Total divorce rates 1960 2007

Which Factors Do Sociologists Suspect Were the Cause for Such a High Divorce Rate During the 1960s?

The 1960s saw a sharp rise in divorce rates across the United States. After being relatively stable for decades, the divorce rate per 1000 married women doubled during the 1960s. Sociologists have proposed several interrelated factors that likely contributed to this sudden surge in marital dissolution.

Social Changes in 1960s America

The 1960s was a decade of rapid social change that upended long-standing cultural norms around family, gender roles, sexuality, and individualism. These shifts likely weakened commitment to lifelong marriage and made divorce more conceivable and acceptable.

The women’s rights movement, which gathered momentum throughout the 1960s, encouraged women to gain financial independence and demand equality, which reduced their willingness to stay in unhappy marriages. As sociologist Jessie Bernard noted, there was a “his and hers” marriage, with many wives experiencing dissatisfaction.

The sexual revolution, signaled by the availability of the birth control pill, questioned traditional sexual mores. Premarital sex and extramarital affairs became more common and widely discussed topics. This new permissiveness regarding sexuality could have destabilized many marriages.

There was also a marked decline in stigma against divorce, as individual pursuit of happiness and fulfillment took priority over enduring family duty. Divorce shifted from being shameful to a civil right.

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Legal and Economic Changes

The 1960s also saw critical legal and economic changes that altered the practical realities surrounding divorce. These changes likely enabled unhappy spouses to exit marriages that might have otherwise remained intact.

Many states introduced no-fault divorce laws during the 1960s, meaning that couples could legally dissolve marriages without requiring proof of marital fault. All that was needed was a stated reason like “irreconcilable differences.” This legal shift made exiting marriages simpler across the country.

Additionally, increased economic prospects and financial independence for women due to growing labor force participation reduced barriers to leaving unhappy marriages. With less financial dependence on husbands, divorce became a more viable option for dissatisfied wives.

High Expectations for Marriage

Sociologists argue that the rising divorce rates also stemmed from strong yet frequently unrealistic cultural expectations about marriage in the 1950s and early 1960s. This “over-sentimentalized view of marriage” was increasingly challenged through individual experience.

There were overly optimistic, simplistic beliefs about living “happily ever after” with little preparation offered for navigating the inevitable difficulties of married life. When hard times hit, spouses were disillusioned and divorce appeared as the only solution.

The dramatic social changes and rigid romantic ideals surrounding marriage did not align. Consequently, when these lofty, unrealistic expectations crashed against more complex realities, divorce rates rose sharply.

The most common cause for Such a High Divorce Rate During the 1960s:

The divorce rate spiked in the 1960s in part due to changing societal attitudes and the women’s liberation movement, as well as new no-fault divorce laws that made it easier for couples to legally end unhappy marriages. Financial independence for women through greater workforce participation also enabled more women to support themselves outside of marriage, contributing to the rise in divorce during this era of social change.

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In reviewing the spike in marital dissolution during the 1960s, sociologists point towards a perfect storm of factors that together weakened the cultural foundation supporting lifelong marriage.

Shifting social values, new legal and economic realities, and overly optimistic beliefs about marital life collectively contributed to unprecedented divorce rates as marriages broke down across the country. This confluence of changes challenging traditional mores reduced stigma, and unrealistic ideals created a sharp spike that would plateau at high levels in the following decades.


1.What were some positive changes for women in the 1960s?

The 1960s saw important advances in rights and opportunities for women, including growing participation in the workforce, availability of the birth control pill, and an energized feminist movement emphasizing equality in marriage and across society.

2.How did no-fault divorce change divorce laws?

Previous divorce laws required spouses to provide proof of marital fault like adultery or abandonment. No-fault divorce laws instead allowed divorce without requiring evidence of wrongdoing, making marital dissolution simpler and more accessible.

3.What were some main goals of the 1960s women’s movement?

Key goals were securing equal rights and pay at work, achieving reproductive rights, promoting educational access, ending discriminatory laws, and transforming traditional gender roles – especially aiming for more egalitarian marital relationships.

4.How did birth control access impact marriage?

The advent of the birth control pill separated sex from procreation, contributing to changing social values about premarital sex, non-marital pregnancies, and traditional gender roles – all factors that influenced marital stability.

5.Why weren’t couples prepared for marital difficulties?

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Rigid gender stereotypes and lack of open communication about marital expectations meant many couples entered matrimony with unrealistic hopes rather than strategies for managing conflict or hardship.

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