Changing attitudes of college grads about divorce.

While doing some research for another post I came across some surprising findings by  Dr. Steven P. Martin in his presentation Education and Marital Dissolution Rates in the United States.  Dr. Martin is a professor of Sociology at the University of Maryland, and his speciality is Demography.  On page 19 of his presentation he shows how the opinions of college grads on divorce have changed over time.  Scores below 1 indicate that divorce should be made easier, 1 indicates it should stay the same, and greater than 1 indicate it should be harder to divorce.

Echoing grerp’s assertion of a generational shift in attitudes about divorce (page 17):

“(O)n the core social question of whether family fragmentation is a bad thing or a not-so bad thing, a steady shift in popular and (especially) elite opinion took place over the course of the 1990s.  Denial and happy talk about the consequences of nuclear family decline became decidedly less widespread; concern and even alarm became much more common.  As a society we changed our minds, and as a result we changed some of our laws.  And now, it seems, we are beginning to change some of our personal behavior.  This is very encouraging news.”                          Blankenhorn (2002)

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25 Responses to Changing attitudes of college grads about divorce.

  1. John says:

    It’s nearly a 10 year old survey. It does appear that the trend is upward for college graduates. But for the other two groups, it is difficult to extrapolate to the current decade.

  2. Lovekraft says:

    Taken in isolation, this is heartening, but what about other attitudes, such as gay marriage, dual-income/surrogate parenting, sharing of responsibilities/authority?

    There may be progress in the overall attitude to divorce, but if men and women are still stuck in the female entitlement mentality, those marriages will be strife-ridden, with the men emasculated and eventually shriveling to cores of their former selves.

  3. collegeslacker says:

    There is a pretty simple explanation-

    While my parents are thankfully still together and very much in love, divorce destroyed the families of too many of my friends to count. As a generation, we got front row tickets to the devastation of widespread divorce upon kids, families, and friends, and I think a lot of us never would wish that upon our kids, ever.

  4. Country Lawyer says:

    This doesn’t look too heartening to me, quite the opposite.

    The attitudes of high school drop outs continues to want it easier.

    The attitude of high school graduate/some college is the same over time or nearly.

    What is left is the four-year-college graduate group and I suspect what is being measured there is more a product of anti-marriage attitudes than anything else.

  5. Ceer says:

    Oh jeez, I feel so much better that the elites have decided to change their minds about ruining the American family now that it’s so hard to find a quality girl if you’re not complete jerk.

  6. Lurky the Lurker says:

    Ceer, not so fast. These “elites” aren’t so elite as they used to be.

    In 1970, the Average Joe Workman was against the idea of easier divorce. You could get farther on a high-school diploma or even without one back then. The college-educated sector was very broadly made up of hippies and “elite” types.

    However, by the end of the chart, that’s shifted dramatically. People without high-school diplomas are pretty much the dropouts of society, but the college diploma is almost ubiquitous, which means that it will be more representative of Average Joe Workman’s attitudes.

    If anything, this shows the demographic changes since college became the new high school. It also indicates that opinions are growing increasingly strong on the subject.

  7. greyghost says:

    The only people interested in divorce being harder are college educated women trying to keep a male hostage in line. The less educated ones are still looking to trade up from the uneducated guy they are with.

  8. Zilchy says:

    My major concern is the sample age and level of real world experience. They’re college students. They have a little way to go to fully comprehend the game at hand.

  9. Twenty says:

    As a society we changed our minds, and as a result we changed some of our laws.

    What country is the author living in? To the extent that laws have changed, they’ve made divorce easier.

  10. Dan in Philly says:

    More charts! How pretty. But I’m with Lurky on this one. Charts are great for conveying some message, but the data underlying them can be quite deceptive, as there are always hidden assumptions/causalities which may be bending the data enough to create a misleading impression.

  11. slwerner says:

    Twenty – “What country is the author living in? To the extent that laws have changed, they’ve made divorce easier.”

