, in the aftermath of having conducted the literature review and elaborated on the significance of the would-be obtained analytical insights, are as follows: What are the main societal risk factors for marital dissolution in America? Is it appropriate to assume that the implementation of some of the Federal government’s socio-economic and political initiatives has a direct effect on the rate of divorce in this country? What is the role of religion, as the predictor of marital dissolution or the actual obstacle that prevents both spouses from drifting apart? How the racial affiliation of a husband and wife influences the likelihood for their marriage to break?

Literature review

Probably the main commonality about earlier studies, as to what drives married couples in this country to file for divorce, is that the approaches to collecting the data, deployed by researches, often presuppose the systemic homogeneity of American society. This is the reason why, while discussing the triggering factors of marital dissolution, many of these studies never cease being reflective of some of the most prominent euro-centric assumptions about marriage, as a thoroughly rationalized union between a man and a woman, meant to make it much easier for both spouses to face the challenges of life. The fact that this is indeed the case can be illustrated, in regards to these studies’ tendency to overemphasize the importance of financial problems and the lack of communication between a husband and wife, as such that contribute the most towards the eventual prospect for the concerned marital relationship to begin deteriorating (Holman, 2002).

However, such an approach to tackling the issue at stake cannot be considered fully appropriate because, as time goes on, it becomes increasingly clear that the notion of ‘rational marriage’ is essentially euro-centric and consequentially – not fully consistent with the process of American society growing ever more multicultural. This, in turn, presupposes that within the context of identifying the risks of marital dissolution in America, one should pay particular attention to those that were brought about by the discourse of multiculturalism/political correctness. In light of this suggestion, the main risk factors for marital dissolution in this country can be outlined as follows:

Racial/ethno-cultural incompatibility. As of today, it has been firmly established that the marriages, in which a husband and wife come from two distinctively different racial backgrounds, have a much better chance to end up dissoluted, as compared to what it is the case with the racially homogeneous ones. The findings of Zhang and Van Hook’s (2009) study fully support the validity of this suggestion. For example, according to the authors, “Black-White marriages are more likely to divorce than either Black or White endogamous marriages; simi­larly, Asian-White marriages are more likely to divorce than either Asian or White endogamous marriages” (p. 98). Among the main reasons behind this trend, the authors mention the fact that, while affiliated with different racial backgrounds, spouses often experience a hard time striving to agree upon what constitutes the best strategy for taking care of family affairs.

The validity of the idea that interracial marriages are not particularly strong, can be confirmed, in regards to the statistical data of relevance, contained in Clarke-Stewart and Brentano’s (2006) book, “Interracial marriages have a 10 percent higher chance of failure in the first ten years than same-race marriages (31 percent versus 41 percent)” (p. 40). The authors refer to this situation, as one of the sociological indications that interracial families continue being exposed to subtle racism, which in turn results in undermining the relational integrity between the spouses.

The other commonly mentioned reason, as to why interracial marriages are prone to dissolution is that, as practice indicates, many of them are strongly affected by the factor of a psychological incompatibility between a husband and wife. After all, there is indeed much evidence that the particulars of one’s ethno-cultural affiliation do have a strong effect of working of the concerned person’s psyche – something that makes it much harder for him or her finding consensus with the spouse from another racial background.

The early start of sexual life. According to some studies, a distinctive predictor that a particular person will not be likely to remain thoroughly content pursuing a marital relationship is his or her history of having had sexual encounters during adolescence. As noted by Paik (2011), “First intercourse during adolescence may change attitudes and beliefs about marriage and sex – such as beliefs about the permanency of marriage or the attractiveness of being sin­gle in later life – that increase the likelihood of marital dissolution” (p. 474). The logic behind this suggestion is quite apparent – one’s adolescent sexual experiences naturally cause the concerned individual to doubt the ‘sacredness’ of the family, as the most basic form of people’s societal organization.

As the consequence, he or she is encouraged to assume that the dissolution of marriage that leads to divorce is preferable to ‘marital misery’. There is even more to it – the individuals that become sexually active during their teenage years are likely to exhibit ‘sexual hunger’ into their adulthood, as well – the main cause of divorces, concerned with the marital infidelity of one of the spouses (Teachman, 2002). It is understood, of course, that the risk factor in question has a clearly defined American ‘coloring’. The reason for this is that the very realities of a contemporary living in this country naturally prompt adolescents to enter into the sexual relationships with each other, as something thoroughly natural and even desirable.

