Thinking About Divorce Globally
By: M. Scott Gordon
When we read about divorce statistics or think about some of the cultural issues surrounding divorce, we often think about those issues in relation to the U.S., or even to the Chicago region more specifically. But how do divorce trends in the U.S. compare to those in other parts of the world? And are sociocultural assumptions about divorce in this country similar to or different from those in other parts of the globe? A recent article in Psychology Today discusses shifting trends in global divorce rates and the ways in which U.S. divorce rates compare to other regions of the world. The article reflects on a recent study conducted by researchers at the University of California, Irvine who published their findings in the peer-reviewed sociology journal Social Forces in December 2018.
If you are thinking about filing for divorce in the Chicago area, how does your situation compare to those of people in other countries? And why should a Chicago area resident care about these kinds of comparisons? We want to address both of those questions by discussing the recent article and the sociology study.
Few Studies on Global Divorce Rates
The article emphasizes that this study is among the first of its kind to address divorce rates across the world and how they have changed over time. While earlier studies have compared U.S. divorce rates and sociocultural issues surrounding divorce in America to those in, for example, European countries like the U.K. or Germany or Sweden, little attention has been paid to divorce rates in non-Western parts of the world. The new study wants to emphasize that there is no “center” of the globe when considering issues like divorce, and that there is a need to place seemingly disparate regions of the globe in conversation with one another when it comes to divorce rates in order to gain a better understanding of why and how divorce happens.
More precisely, the researchers in this study, Cheng-Ton Lir Wang and Evan Schofer, were interested in the ways that divorce rates are affected by “individual life experiences and choices, such as a person’s education, employment, income, and the age at which they marry.” In large part, these are questions that can be answered by examining “societal factors that might be relevant to rates of divorce, such as a nation’s level of economic development and the proportion of their women who are in the workforce.” Moreover, the researchers wanted to begin determining whether “global norms and values, such as the belief in human rights and gender equality,” impacted a nation’s divorce rates.
Divorce Rates Are Increasing Globally
For the study, the researchers analyzed data from a period of nearly four decades (1970 to 2008) from 84 different countries, or nearly half of the countries in the world. By and large, they determined that divorce rates are increasing globally.
From 1970 to 2008, the rates of divorce across the globe almost doubled, with 2.6 divorces for every 1,000 married people in 1970 and 5.5 divorces for every 1,000 married people in 2008. The researchers concluded that divorce rates in the U.S. were “extreme outliers,” with higher divorce rates than most other regions of the world.
The highest divorce rates occur in Northern and Western Europe, with rates of anywhere from 4.03 to 6.55 divorces for every 1,000 married couples. Divorce rates are relatively low in Southern Europe and Latin America. However, divorce rates in Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic are nearly double that of Northern and Western Europe. These are a few examples. By comparing so many regions, the researchers drew the following conclusions about countries with higher divorce rates:
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