    I had the same reaction. The time period he charts (page 19), 1974-2002, corresponds to the rise of “irreconcilable differences”/no-fault divorce laws. We aren’t told what these women who were responding to the General Social Survey were asked (something pertaining to whether divorce should be easier or harder), but it would seem that their answers to that survey DO NOT reflect what they (and the No-fault movement had substantial backing from women’s groups) wished to see enacted into law. I rather doubt that that women who dropped out of high school represent the most influential voters amongst women.

    Something just doesn’t quite add up with this one. Why, it’s almost as if the women surveyed said they wanted one thing, but their actions say they wanted the opposite.

    I wonder if there might be other matters where women might claim to want one thing, but really prefer another, like, say, their “taste” in men?

  12. Dalrock says:

    There are quite a few good questions raised here, but I still see this as an interesting piece of data which tends to fit with the assessment that attitudes are slowly changing. On the question of changed behavior following a change in attitudes, I would say the chart on page 12 backs that up quite well. Divorce rates peaked some time in the late 70s and have been declining for college educated women since. For other women the rates have remained relatively constant.

    On the question of changing laws, that one had me perplexed too. I was able to find the article by Blankenhorn that he pulled the quote from. The only legal changes I see him referring to are welfare reform, and that paragraph immediately precedes the one quoted. So it would appear that welfare reform is the legal change he is referring to and not a change in divorce laws. Here is the paragraph immediately preceding the one already quoted:

    What has caused this shift? No one knows for sure, but we can make some plausible guesses. The roaring economy probably had little or nothing to do with it, since all previous economic booms since 1970 have coincided with growing family fragmentation, not reintegration. On the other hand, federal and state welfare reforms dating from the mid-1990s, which dramatically restructured and in some instances eliminated what had previously been guaranteed economic supports for unmarried mothers, have almost certainly played a role. As the above-cited data suggest, post-1995 family structure changes have been most dramatic among low-income families.

    However this raises more questions than it answers, because he seems to be in direct disagreement with the findings in the original presentation. One is saying that college educated women are turning away from divorce, and the other is saying the change was driven by low-income families. The two groups aren’t entirely mutually exclusive, but they aren’t close demographically either.

  13. slwerner says:

    Dalrock – ”On the question of changing laws, that one had me perplexed too.”

    I think you might be “over-thinking” this one.

    To me, what the women were responding to in regards to the question of divorce being easier or hard to obtain, was actually their response to the question they “thought” they heard – ”should it be easier or harder for a man to divorce his wife.”

    Despite the readily available statistics on who initiates divorces (and why), on the economic outcomes of divorce, and on the virtual inescapability of court ordered “support”; it is still quite typical to observe the attitude from women that divorce is something men do to women so as to run off and live large.

    The misinformed stereotype of the divorced guy driving a sports car, owning a boat, and chasing young woman is a meme that just won’t die with women.

    Thus, when asked the question about what the relative ease of divorce should be, with any context given, it’s likely that quite a few of the women immediately thought of some guy trying to get out of his commitments, and reflexively concluded that it should be harder for guys to get divorced.

    For educated women, the goal (or so they convinced themselves) of laws geared towards easier divorces were intended to allow for “all those abused women” to escape their bad marriages.

    Anyway, that would be my speculation as to why women would respond that divorce ought to be made harder (while simultaneously supporting laws for making it easier).

  14. Dan in Philly says:

    “For educated women, the goal (or so they convinced themselves) of laws geared towards easier divorces were intended to allow for “all those abused women” to escape their bad marriages. ” – When fighting with a feminist about the lax divorce laws and easy alimony/child support they get from the husbands, they reflexively turn to the “abused women/bad marriages” argument. In a similar way, any time you argue with a feminist about abortion, they’ll reflexively use the “rape/incest/life of mother” argument. They take what is really a small minority of cases and use them as justification for the whole.

  15. Dalrock says:

    The misinformed stereotype of the divorced guy driving a sports car, owning a boat, and chasing young woman is a meme that just won’t die with women.

    Yes. I see this particular version of the apex fallacy even with otherwise sensible women of the manosphere.

    But this would only explain why (some?) women might say they were for making divorce harder while opposing meaningful reforms. How do you explain that this sentiment is growing stronger over time though?

