There have been substantial changes in the institution of marriage over the last 30 years. During most of U. S. history, a married couple was viewed as a single, legal entity (M. A. Mason et al., 2001). However, over the last 3 decades there has been a shift in how mar­riage is viewed. Today, marriage is seen more as a partnership between a man and a woman. This shift in perception of marriage also brought with it a shift in how marriage was dissolved. The liberalization of divorce laws made it easier to obtain a divorce and made it a less expensive process.

Подпись:By 1985, all states offered couples some type of no-fault divorce (Krause, 1986). In an attempt to reduce the skyrocketing divorce rates, some states have instituted covenant marriages, which revolve around restrictive agreed-on rules and regulations for ending a marriage and also involve premarital counseling and an agreement to pur­sue additional counseling if marital problems develop. In addition, the wait time for a divorce is extended, in some cases to 2 years or more, unless there is domestic violence involved. We will talk more about covenant marriages later in this chapter.

What causes a couple to end their marriage? The question is complicated because not all unstable or unhappy marriages end in divorce. Couples stay together for many reasons—for the children, because of lack of initiative, because of religious prohibitions against divorce—even though they have severe problems in their marriages. Similarly, couples with seemingly happy marriages separate and divorce, sometimes to the surprise of one of the partners who did not even know the marriage was in trouble.

The current divorce rate in the United States remains high compared to earlier times in the century and other countries (Goldstein, 1999; South et al., 2001). If cur­rent levels persist, half of the current marriages in the United States will end in divorce. In 1970 there were 4.3 million divorced Americans, but this number jumped to 20 mil­lion by 2000 (Fields & Casper, 2001).

Divorce rates vary among age groups. They are at their highest in women in their teens and decline with increasing age. Perhaps the most consistent finding about divorce is that those who marry early are more likely to divorce eventually. Generally, divorce occurs early in the marriage; the median duration of marriage at divorce in 1988 was 7.1 years. First marriages have been found to last approximately 2 years longer before divorce than second marriages, which last 2 years longer than third or subsequent marriages (Centers for Disease Control, 1991).

African Americans, Native Americans, and Puerto Ricans show the highest separa­tion and divorce rates in the United States; Korean, Asian Indian, and Chinese Americans have the lowest rates; and Mexican Americans, Cubans, and whites lie some­where in between (Skolnick, 1992). Interracial marriages also have higher divorce rates than marriages within racial groups (Zinn & Eitzen, 1993).

The marital instability of African Americans has received considerable attention, in part because it has increased dramatically over the last 30 years. In 1960, 65% of African American women aged 30 to 34 were in intact marriages, whereas by 1990, the per­centage dropped to 39% (Zinn & Eitzen, 1993). Although many cultural factors con­tribute to the high rates of divorce, such as the unwillingness of black women to put up with male-dominated marriages, the main reasons for the increased divorce rates are probably the unemployment, economic dislocation, and increasing poverty within the African American community.

A mutually shared decision to divorce is actually uncommon. Usually, one partner wants to terminate a relationship more than the other partner, who is still strongly at­tached to the marriage and who is more distraught at its termination. In fact, the decla­ration that a partner wants a divorce often comes as a shock to his or her spouse. When

Human Sexuality in a Diverse World