Someone should apply for a nice fat grant to explore the relationship between the women's liberation movement and the divorce rate. So many marriages have dissolved in the past decade as women have rebelled against stereotypical roles that the question is inevitable. The raw data are easy to come by. Making sense of the facts is harder.
A friend who is very much involved in feminist causes has announced she is leaving her husband. The standard response to the news is that this is a direct result of her "new woman's" outlook. She insists, however, that there is confusion between symptom and cause here, since, had she not been questioning her role as wife and mother, she would not have joined a consciousness-raising group.
Men are also known to leave their wives and families, but no one has ever blamed it on a male liberation movement. No, there must be something more to the explosion of feelings of individuality that causes both men and women to want to try life on their own.
One aspect of this desire to be both separate and equal seems to be a reaction to the sticky togetherness of the '50s that currently manifests itself in a "do your own thing" attitude. The prevalence of this philosophy certainly militates against the kind of "sharing" that conventional marriage is thought to entail.
The popular notion of the '50s family did not leave much room for individual satisfaction or privacy, and it is understandable that many people wish to break out of that kind of confinement. Does women's lib help open the escape valve?
Perhaps, to the degree that women are often less dependent economically today, they are more free to change their life styles. So before we blame women's lib for more divorces, we had better look more closely at economics.
The middle class are slow learners. Upper-class individuals have always had the kind of distance in their marriages that enabled them to lead separate lives together. Money made all the difference. It meant larger homes, more homes, trips away from home and all those other luxuries of time and space that ordinary people cannot afford. If ordinary people want to end the forced intimacy of life in a two-bedroom apartment, they have few alternatives to a legal, lasting separation.
It is undeniable that we are in the midst of a social upheaval in which women's liberation and divorce are ingredients. Whether or not there are linkages between them, though, is not at all clear.
It seems to me that it is begging the question to say that one out of every three marriages fails. Why not turn it around and say that two out of every three marriages succeed? I should think that compares favorably to the rate of success of newer, more liberated live-in and communal arrangements.