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Divorces Development And Influence On Modern Society History Essay

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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016

Our ability to form and be part of enduring and lifelong lasting families is a basic human necessity, and a need everyone tries to fulfill. However, changes in time lead to changes in family structures as well as in family principles. This essay will review the relatively new reality of divorce as a cultural phenomenon and will make an attempt to explain its effect on modern western society. Firstly, it will do so by explaining the recent rise in divorce through researching how the change from pre-industrial, rural society to modern, industrial society led to a change in family ties and personal social relationships [Höllinger and Haller 103]. Secondly, this paper will explain the historical development of divorce jurisdictions. Lastly, this paper will examine the connection between the rise of individuality and the rise in divorce.

As time progresses, events occur that will lead to changes in civilization. The most recent, major change that took place in history was the global transformation brought on by the Industrial Revolution, which began in the eighteenth century. The Industrial Revolution resulted in extensive changes in society and started to form how it is today. Since these changes occurred in a rapid and extreme manner, traditional rules were no longer suitable to be applied in this renewed world. For instance, technological inventions were not only the main factor in making the Industrial Revolution possible; they also enabled developments in science and rapidly increased man’s knowledge of the physical universe. The revolution transforming civilization threatened the existence of the dominant religion of Christianity. Foremost, before the industrialization, the Church had adapted itself to the predominate rural economy. With the coming of the Industrial Revolution this economy changed, for towns and cities were developing at speed. Due to the the vast rise in population during the Industrial Revolution, a brutal exploitation of labour became the new standard. The terrible working conditions, poverty, and the deterioration of morals caused anger to grow towards the current system and the Church, who failed to remedy the situation. This eventually lessened the influence of the Church. Over time, it even lead to a change of focus in society; from the collective social structure, based on family, it moved to the importance and development of the individual.

In addition, technical inventions led to urbanization as well as it offered geographical mobility. In the course of industrialization, the consequenses of these aspects can be viewed through the change in family ties. Höllinger and Haller discuss, amongst other things, the impact of urbanization on kinship structure.

“In rural areas people meet their relatives, especially their extended kin, more frequently than do their fellow countrymen in urban areas. On the international level. this means that the higher the degree of urbanization of the respective countries, the larger the spatial distance from relatives and the less frequent are contacts with kin.” [112]

Thus, urbanization and the newly found ability to cover great ranges of land led people to live from growing distance from their kin. Because of these developments, contacts with the extended family were reduced, while emotional bonds with the nuclear family strengthened [Höllinger and Haller 103].

Furthermore, another aspect that was introduced in modernized society was that the individual’s social ties could now be shaped throughout his or her life. This newly found possibility even applied to closest friends and, more importantly, to kin. No more are relationships toward close kin necessarily seen as a life-long commitment [Höllinger and Haller 103]. In most Western nations, over one-third of all marriages ends in dissolvement [Höllinger and Haller 103]. It can be said that this important change in family structure is in fact the norm in today’s society. In conclusion, the changes in economic innovation seem to go hand in hand with the variation in levels of social ties with kin [Höllinger and Haller 110], just as the loosening of family ties seems to coinside with the rise of divorce.

As has been discussed in the previous paragraphs, a new social structure arose as a result of the Industrial Revolution. When focussing on divorce, it can thus be said that the concept is a relatively recent phenomenon. Divorce has never been as extensive in modern Western society as it has become in current times [Phillips ix]. Additionally, just as society did, the law had to undergo a transformation in most countries as well. Since England was the first to feel the effects of the Industrial Revolution, this country will be used to exemplify the development in divorce jurisdiction. Until the mid-nineteenth century, the English law mostly took the Christian standpoint on marriage on as a rule, defining it as a lifelong lasting union and leaving little room for the option of dissolvement. Nevertheless, a growth in demand for divorce during the Industrial Revolution can be seen in the table on the next page. In this table, the dissolution of individual marriages in England by private Act of Parliament is shown by a periodic interval of ten years [Phillips 65].

The table clearly demonstrates the early rise in divorce as the Industrial Revolution progressed. However still uncommon, such divorces were evolving into regular occurrences [Phillips 64]. In this stage, divorce was only open to male artistocrats, for divorce was almost exclusively monopolized by men, and costs of the procedure were high [Phillips 66]. Additionally, the only acceptable premise for divorce was the wife’s proven adultery.

Despite these disadvantages, the only legal way by which a marriage could be resolved in England remained parliamentary divorce until 1858, when the country’s first divorce law was implemented [Phillips 64]. The 1858 Matrimonial Causes Act made divorce possible for all people, including women. Still, women who divorced on the premise of adultery not only had to prove their husband unfaithfulness, but had to prove additional wrongdoings as well, such as cruelty, incest or desertation for two years or more [National Archives]. In 1923, a private member’s bill facilitated the process for women to plead for divorce on grounds of adultery, although, it still needed to be proved [“A Brief History of Divroce”]. A change in legislation occurred in 1937, when divorce was permitted on other grounds, for instance drunkenness, insanity, and desertation [“A Brief History of Divorce”].

