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What are the cultural and societal perspectives on divorce?

Divorce rates have increased over the past century. A data blog from The Guardian shows that the total number of divorces in 1900 was 512. Fast forward to 1990 and this shoots up to 153,386 divorces in England and Wales. 

While the 21st century has seen a decrease in divorce rates, with 80,057 granted in England and Wales in 2022, the total number has risen significantly over the last hundred years. 

So, what’s driven this increase? Several factors may have contributed over time, which we’ll explore here.

Historical perspectives

The UK Parliament says that “before 1914 divorce was rare; it was considered a scandal, confined by expense to the rich, and by legal restrictions requiring proof of adultery or violence to the truly desperate. In the first decade of the 20th century, there was just one divorce for every 450 marriages”.

In 1923, the Matrimonial Causes Act enabled women to request a divorce on the grounds of adultery for the first time. It wasn’t until the Divorce Reform Act of 1969 “that they reached the level we are familiar with today” offering more reasons for divorce. There no longer had to be a “guilty” party that was at fault for the marriage breakdown: people could now file for divorce simply because the relationship was no longer working.

Gender roles

Gender roles have certainly shifted over the last century. Today, men and women are on a much more equal footing, with both parties now able to request a divorce. This has made it easier to obtain a legal split than it was in the 1800s and early to mid-1900s. 

In addition, more women now work in paid jobs, giving them increased financial freedom. With less reliance on a male’s income and the ability to live and earn money independently, divorce is a more viable option for those unhappy in their marriage.

Religious and cultural beliefs

Cultural norms and religious values have shifted significantly in the UK. In the past, societal beliefs meant there was a huge stigma around filing for divorce, leaving people feeling trapped in their marriages.

Today, attitudes have changed. Marriage is less of a sacred commitment underpinned by religion and is often a celebration of the love a couple shares. It’s more common today for people to believe that marriage should bring fulfilment and happiness, and if this is no longer the case, divorce is an acceptable solution.

There are many factors that may have driven the rise in divorces over the last century, from gender roles to changing attitudes and beliefs. Today, it’s easier than ever to start a divorce online, giving people the opportunity to walk away from a situation that makes them unhappy and move into a new chapter of life.

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