Increased welfare benefits. Even since the enactment of the so-called Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) social policy, a few studies have been conducted to research the policy’s effect on the rate of divorce in the U.S. Even though some of these studies’ findings cannot be considered fully consistent with the idea that one’s eligibility to receive welfare payments makes him or her less willing to pursue the lifestyle of a married person, most of them do confirm this idea’s overall legitimacy (Teachman, 2002). In this respect, the availability of the easy-obtainable welfare benefits appears to affect women to a much higher extent, as compared to how it affects men. The study by Blackburn and Schultz (2003) contains a partial answer, as to why it happened to be the case, “An increase in welfare benefits (obtainable only if the woman is unmarried)… increases the utility of the woman’s situation outside of marriage, making it less likely that the marriage is the joint-utility-maximizing decision for the couple” (p. 479).

Given the social origins of this risk factor, it is best discussed within the discursive framework of the paradigm of ‘American living’, as we know it. According to the above-quoted authors, the ultimate reason why the increased availability of welfare benefits appears to have a detrimental effect on the stability/longevity of marriages in the U.S. is that American society continues to profess the values of individualism/ego-centrism. In its turn, this naturally causes some married Americans to think of their eligibility to receive substantial welfare payments in terms of the actual divorce-favoring consideration.

Premarital cohabitation. As of today, it became a commonplace practice among men and women in America to share the same living quarters, without entering into the marital relationship with each other, in the formal sense of this word. As Reinhold (2010) noted, “In 2002, more than one-half of all women aged 19–44 had ever cohabited. When cohabitation first emerged in the United States, it was mainly a phenomenon of the less-educated and economically disadvantaged, but it has extended to the American middle class” (p. 719). According to the same author, however, the concerned trend directly contributes towards marital dissolution in the country – the conclusion that resonates well with the findings of other sociological studies, concerned with researching the long-term effects of premarital cohabitation on the affiliated practitioners.

The risk factor in question is rather counterintuitive. After all, the experience of having lived together for some time should help both partners to get to know each other better, which in turn should have a solidifying effect on the strength of the would-be marital relationship between them. The practice, however, suggests something opposite. Partially, this seeming phenomenon can be explained by the fact that, as it was shown by Brien, Lillard and Stern (2006) in their study, there is a good reason to believe that people with the extensive experiences of premarital cohabitation, oppose the idea of marriage on an unconscious level, “The degree of compatibility of cohabitors is lower than that of couples who get married right away, leading to self-selection into premarital cohabitation” (p. 455). However, there is also some evidence that the practice itself is capable of affecting the cohabiters’ state of mind, in the sense of prompting them to think of marriage in terms of a legal formality, which in turn increases the likelihood for the marital relationship between them to grow increasingly deteriorated.

Religious dissimilarity. What differs the U.S. from the rest of the Western countries is that the majority of this country’s citizens consider themselves religious believers. Therefore, it does make a perfectly good sense for them to be willing to enter into the marital relationship with the ‘mindlikes’, in the religious sense of this word. After all, it has been well-acknowledged for a long time now that, “Religious homogamy (between spouses)… may build confidence in the validity and morality of deci­sions regarding family and other domains, and may reduce the potential for ambivalence or dis­agreement” (Vaaler, Ellison, & Powers, 2009, p. 919). However, as practice indicates, the denominational differences between both spouses are more than capable of having a strong negative effect on the integrity of their marriage.

The reason for this is quite apparent – while associated with different religious denominations, a husband and wife are naturally prompted to indulge in theological disputes, which in turn often results in marital dissolution. What is especially peculiar about it is that, as some studies indicate, the sheer strength of both spouses’ religious beliefs is detrimental to the integrity of the marital relationship between them, as well – especially if the religion in question happened to be monotheistic, such as Christianity, Islam or Judaism. After all, according to the main theological postulates of these religions, wives are supposed to play a subservient role in the relationship with their husbands (Curtis & Ellison, 2002). As a result, the latter are encouraged to keep the former ‘in place’, while going as far as resorting to physical abuse, as the mean of ensuring their wives’ compliance, in this respect. This, course, cannot result in anything else but in bringing about marital dissolution.