Up until this time, divorce was still considered to be taboo, and a shameful process to undertake. However, over the next period, the modernization of society and the developement in social structures in terms of individuality and eqaulity in gender gradually changed the view towards divorce and therefore called for a different approach in the law concerning it. This resulted in the Divorce Reform Act, which was passed in 1969. The Divorce Reform Act permitted divorce if the couple requesting it had been seperated for more than two years, or for more than five years if the divorce was requested by only one spouse [“A Brief History of Divorce”]. This revision is considered to be a landmark in the law concerning divorce because a spouse no longer had to prove his or her partner’s fault; a marriage could be dissolved if it had broken down beyond repair [“A Brief History of Divorce”]. Most importantly, the Divorce Reform Act created the basic structure of England’s divorce law today. Furthermore, it can be said that the regulation in divorce jurisdictions is closely linked to the process of gender equality. In other words, the development in women’s right can be linked back to the history of divorce laws.

The increase in divorce lessened the taboo that used to stigmatize it, resulting in a shift of focus in society. When directing attention to the European social structure, it can be said that the notions of family in different countries are overall quite similar. The divorce rates, however, are not. The divorce rates in various European countries are shown in the table on the next page [Divorce Magazine].

When examining the table and the differences in divorce rates, a number of results are quite striking. Firstly, the top three European countries with the highest percentage of marriage ending in divorce are all Scandinavian countries. Secondly, the three most southern European countries -Portugal, Spain, and Italy- reside at the bottom of the list. As has been mentioned before, economic modernization and various degrees in social contacts seem to be closely linked [Höllinger and Haller 110]. Additionally, it can be said that the higher percentage of marriage ending in divorce in Northwestern and Central Europe is not only an effect of industrial development but also of the endurance of particular preindustrial family structures [Höllinger and Haller 110]. Through this, the exeptionally low divorce rate of, for example, Italy can be explained.

As is demonstrated in the table, only ten percent of all marriages in Italy end in dissolvement. When comparing Italy’s sociocultural history with present norms and traditions, it can be seen that the concept of strong family ties, which has deep social and cultural roots in this country, is an aspect of Italian life that is still of high importance today [Höllinger and Haller 110]. The powerful influence of the Roman Catholic Church, which beliefs concerning family principals do not permit divorce, has often been ascribed as a reason for that [Höllinger and Haller 110]. This influence seems to be stronger in Italy than in other Southern European countries such as Spain and Portugal, who’s sociocultural family traditions closely resemble those of Italy. However, it could be argued that the existence of the Vatican and Pope seem to keep Christianity more alive in Italy than in other countries.

In contrast to the decreasing influence of the familial structure on modern society, the concept of individuality and non-kinship ties gained importance over time. In other words,

“over this century, the life course has become individualized. (…) Because individual lives in the past were more integrated with familial goals, many decisions today considered “individual,” such as starting work, leaving home, and getting married, were part of collective family timing strategies.”

[Hareven 107-108].

The development of individuality and thus the importance of friends in modern society can be seen in the table below. In this table, Höllinger and Haller present an overview of the expectations people have of those around them in emergency situations. The results from seven different Western countries tallied to show for which roles expectations were higher. For example, the highest percentage of people answered that they rely on their partner for instrumental as well as emotional assistance. It it interesting to note, however, that friends hold the second highest place. In the preindustrial times, the results would show a greater percentage of reliance on family members. This graph helps to illustrate that the decrease in familial ties correlates with the rise in divorce.

Additionally, the rise in divorce coinsides with the movement towards the idea of marriage being a union between two people in love, rather than a union of convenience. In most Western societies, marriage is no longer prevailed by a difference in status or race. In this sense, divorce is now seen as a notion of freedom, just as marriage is. Thus, divorce paved the way for many other marital phenomenon and disertations from the traditional family structure, such as inter-racial marriages, gay marriages, cohabitation without marriage, single-parent adoption, and so on.

In short, the Industrial Revolution altered society during the course of the eighteenth and nineteenth century. Urbanization, technical inventions, scientific discoveries, and the decrease of influence of the Church had great impact on the existing social structure and thus, on kinship ties. As a result, divorce became a regular occurence, which led to a development in divorce jurisductions. Nowadays, the European concepts of family are generally similar, while the divorce rates are not. The existence of lower divorce rates can be explained by a higher influence of Christianity in combination with deeply embedded sociocultural family traditions. Over time, as family ties loosened, non-kinship ties have gained importance. This rise in individuality is also closely linked to the rise in divorce. On the whole, divorce smoothed the path for the acceptance and legal recognition of various other matrimonial situations as well as other options that differ from the ‘traditional’ notion of family.

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