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This lesson will explain the difference in divorce rates due to cultural variation.

In doing so, it will highlight modernization and kinship patterns as traits that may affect divorce rates. It will also discuss arranged marriages.

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Divorce Across Cultures

Today’s lesson on divorce and the role culture plays in it will be highly debatable depending on which source you choose to cite. For instance, some sources say that the modernization of a culture will increase its divorce rate, while other studies hint that this might not be true. Since empirical evidence on divorce across cultures is pretty hard to nail down, we’ll take a quick look at some prevailing theories on how culture affects divorce. However, while we’re doing so, please keep in mind that these are generalized theories and for every culture that fits the mold there seems to be another one that breaks it.

Modernization

We’ll start with how modernization affects divorce. According to many anthropological studies, the rate of divorce seems to rise as a society becomes more industrialized and commercialized. Probably one of the best examples of this is the United States, which has seen a steady increase in divorce rates since the Civil War and the Industrial Revolution. Some anthropologists assert that with modernization has come greater personal freedom and, thus, divorce has become more prevalent.To explain this phenomenon, in a commercialized society where individuals trade money for goods and services, individuals, specifically women, are more able to be self-sufficient.

With this in mind, it’s argued that modernization has led to greater personal freedom, so divorce has become more prevalent. Using some crazy oversimplification for effect, it can be pretty easily argued that a professional woman in New York City will have many more opportunities to support herself should she divorce. However, a woman living in the hunting and gathering societies of Australia’s outback will not.

Residence Patterns

The rise of modernization and commercialization has also seen a decline in bilocal residence, a system of residence in which a couple lives near or with the family of the man or the woman. Rather than living near family, couples in industrialized societies often move in order to find work.

In other words, they need to go where the money is, and many times this leads them away from the support of family. It is this lack of family support within a culture that some anthropologists assert precipitates higher divorce rates.

Descent

Speaking of residence or kinship patterns, some studies assert that modernization may not play as big of a role in divorce rates as some like to believe. Instead, they feel it is kinship patterns that just might be the catalyst. For instance, it’s noted that in a society that practices bilateral descent, or the tracing of kinship through both spouses’ ancestral lines, divorce rates tend to be higher.

For instance, in many southeastern countries that tend to place as much importance on the wife’s family as the groom’s, divorce rates have traditionally tended to be higher with no correlation to industrialization.Along these same lines, a culture that practices matrilineal descent, the tracing of descent through the women, may also have higher divorce rates. Stating it simply, a matrilineal descent system, or one where lineage is traced through the mammas, links a couple to the wife’s family. In a matrilineal system, families will tend to offer more support to a woman who leaves a marriage.

Thus, divorce becomes a more realistic option within a matrilineal culture, as opposed to in a patrilineal descent system in which an individual’s kin group is traced through men, or making it easier to remember, through the papas!

Arranged Marriages

Leaving kinship and modernization, we come to the cultural practice of arranged marriage, a marriage planned and agreed to by the families or guardians of the bride and groom. Perhaps very surprising to Western minds, societies that practice arranged marriages have the lowest rates of divorce. This phenomenon is seen in the Hindu people of India who practice arranged marriages and have some of the lowest divorce rates in all of the world. However, not wanting to sound too much like a commercial for arranged marriages, it should be noted that some assert the low divorce rate among these societies has more to do with the social shame that divorce carries rather than the idea that arranged marriages just tend to be more harmonious or satisfying.

Lesson Summary

Anthropologists agree that culture does seem to play a role in divorce rates. However, which aspects of culture play the greatest role is highly debatable. Some anthropologists assert that the rate of divorce rises as a society becomes more industrialized and commercialized. To explain, industrialization may lead to greater personal freedom, specifically among women, which may tend to make divorce a more viable option.Many anthropologists also assert that kinship systems may also affect divorce rates. For instance, in a bilateral descent, or one that traces kinship through both spouses’ ancestral lines, divorce rates tend to be higher. This is also true in matrilineal descent systems, which trace descent through the women.

Anthropologists assert that these systems may offer more support to a woman who leaves a marriage than does a patrilineal descent system in which an individual’s kin group is traced through men.Ending our discussion on cultural traits and divorce is the concept of arranged marriage, a marriage planned and agreed to by the families or guardians of the bride and groom. Despite how odd arranged marriages may seem to many, cultures that employ arranged marriages have the lowest divorce rates across the globe.

Learning Outcomes

As you reach the end of the video, your goal should be to:

  • Explain how modernization affects divorce
  • Describe how a decline in bilocal residences may impact divorce rates
  • Acknowledge the ways in which descent affects divorce
  • Consider the divorce rates in arranged marriages

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