This is part of a series addressing 1flesh, an organization that advocates against the use of contraception and in favor of one method of fertility awareness. Please start with Part I.
1flesh argues that contraception has increased the divorce rate. I say that the increased use of reliable contraception (I say ‘reliable’ because people have been using less reliable methods for centuries) and higher rates of divorce are part of the same significant social shift in approaches to sexuality and marriage. People have always wanted to limit and space pregnancies; we’re just better at it now because we have better medical technology. Marriage is considered a relationship primarily based on love, rather than a property arrangement, and divorce is substantially less stigmatized. Relationships were not magically better before modern contraception.
1flesh cites a study by a sociologist who connected the low rates of divorce in Japan in the 1970s to the Japanese government’s refusal to approve oral contraceptives. I am most definitely not an expert on Japanese culture, but a brief search brought up the following: until the mid-20th century, the divorce rate in Japan was among the highest in the world–before the introduction of reliable contraceptives. Contact and disapprobation from the Western world appears to have instigated changes in divorce policy, as previously divorce was informally and easily achieved, and considered perfectly acceptable. Weirdly, divorce in post-war Japan was presented as contrary to traditional Japanese values. Also, changing patterns of economics and labor due to modernization made spouses more interdependent than previous generations. Different cultural understandings of marriage and divorce, changes due to a variety of factors, etc, etc, etc. What does this have to do with contraception?
I followed their link to an article about Japan’s unwillingness to approve oral contraceptives. One reason given for the government’s reluctance: Japan’s low–below replacement–fertility rate. The Japanese were not getting fewer divorces because they weren’t using contraceptives and having lots of babies, thereby making their marriages better. Based on the article, it seems that a majority of Japanese use condoms as their primary method of birth control. The author also notes that Japanese couples evidently don’t talk about contraception very much, which seems to preclude the idea that they’re all just really communicative and good at fertility awareness. Japan currently has a birth rate of 1.39 children per woman, lower than the U.S. rate of 2.06. Abortion has been legal in Japan since 1948 and appears to have been frequently utilized, although rates have steadily declined in relation to increased contraceptive use and fewer pregnancies.
In the United States, researchers have identified stronger levels of economic participation from women as a primary factor in the spike of divorces in the ’60s and ’70s, since women were able to support themselves and were consequently less willing to stay in unhappy marriages. Others have observed that people are more likely to divorce in the early years of marriage, during their 20s, and that the large baby boomer generation passed through this phase during the 1970s, giving divorce statistics a transient bump.
1flesh also writes that ‘international studies’ support the idea that couples with more children have lower divorce rates. I followed the provided link and discovered an article in the Qatar Tribune, about a Qatari divorce study:
The percentage of marriage break-ups decreases as the number of children born to couples increases: 6 percent of divorces for couples with three kids, 4 percent among those with four children, and only 2 percent for couples with five children.
According to the same report, 30 per cent of the total divorces took place before consummation of marriage, that is, prior to the experience of the bliss of a married life whereas 16 per cent of divorces took place in the first 5 to 9 years of marriage.
In a conservative society which puts family before the individual, the economic prosperity and family laws may provide good explanation for the data presented in the report.
Economic prosperity enjoyed by the Qatari society contributes to the reduction of the challenges and responsibilities that go with the birth and raising of children…
Hiring housekeepers, drivers and nannies is very common in Qatari society and takes a lot of work and responsibilities off the wife’s back and allows her to pay adequate attention to her husband…
Having to provide for the ex-wife and the kids often leave the husband with little money to remarry and start another family.
Because of this obstacle, many would rather stay in an unhappy marriage than undergo a financial hardship or stay single for the rest of their lives.
Another factor favouring this phenomenon is the values of the Qatari society which encourage the concept of self-sacrifice and putting kids and family first.
These values incline couples in troubled marriages to exclude the option of divorce when they have children.
Most spouses would rather choose to be trapped in unhappy marriage than risk exposing their kids to the devastating consequences of divorce…
This has something to do with the fact that society may stigmatise children of ‘broken homes’.
Er? Things I learned from this article: Qatar is a deeply conservative society with strict ideas about family honor, and people don’t want to open themselves and their children to the stigma of divorce, so they’re more willing to stay in unhappy marriages. Qatar is an extremely wealthy country, and it’s expected that women will utilize hired help to manage childcare and housekeeping, since men apparently don’t help at all. Men would leave if they could, but they don’t want the expense of a second family, and women probably feel that their options after divorce are pretty dim. There are a lot of arranged marriages (I presume) that dissolve even before the couples ‘experience the bliss of a married life’.
So…this is something we should emulate? More children is not equal to wedded happiness. Children–at least minor children–can definitely make divorce more complicated, though.
All of this is founded on the assumption that everyone wants kids, which isn’t true. There are plenty of couples who are intentionally and happily childfree. It also assumes that divorce is universally bad, but I would much rather people be able to leave untenable marriages without being stigmatized.