The strong sense of egocentrism/individualism in both spouses. As of today, the purpose of marriage is commonly discussed within the conceptual framework of the Social Exchange Theory, which suggests that the reason people get married, in the first place, is that it empowers them in a variety of different ways. This, of course, presupposes that about any marriage is best discussed in terms of a rational decision. Nevertheless, in order for the ‘rationalized’ marriage to last, the concerned spouses must be capable of exercising control over their egoistic anxieties. In this respect, the current socio-cultural atmosphere in the U.S., concerned with the glorification of individualism, can hardly prove an asset because it encourages people to overlook the societal dimensions of marriage.

Therefore, there is nothing surprising about the fact that, as Lu (2011) pointed out, “People’s attitudes about marriage became more individualistic after the 1960s… the level of individualism positively relates to the rate of divorce” (p. 18). Given the fact that it is specifically the educated White Americans, who rarely share the values of communal solidarity (as opposed to what it is the case with the representatives of racial minorities), it will be thoroughly appropriate to suggest that the rate of divorce among them should be rather high. The available statistical data, in this regard, does support the validity of such our suggestion (Sanchez & Gager, 2000). What it means is that there is indeed much rationale in deeming ‘contractual’ marriages, which involve two equally individualistic spouses, as such that are especially prone to dissolution.

The lessened degree of gender-differentiation between a husband and wife. This specific suggestion is concerned with the trend among married couples in the U.S. to become increasingly detached from the ethics of traditional marriage, which presupposes a husband’s strong affiliation with masculine values, on one hand, and a wife’s affiliation with the feminine ones. The trend in question extrapolates itself in the fact that, as time goes on, more and more husbands end up taking care of the ‘womanly’ chores within the family, and vice versa.

The described state of affairs, however, hardly contributes towards helping married couples to refrain from considering divorce, as the ultimate mean of settling marital disputes. According to Amato and Booth (1995), “Changes toward nontraditional gender role attitudes among wives and husbands are accompanied by reports of general decline in marital quality (less happiness, less interaction, more disagreements, more problems, and higher divorce proneness)” (p. 64). This simply could not be otherwise, as the very purpose of marriage is to compensate men for the lack of feminine qualities, on their part, and to make it possible for women to remain in charge of housekeeping, without having to be concerned with making money.

However, it does not represent any secret that in today’s America, the currently deployed policy of political correctness directly results in encouraging more and more men and women to think of their would-be traditional roles within a family, as ‘retrograde’ and even ‘shameful’ to an extent. As a result, many Americans grow to perceive the very notion of marriage as strongly patriarchal and therefore – outdated. It is understood, of course, that the described situation, in this respect, does contribute rather substantially towards increasing the rate of marital dissolution in this country.

The urban residential status of both spouses. As it was implied earlier, one of the main preconditions for the marital relationship between a husband and wife to prove long lasting, is both spouses’ perception of this relationship, as such that represents a high utilitarian value. What it means is that those married couples that reside in the country’s rural areas are more likely to refrain from filing for divorce. The logic behind this suggestion is apparent – when addressing the challenges of a rural living, spouses are naturally driven to conceive as many children as possible.

After all, children can be turned into agricultural helpers. As the relevant statistical data indicates, the more there are children in the family, the less likely it is for this family to be affected by marital dissolution between the spouses. The discursive implication of this is quite apparent – such dissolution is much more likely to affect urban-based families, as compared to the rural-based ones. What contributes even more towards bringing about the described state of affairs, in this respect, is that the urban settings presuppose the greater availability of single men and women – something that increases the attractiveness of divorce in the eyes of both spouses, especially if the marital coexistence, on their part, is affected by financial hardships.

As South, Trent and Shen (2001) pointed out, “In (urban) areas with very high sex ratios… wives encounter greater spousal availability, and under these con­ditions they would be more likely to seek a di­vorce. The lowest divorce probabilities are found in (rural) areas where the numbers of eligible men and women approach parity” (p. 745). Therefore, the urban residential status of both spouses can be referred to as the predictor of marital dissolution. Because American society continues to become increasingly urbanized, this will provide an additional momentum to the rise of the rate of divorce/marital dissatisfaction in this country.

