A relevant little report in The NY Times about the declining rates of divorce among college-educated Americans. It would appear that the tide of social mores had gone out and now it’s come back in again. Or, rather, the law of social acceptability has shifted, as it always does, in content – but not severity. Specifically, in certain circles where divorce was once seen as a liberating event, it is now perceived as the opposite: a pitiful one. What’s interesting here is not whether or not this trend is a good thing (it probably is), but the way judgment functions a la Newton’s third law of (e)motion. Somewhere Lindsey Buckingham is singing about chains never being broken – and someone else is reciting Romans 8:2, ht BPZ:
According to a 2010 study by the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, only 11 percent of college-educated Americans divorce within the first 10 years today, compared with almost 37 percent for the rest of the population. For this cross section of American families — in the suburban playgrounds of Seattle, the breastfeeding-friendly coffee shops of Berkeley, Calif., and the stroller-trodden streets of the Upper West Side — divorce, especially for mothers with young children underfoot, has become relatively scarce since its “Ice Storm” heyday.
Andrew Cherlin, a sociology professor at Johns Hopkins University, said: “The shift in attitudes and behavior is very real. Among upper-middle-class Americans, the divorce rate is going down, and they’re becoming more conservative toward divorce.”
The experience of being a divorced woman has changed, along with the statistics. “The No. 1 reaction I get from people when I tell them I’m getting divorced is, ‘You’re so brave,’ ” said Stephanie Dolgoff, a 44-year-old mother of two elementary-school daughters who was separated last year. “In the 1970s, when a woman got divorced, she was seen as taking back her life in that Me Decade way. Nowadays, it’s not seen as liberating to divorce. It’s scary.”
“The notion of divorce has become one of failure again,” said Ms. Morrison, 42, a resident of Park Slope. “It used to be, ‘You’re free, rock on!’ Now it’s, ‘You couldn’t make it work, you failed.’ ” Ms. Morrison described people’s reaction as “the two-second blink” when she says something along the lines of, “Zack is with his father today.”
Among a certain demographic, marriage is viewed as something that, like work-life balance, yoga and locavore cuisine, needs to be continually worked at and improved upon. When Ms. Dolgoff tells others about her divorce, their response, with disquieting frequency, is “Yes, well, marriage is hard” as in, “You knew that getting in.”
The shift contains an economic as well as a social component. “That this change has occurred mainly among the affluent suggests it’s not just a reaction to the divorce epidemic of the ’70s,” Dr. Cherlin said. “The condemnation of divorce is also coming from the group that is most confident it can make its marriages succeed, and that allows them to be dismissive of divorce.” From this perspective, splitting up with tender, vulnerable children in the mix is seen as a parental infraction.
“I’ve definitely experienced judgment,” said Priscilla Gilman, author of a new memoir, “The Anti-Romantic Child,” which deals in large part with her 2006 divorce. “Everyone said: ‘Isn’t there anything more you can do? Your kids need you to be together. They’re so little.’ ” At the time, Ms. Gilman knew only one other person who was divorced. “I had progressive, feminist friends. None of them were getting divorced, none of them.”
Several divorced women suggested that the news of their marital unraveling seemed to unnerve other couples in their social circles, prompting unease about their own marriages.
Is this, then, the revenge of the children-of-divorce generation, rebelling against the experiences of their mothers and fathers? When I asked people who divorced in their 20s and 30s while researching my 2002 book, “The Starter Marriage,” about why they divorced with such alacrity, the response was near universal: “I wanted to do it before it was too late — before we had kids.”
Whereas their parents were divorce pioneers in the ’70s, unsure of how marital dissolution affected children and letting caution blow in the wind, today’s splitting couples are viscerally aware of how divorce feels to a 7-year-old.