  16. slwerner says:

    Martin goes into more discussion of the motivations of women here, starting on page 30 (which I found while searching for that General Social Survey to try to figure out what question(s) was being asked.

    I have to go to a meeting, so I only skimmed his analysis, but he also seems confounded that more educated women, who ought to be more liberal/feminist/independent didn’t seem to be more divorce-oriented. I’ll leave it to you to sort out his conclusions, if you’re interested.

  17. slwerner says:

    Oops forgot to add the links for the General Social Survey:

  18. Anonymous Reader says:


    The misinformed stereotype of the divorced guy driving a sports car, owning a boat, and chasing young woman is a meme that just won’t die with women.

    Ditto for tradcons. I’ve had long and fruitless discussions with libertarian/traditional-leaning men about this. It is really strange to, for example, try to show to a man who codes for a living (logic based) that if 65% of divorces, i.e. 2/3, are filed by women it is impossible for the typical divorced man to be as described above…only to get in return the typical myth from 1970-something, i.e. “divorce is something that men do when they want to trade in their first wife for a younger trophy”.

    It’s baffling. Men who work with facts for a living, men who write books about facts, when presented with a fact about the real world that doesn’t match up to their image of women will — reject the fact, rather than consider their image is wrong.

    This appears to be a result of unstated, deeply held premises, on the same level as a religious belief, in my opinion.

    PS: +1 on slwerner’s interpretation of what the women polled “heard” vs. what the actual question was.

    PPS: It would be interesting to repeat this work, with a statistically significant sample size, and finer grained questions. Start with the basic “should divorce be easier or more difficult”, then drill down with questions such as “Should divorce for men be easier or more difficult”, “should divorce for women be easier or more difficult”, and so forth.

    I doubt any foundation would fund that study, though.

  19. Anonymous Reader says:

    slwerner thanks for posting the link to the paper “Women’s attitudes towards divorce”, it is most useful. Unhappily the GSS has a trinary valued question on divorce (“easier, the same, more difficult”) that doesn’t offer much granularity. Based on that, I’m not too excited about this result so far.

  20. Doug1 says:

    I’m afraid I find this pretty meaningless data.

    What does “making divorce easier” mean? Legally easier? Getting divorced could hardly be any easier in this no fault era. What’s hard is negotiating and agreeing on property settlement and custody if applicable.

    Or is this meant to be a proxy for how undesirable divorce is to the respondents? That seems to be how most of your commenters are interpreting it.

    Seems a big muddle to me.

  21. I never went through divorce as a child, but many of my friends did. After all the garbage they suffered through, I have to imagine that it left a bad taste in their mouth. Hopefully this means people will take the commitment of marriage more seriously in the future, but I worry about the future of marriage in general because of all the other influences that are trying to tear it down.

  22. Anonymous says:

    True, the sportscar-driving, younger-women-chasing stereotype of divorced me dies hard… but the Eat, Pray, Love stereotype of husband-discarding females is quite popular (especially with them).

  23. MrLettuce says:

    I do find the data chart to be fascinating. I’m curious to see data for the next ten years (post-2002). Though I do feel it ends up giving us more questions then answers. Why do college educated and non high school educated groups have such a difference of opinion about divorce?

  24. Dalrock says:

    Why do college educated and non high school educated groups have such a difference of opinion about divorce?

    This doesn’t answer your specific question, but it may be relevant. IQ has a high correlation with staying married, and education is of course correlated with IQ. One study from the Netherlands found that when divorce laws were first made easier higher IQ people were the most likely to divorce. After the change in laws had been absorbed by society in general the results flipped and higher IQ correlated with lower divorce. I wonder if that isn’t what we are seeing in the table as well.

  25. Anonymous Reader says:

    Agree with Dalrock. College degrees, even as watered down as they are, require a more future-time orientation and at least some ability to defer gratification. Those two personality traits make divorce less likely once the costs are made clear.

    People with poor impulse control, with a present time orientation, who cannot defer gratification are more likely to divorce absent some outside influence. In Paige’s case, I believe that the religion she and her husband share has had a profound effect on keeping them together in difficult times. That’s one of the things religion is supposed to do, although that would be news to a lot of churchianty people.

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