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The Future of Marriage

Updated on July 13, 2013

Divorce Rates from 1860-2005


Decline in Marriage; Rise in Divorce

Marriage is not what it used to be. In the first half of the century, the norm was to go to high school, then maybe college, then soon afterwards marry and raise a family. As time passed, the 1960’s came and went with many changes in the social atmosphere—women’s rights were granted. More women started to become independent.

Through the 1950’s, women were expected to stay at home to take care of the children, cook, clean and be a good wife, but as the 1960’s and the 1970’s rolled around, that view was changed. Women started to become more independent and working outside of the home.

In the early part of the century, it was expected that people marry, but after 1960 it was not expected as much. This either led to the decrease in marriage or the increase in divorce. Today, divorce is part of everyday life American life as supported by Barbara Dafoe Whitehead in her essay called "The Divorce Culture" (available for purchase on Amazon). In this article, she also says that divorce has become an American way of life as the result of recent and revolutionary change—this began in the 1960’s.

Evolutionary vs. Revolutionary Periods of Marriage

She divides the history of American divorce into two periods—one evolutionary and the other is revolutionary. Whitehead states that in the “first sixty years of the 20th century, divorce became more common, but it was hardly commonplace.” After 1960, the rate increased steadily and significantly. Doubling in about a decade the rate continued to climb until the early 1980’s when it stabilized at the highest level in Western societies. As a result, divorce became part of mainstream American way of life in the span of 30 years.

Because marriage is no longer an expectation of American society as it was in the first part of the century, individuals are looking to spend more time on themselves after graduation rather than to rush into marriage and raising a family. The views of family life, parenthood, and obligations of marriage have changed Whitehead states. People have become more acutely aware of their responsibility to themselves and their own needs and interests. This, in turn, pushes marriage to take place later in life or not at all. If the marriage does occur later in life, then the individual will have a more difficult time adjusting to his or her time being demanded by a person or persons other than themselves. This, then, increases the chances of divorce.
Individuals are putting off marriage for several years after graduating school (whatever level). But because people are putting off marriage they are enjoying freedom to be themselves and so when they do get married it is difficult to give up that individual freedom and to learn that they no longer have responsibility to just themselves but also to others—their spouse and eventually their children. I agree with Whitehead when she says, “divorce has now become an event closely linked to the pursuit of individual satisfactions, opportunities and growth.”

In "The Way We Really Are: Coming to Terms with America's Changing Families," Stephanie Coontz says the growing number of people living on their own ensures that there are proportionally fewer families of any kind than there used to be. In her essay, she begins by saying that most Americans support the emergence of alternative ways of organizing parenthood and marriage. This may be because Americans want to avoid divorce because people do worry about devoting enough time and resources to children. Coontz mentions that people correctly recognize that children do need more than one adult involved in their lives and so the rise of divorce and single motherhood is "particularly worrisome."

“New consensus” crusaders believe that every child deserves a father and a mother despite objecting to the “modified male breadwinner.” Coontz believes that two good parents or even two adequate parents are better than one or two “bad” parents. I agree with her, but do they have to be married? What if a child is born out of wedlock and both parents raise the child together are they considered bad because they are not married? I would consider this immoral, but Coontz does not see this is as problem, as long as the child is growing up with two loving parents.

Coontz's book is available on Amazon or visit her website at

Personal Experience

I have many friends who have a children together without being married. In each couple, they are both there for the children to raise them and make sure they have both parents present. This is an alternative to marriage, whether it is agreed with or not, and it seems to be working thus far at least for them. It has prevented another divorce from occurring because they have figured something out that works for them.

Public Figures

In the public eye, Johnny Depp lived with the mother of his two children even thought they are not married. “She is more than a girlfriend, but less than a life,” I read in PARADE magazine. The two children were living with and are being raised by both biological parents. This is another example to an alternative to marriage.

Divorce Stats

People know that the divorce rate is high and so are more afraid to make a commitment because they are afraid that they might end up in divorce as well. They do not want to fail at an important part of life and so are looking for alternatives to marriage. By doing so, they are not getting married, but living together without a marriage license. I people do get married, they are either happy or make themselves happy by walking out by easily getting a divorce and affecting all who is involved, especially the children. The children then end up with only one parent in the household.

The rate of divorce has risen in the last 30 years or so. It has led to a search for alternative ways of living other than getting married. Divorce affects all who is involved, especially the children. One cause of divorce may be because individuals are not getting married immediately after finishing school and therefore have a difficult time adjusting to worrying about people other than themselves.

Same-Sex Marriage

History is currently in the making with same-sex marriage being legalized in 13 states. As of June 2013, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington. The District of Columbia and five Native American Tribes have also legalized same-sex marriage.

There have been many milestones for same-sex couples in the United States including two landmark rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court in June 2013 that were victories for gay rights advocates. One was striking down a key part of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) that banned federal benefits to same-sex couples who are legally married in their state. The second was declining to rule on California's Proposition 8, which means they are leaving the same-sex marriage decision making up to individual states basically paving the way for legalizing same-sex marriage again in California.

Morality of Divorce

Is Divorce Morally Wrong?

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    • RK Sangha profile image

      RK Sangha 4 years ago from USA

      Delaying marriage or giving birth to children outside wedlock are nothing but signs of immaturity in youngsters. Marriage is an important stage in human life, and both too early and too late marriage create problems. Marriage is necessary not only socially but also biologically. Read my articles

    • lauranap12 profile image

      lauranap12 4 years ago from Vermont

      Thank you for your positive feedback! I appreciate you taking the time to read the article and leave a thoughtful response.

    • Sharkye11 profile image

      Jayme Kinsey 4 years ago from Oklahoma

      I think you made a very good point about marriage being harder for those who wait later in life to start a permanent relationship. Social stigma now is that you are "too young" to marry before you have established yourself. Unfortunately, many people have become set in their ways by the time they have established careers and are financial independent.

      In my own opinion, I don't see it being any more or less moral to be married, divorced, or "shacking up". When my husband I met, he had been divorced three times. I had never been married at all. We chose to just live together. We had a lot of opposition on that choice from his more traditionally religious family. But we have been together long enough now that everyone, including his family, refers to us as just being married. It is the right choice for us, but we have talked about getting married in the future for legal purposes. I think more people would have happy relationships if they thought about what the right choice was for THEM, not what people suggest they should do.

      I had a great aunt (back in the first half of the 20th century!) that thought it was immoral to even date. She insisted on marriage. She married 12 times! She saw nothing immoral in divorce, but she sure wouldn't date a guy or shack up without that moral marriage license!

      Very interesting hub. Will vote and share!