Just Sociology

Unpacking the Complex Factors Behind the Rise of Divorce and Changing Nature of Marriage

The institution of marriage has undergone significant transformations in the last few decades. The traditional model of heterosexual monogamy has been challenged by an increase in divorce rates, a shift away from economic arrangements towards romantic love, and the rise of individualism.

In this article, we will explore some of the key factors contributing to the increase in divorce rates and the changing nature of marriage. 1.

Factors Contributing to the Increase in Divorce Rates

1.1 Social Policy Changes

The introduction of the Divorce Act and the concept of irretrievable breakdown offered couples the opportunity to end their marriage without assigning blame. This legislative change meant that faultless divorces could proceed if both parties agreed that the marriage was over.

However, critics of this policy have argued that it has made divorce an easier option, and that couples are more likely to pursue it, knowing that they do not have to prove fault.

1.2 Economic Factors

Inequality within marriages has been identified as another factor contributing to the increase in divorce rates.

As women have gained financial independence through paid work, they have been more likely to leave unhappy marriages. Moreover, economic imbalances within relationships have been shown to harm the overall quality of marital bonds, and couples with similar or equal economic status tend to have stronger relationships.

1.3 Functionalism

The functional fit theory suggests that marriages operate as social structures that generate cooperative activity, which is a necessary feature of society. However, a lack of social connections or isolation within marriage can lead to weaker bonds between spouses.

The breakdown of the family unit and the weakening of social connections have also been identified as contributing factors to the rise in divorce rates. 1.4 The New Right

The New Right sees the decline in traditional family values as the root cause of the increase in divorce rates.

They argue that factors such as welfare benefits and the decline of moral standards have resulted in a breakdown of the family. Critics of this theory suggest that it is overly simplistic and doesn’t consider the diverse factors that contribute to the complexities of marital relationships.

1.5 Feminism/ Changing Gender Roles

Feminism has played a major role in the changing dynamics of marriage. The increased participation of women in the workforce has provided financial independence, which has empowered women to leave unhappy marriages.

Advances in contraception have also enabled women to control their reproductive choices, which has led to a greater sense of autonomy and independence. 1.6 Postmodernism

Decline of religion and traditional values and the rise of consumer culture have been identified as contributing factors to the increase in divorce rates.

Traditional religious values have lost their influence on individuals, and the emphasis on individualism has placed more importance on personal happiness, leading to greater freedom of choice in regard to marriage and relationships. 2.

Changing Nature of Marriage

2.1 From Economic Arrangement to Romantic Love

Marriage was once viewed primarily as an economic arrangement with very little importance placed on love or romantic attraction. However, with the rise of romantic love, the idealization of the marriage partner has become the focal point of modern marriages.

The concept of virginity as a prerequisite for marriage has also been replaced with a focus on sexual satisfaction and compatibility. 2.2 From Late Modernity to Confluent Love

In late modernity, the emphasis was placed on individual desires and freedoms.

However, the rise of confluent love focuses more on relationships as a joint venture, rather than as an individual pursuit. This has led to more of an emphasis on communication, cooperation, and mutual pleasure within relationships.

However, as relationships become less bound by traditional commitments, they also become more fragile and prone to ending. 2.3 Ulrich Beck’s Individualization

Ulrich Beck’s theory of individualization emphasizes the changing dynamics of relationships in modern society.

Beck argues that a lack of traditional social structures has led to increased conflict and confusion within relationships, which has resulted in a higher rate of divorce.


The changing nature of marriage and the increase in divorce rates are complex issues that have multiple contributing factors. While many changes are welcomed, such as increased gender equality and the shift to romantic love, some changes have also had negative impacts on the quality of relationships.

By understanding the factors contributing to these changes, we can work towards fostering healthier and more sustainable relationships in the future. In conclusion, this article has explored the complex factors contributing to the increase in divorce rates and the changing nature of marriage.

From social policy changes to economic factors, functionalism, the New Right, feminism, postmodernism, and individualization, various theories shed light on this issue. Furthermore, the article discussed the shift from economic arrangements to romantic love, and from late modernity to confluent love.

It is essential to understand such factors to build and maintain healthy and long-lasting relationships in today’s world. FAQs:


What is the most significant factor contributing to the increase in divorce rates? A: There is no single most significant factor contributing to the rise in divorce rates.

However, social policy changes, economic factors, and changing values surrounding gender and relationships play important roles. 2.

Why did marriages once emphasize economic arrangements rather than love? A: In the past, marriages emphasized economic arrangements because love was not considered fundamental to maintaining a household or succeeding in life.

3. What is Ulrich Beck’s individualization theory?

A: Ulrich Beck’s individualization theory argues that traditional social structures, such as religion and family, have been replaced by individual desires and freedoms, leading to increased conflict and confusion within relationships. 4.

How have feminist movements impacted marriage? A: Feminists have advocated for women’s financial independence and greater control over their reproductive choices, empowering them to leave unhappy marriages and shaping modern relationships.

5. Is the decline in traditional values entirely responsible for the increase in divorce rates?

A: The decline of traditional values, such as religion, is a contributing factor but does not account for the complex issues at play. Factors such as social policy changes, economic factors, and the rise of individualism also play important roles.

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