Conclusion

The main conclusion that can be drawn from the earlier outlined risk factors for marital dissolution in the U.S. is that the subject matter at stake is indeed phenomenological/multidimensional to an extent – just as the paper’s initial thesis predicted. After all, in light of what has been said earlier, there can be only a few doubts that the driving causes behind the phenomena cannot be discussed outside of what account for the realities of a post-industrial living in America. The reason for this is that there are appear to be a number of discursive subtleties to just about every of the mentioned risk factors. In this respect, the factor of the lessened degree of gender-differentiation between the spouses is especially illustrative, because it directly relates to the currently enacted policy for encouraging citizens to think ‘asexual’ (political correctness).

Once at liberty to think that their gender-affiliation has very little to do with how they approach the task of addressing marital affairs, men and women will grow increasingly incapable of understanding that the notion of ‘marriage’ is essentially synonymous with the notion of ‘social responsibility’. In its turn, this creates the objective prerequisites for more and more American families to be affected by marital dissolution, as we speak. What contributes to the deterioration of American marriages even more is that, according to the provisions of neoliberalism, which enjoys the status of a quasi-official ideology in this country, men and women are encouraged to assess the importance of entering into the marital relationship with each other from the egocentric perspective. Therefore, it does not come as a particular surprise that, when faced with a particular marital challenge, many Americans end up filing for divorce – as the ultimate mean of addressing it. This, in turn, has a strongly defined detrimental effect on the society’s structural integrity.

It is understood, of course, that most of the gained insights into the discussed subject matter are essentially speculative. In fact, this accounts for the main limitation of the undertaken research. Moreover, these insights can be hardly referred to as thoroughly exhaustive. Nevertheless, they are fully consistent with the chosen research-methodology and above all – the paper’s findings do help to answer the initially posed questions. Also, the obtained clues, as to what can be considered the main driving factors of marital dissolution in the U.S., suggest that it is specifically the format of an interpretative inquiry, which should be mainly relied upon, within the context of researchers tackling the marriage-related social issues.

The reason for this is that the application of this approach is capable of enlightening researchers on what should be deemed the overall discursive significance of the would-be obtained data. Once enlightened, in this respect, researchers will be in the better position to land their views on how the problematic aspects of the tackled issue should be dealt with. I believe that this suggestion correlates with the paper’s initial thesis perfectly well – something that can be seen as yet additional proof of the methodological soundness of the chosen research-approach.

References

Amato, P., & Booth, A. (1995). Changes in gender role attitudes and perceived marital quality. American Sociological Review, 60(1), 58-66.

Blackburn, M., & Schultz, T. (2003). The effects of the welfare system on marital dissolution. Journal of Population Economics, 16(3), 477-500.

Brien, M., Lillard, L., & Stern, S. (2006). Cohabitation, marriage, and divorce in a model of match quality. International Economic Review, 47(2), 451-494.

Clarke-Stewart, A., & Brentano, C. (2006). Divorce: Causes and consequences. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Curtis, K. T., & Ellison, C. G. (2002). Religious heterogamy and marital conflict: Findings from the National Survey of Families and Households. Journal of Family Issues, 23, 551-576.

Holman, T. (2002). Premarital prediction of marital quality or breakup: Research, theory, and practice. Hingham: Kluwer Academic Publishers.

Larkin, M., Watts, S., & Clifton, E. (2006). Giving voice and making sense in interpretative phenomenological analysis. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 3(2), 102-120.

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Paik, A. (2011). Adolescent sexuality and the risk of marital dissolution. Journal of Marriage and Family, 73(2), 472-485.

Reinhold, S. (2010). Reassessing the link between premarital cohabitation and marital instability. Demography, 47(3), 719-33.

Sanchez, L., & Gager, C. (2000). Hard living, perceived entitlement to a great marriage, and marital dissolution. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 62(3), 708-722.

South, S., Trent, K., & Shen, Y. (2001). Changing partners: Toward a macrostructural-opportunity theory of marital dissolution. Journal of Marriage and Family, 63(3), 743-754.

Teachman, J. (2002). Stability across cohorts in divorce risk factors. Demography, 39(5), 331 -351.

Vaaler, M., Ellison, C., & Powers, D. (2009). Religious influences on the risk of marital dissolution. Journal of Marriage and Family, 71(4), 917-934.

Zhang, Y., & Van Hook, J. (2009). Marital dissolution among interracial couples. Journal of Marriage and Family, 71(1), 95-107.

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