Divorce is a major social problem all over the world, and it affects Canadians just as much. It is described as a social problem because not only does it impact the personal lives of the people involved, but it impacts the society they live in, and it reshapes the family and its surroundings. There are many causes as to why divorce occurs in the first place, including forms of unequal treatment of women, earning differentials, poverty, and religious differences. Just like there are causes for divorce there are consequences to divorce, negative effects on children, financial stability, and social environment on all members of the family. The social problem of divorce will be analyzed through the functionalists perspective to explain their views on the topic.
Divorce is a termination of marriage between two people. According to Verlen, the number of marriages ending in divorce at all socioeconomic levels has increased dramatically over the last few decades (Grossman, Shea, & Adams, 1980; Lowenstein & Koopman, 1978; Norton & Glick, 1979). Individualism has become a social norm, people prefer to be alone than have to put up with a partner and deal with conflict together. It is seen as social problem then, because it weakens the ideology behind family being an important part of society. Family is an important social organization, in a family children grow to learn specific spousal roles from the father and mother figures they see. Without the support from being a family, both the adults and the children involved become weakened, and less productive in society, not able to perform their roles properly. Divorce can lead to poverty, drug addiction, and psychological problems. It is devastating to see children getting caught up in the middle of divorce, it leads to confusion, criticism by their peers in school, and sometimes even bullying. The consequences of the divorce are harsh, and they are another reason why divorce is seen as a social problem. Sociologists are constantly analyzing divorce, and its consequences. Even when divorce is a mutual agreement between the couple it still has consequences and negative effects on children. Divorce can be due to unequal treatment of women, earnings differentials and work status, community characteristics, and religion.
Unequal treatment of women is always an issue, but in a marriage especially it is an even bigger issue and a main cause for divorce. When women feel inferior, the frustration of not being able to express their opinion or speak freely, leaves them angry leading to divorce (Akhtar, 2016). This is noticed more in immigrant couples, they come from their countries with the mindset that women are not allowed to just express how they feel, they need to obey their husbands, and be housewives. These women feel like they are obligated to just do house work, care for their children, without getting any kind of good treatment from the husband. They are only allowed to go out with their husband’s presence. This can also be referred to as a form of psychological abuse, since everything has to be done only if the husband allows it, sometimes even speaking in front of other people. This unequal treatment can lead to conflict which then leads to divorce.
According to Becker (1991) the main factor for divorce is in the couple’s earnings differentials (Balestrino, Ciardi, & Mammini, 2013). When women are the higher earners of the household, there is less of an equal division of labour. Their spouses may feel like they cannot provide for their family, feeling like their role is useless. The women will be really busy with work which causes conflict when they do not have enough time for their spouses, less time for leisure , and less time with their children. Again forcing the husbands to do most of the house work and using their stressful work as an excuse to not help out. This kind of difference in work class and earnings between and a woman and her spouse leads to feelings of inferiority in the spouse leading him to think he is better off without her leading to divorce.
Divorce leads to poverty but the reverse is also true (Clarke-Stewart & Brentano, 2006) The community in which a family lives can be an important characteristic related to the failure of their marriage. For example people living in poverty, or in poor neighbourhoods tend to have more divorces. It can cause depression, drug or alcohol abuse, which can then lead to divorce.
Religious differences can be another reason behind divorce. As modern societies try to break through the tradition of marrying someone from the same religion, divorce rates increase. For example, if the wife is more religious than the husband and wants her children to be baptized but the husband is against it, it can cause conflict and serious problems. Not being able to come to an agreement since the wife wants her children to believe in God and go to church but because of the husband’s different religious views he sees this as wrong. Not only does religion cause conflict between the couple, it can cause confusion for the children, which again may cause conflict between the parents therefore leading to divorce.
There are many other factors behind divorce but this research’s main focus was the unequal treatment of women, earnings differentials, community, and religion. These four causes are important factors that may lead to divorce, which can then negatively impact their children, financial instability, and social environment. These consequences are all from divorce but they also affect the society in which the divorcees live. The divorce has negative effects on their personal lives but mainly also on their society since those negative consequences are in themselves social problems.
The family is perceived as the most important source of learning experiences for a child (Verlen, 1985). If both parents are an image of the traditional father and mother figures their roles as a family teach exactly that to their children. A daughter can learn how to be like her mother and her father is the first man she interacts with and learns about the opposite sex from, and the same happens with a son. When the family falls apart due to divorce, if there is children involved, they usually get harmed the most. The effects on children stand out the most because they lead to possibly more social problems. The sadness and the grief in children caused by the divorce, affects them in their social environment. At school they focus less, they may not be as outgoing and social as they were before, and generally their behaviour changes drastically. Their home is falling apart, this can make them feel guilty, feel like their parents do not love them enough, or feel like they are not getting enough attention. If older, the adolescents may feel anger and embarrassment towards both parents, they do not understand the parents’ perspective because they are preoccupied with their own feelings and their own problems with processing the divorce. Sometimes, the parents throw overwhelming responsibilities on their children, asking them to work more to get more money, or child care responsibilities for their younger siblings for example. As a result, the adolescents can feel depression because of all the sudden and overwhelming demands in their life, especially while also getting their education. Their anger can lead to deviant behaviour, such as sex, drugs, and alcohol. Then their school and work focus lowers because of their anxiety, depression, anger, and their risky behaviour around drugs and alcohol. They get in trouble more often due to lack of focus in school, lower grades and lower motivation to graduate and have a comfortable life. The cycle goes on and the problem of their parents’ divorce can really negatively impact their life and their future. They become more antisocial and aggressive in their social circles, and they develop false skills to help them in future relationships. They have a harder time trusting people around them because they feel like if they get attached to anyone they will get abandoned again. The sudden changes in their lives, even if the parents always had conflict before the divorce, affects their children greatly. All of these consequences lead to even more social problems mentioned above like the substance abuse, or relationship problems, cognitive and behavioural problems.
