Next time The Olds™ get to whinging about the degeneracy of Kids These Days and their No Family Values, just remind them: Millennials are, apparently, killing the divorce industry. Or, maybe more accurately, Baby Boomers have unusually high rates of divorce, historically speaking, and Millennials are just reverting that to a mean.
It makes a kind of intuitive sense, if you think about it, and for once it’s not something that can be entirely blame on the Boomers; they were, after all, the first generation to (in modern, Western nations) take advantage of both no-fault divorce laws and the economic emancipation of women.1 That is to say, they were the first (again, modern, Western) generation where women didn’t have to saddle themselves with a dipshit man in order to, like, eat and own a house.
Outside of pockets of (mostly evangelical religious) resistance, meanwhile, my generation has grown up with the idea that marriage is a kind of social-economic partnership between two legal equals—and one that can be dissolved at will if it’s no longer considered effective by the parties involved—as a norm. Shockingly,2 society no longer effectively forcing women into marriage has not, in fact, destroyed the institution and, arguably, has strengthened it instead (see also the fight for marriage equality, for example, which is an indicator that marriage is still such an important institution that people want to see it extended, not rolled back).
(Also, because it’s worth mentioning, even the whole “people aren’t getting divorced because they aren’t getting married in the first place!” thing is also a kind of reversion to a historical mean, given that common law marriages/de facto relationships have been the pre-modern norm for commoners. So while, yes, on the one hand it’s reflective of widening inequality—marriage has always been an upper-class aspirational bougie institution—it’s also not, like, unusual, historically speaking.)
- Imperfect but, like, y’know. My Boomer mother was literally the first working cohort year where women could retain their jobs after they got married. My dad had to co-sign her first passport to give her “permission” to be able to leave the country when they went on their honeymoon in the 1970s. Like… our current system isn’t perfect but it’s come a long way in two generations. ↩
- Or, yanno. Not. Marriage in some form or another exists fairly universally among human cultures, and has done since forever. Given that humans are a largely monogamous species whose offspring require huge parental investment, it’s probably not outrageous to argue “marriage” is merely a cultural shell wrapped around whatever’s left of our evolutionary ancestors’ mating instincts. In other words, it’s lasted this long; it’s probably not going away any time soon. ↩