Divorce really also affects the financial situation of all parties. In her research, Claire L’Heureux-Duble says that “the Canadian Department of Justice released a survey on the effect of divorce on families in 1990. This survey revealed that after divorce forty-six percent of women lived below the poverty line, even when child and spousal support payments were taken into account.” (L’Heureux-Duble, 1994, p. 459). Meaning that the standard of living reduces, even for men after divorce. Maybe higher income families suffer less, but still, the drop in the income coming from two people to just one is drastic. This income drop may cause stress, it may force the persons to move to a cheaper house, and cut back on spending money. The children also suffer from this economic change because they do not understand why the parent is not buying them everything they ask for, they do not understand the struggle and the stress of worrying about at least having food and shelter. Some studies also show that the percentage of women working after a divorce increases, even women that were already employed full time increase their hours after a divorce to be able to provide for their children and themselves. These financial changes can cause anxiety and depression. They can lead to poverty in a lot of cases, especially in the case of single-parent family headed by women.
The changes in social environment is another unfortunate consequence of divorce. The challenges that the divorcees meet with interpersonal relationships are more occurrent with family of the former spouse, and friends and acquaintances. It is difficult to keep friendships that were formed during a marriage. Some people feel like it could bring painful memories, or it makes them jealous to see other married friends happy, or simply the friends choose to side with one or the other spouse. It is difficult to still hang out with couple friends because they are now divorced and alone and feel isolated. Sometimes it is due to moving from a neighbourhood to another during the divorce that causes the loss of friends. These are all reasons why the divorcees may feel more depressed or isolated. This lack of support can negatively impact the divorced person’s ability to adjust to the divorce (Saunders, 1983). This loss of many friendships may force the person to make new friendships, maybe at a new workplace, or a new neighbourhood, friends they can relate to especially single or previously divorced friends. But this change can be difficult, “Spanier and Casto (1979) reported that 8% of their sample had not found new friends to replace the ones they had lost after their divorce” (Saunders, 1983). Especially working women with children, they become isolated and busy with their work and children and have very few contact with others, simply because they feel they have other priorities at that time, like filling for 2 parent figures at once. After a divorce especially if the divorcees are older in age, they find it challenging to go to bars or hang out with younger single people because they feel like they missed out on a lot or they are too old, therefore they have trouble finding a new relationship.
From the structural functionalists point of view, society is interconnected elements that work together to preserve stability and efficiency in society. when one of the social institutions fail, it impacts others, hence leading to more social problems. For the purpose of this essay, the family institution is failing, rates of divorce are increasing every day, and divorce is now becoming a social norm. as Émile Durkheim says “as traditional norms and relations break down, social control declines”, this is true because as the family dissolves, as they separate, there is social change that happens, parents move with their children, social network changes, and deviant behaviour increases. When deviant behaviour increases it affects other parts of society, such as the need for rehab centres to help drug abuse the child might go through after the divorce. Divorce can be seen as a social norm now, but it will remain a social problem because of its effects on society. Although divorce is a dysfunctional part of society, it contributes to the society’s stability from the Functionalists perspective. It serves a purpose to society, judges and lawyers have more jobs as a result. The social workers, the healthcare system, and the welfare system are all better and functional because of the poorer people including one of the main reasons which is divorce. If divorce was to stop, many systems would stop functioning and many people would be unemployed for example family lawyers and divorce attorneys, resulting in destabilization in society. The functionalists look at society from a macro perspective, they see society as a whole. They see social problems as part of natural change, people must adapt, and if the social problem stops existing after a long time it might disrupt a lot of other aspects of society (Tumin, 1965).
In conclusion, divorce is a social problem that is seen a social norm. divorce rates are rising all over the world. Divorce can be due to several reasons including unequal treatment of one of the spouses, earnings differentials and work status, community characteristics, and religion. These are all factors of conflict between a couple, leading them to come to a decision of getting a divorce. Post divorce effects and consequences are mostly negative, including the effects on the child’s mental health, and how that affects their social behaviour in school and in future relationships. Divorce also has negative consequences on economics in a family, which makes adapting to divorce more challenging, and finally the negative impact it has on the divorcees’ social network. These are all also social problems arising from the main social problem, divorce. They negatively impact both the parents’ and the children’s mental health, their social behaviour, and increasing deviant behaviour. Through the Functionalists point of view divorce is part of the overall functionality of a society, the failure of the family may be dysfunctional but adaptive measure need to be taken slowly in order to get equilibrium in society. Without divorce there would be a dysfunction in society caused by rapid change, loss of employments and the dysfunction of systems that are put in place to help people going through divorce and poverty.
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