In 2016, we began sharing information about certain personality types and how they engage during a divorce. The Divorce Archetype profiles, based on years of Wevorce research, provide insight into these tendencies.

In our research, we’ve found that views about divorce are as varied as views about money, communication, and parenting styles. But what about external factors that influence those personality traits or tendencies in the first place? Can something like culture, history, or religion determine how, why, and even if we divorce? We believe the answer is yes.

Today, we begin our latest blog series with an examination of how culture affects a person’s view of divorce. It is by delving into these topics we seek to better understand why certain stigmas about divorce exist and help people identify the (sometimes paralyzing) effects of deeply ingrained belief systems.

Divorce — the Cultural Link

Culture has been defined by anthropologist E.B. Tylor as “that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society.”

Everything is affected by culture, from the economy (unemployment rates, the GDP, female labor force participation, etc.) to our relationships, living arrangements, fertility, and preferences related to a child’s gender. It influences our marriages (such as who, why, and when we marry), so it only makes sense that our culture would also affect how and why we divorce — or hesitate to divorce.

According to the study Does Culture Affect Divorce Decisions? Evidence from European Immigrants in the US, “Culture, necessarily social in nature, may be transmitted from parents to children through socialization, within neighborhoods, or through the broader society via television and internet. Parents surely instill in their children beliefs about the morality of divorce, but children may also form their own attitudes based on perceptions of role models within their communities. Adults may also be affected by divorce culture if certain communities tend to ostracize divorcees.”

It is helpful to acknowledge how, if divorce becomes necessary, our culture can affect how we view such a decision. There is, for instance, a link between a couple’s propensity for divorce and their socioeconomic status — and in many countries, a couple’s socioeconomic status is directly impacted by the national economy and/or GDP (Gross Domestic Product) — cause, effect.

Same goes with the link between a higher rate of divorce amongst younger marriages and those with limited education. These factors don’t necessarily doom a marriage to failure when they are at play, but rather help us better understand what we are up against when we choose to marry in certain conditions.

Culture and Divorce: What Do Researchers Say?

In Divorce Attitudes Around the World: Distinguishing the Impact of Culture on Evaluations and Attitude Structure, researchers examined the link between culture and divorce attitudes using data from 22 countries (mostly from the Western hemisphere). The study found that divorce rates have increased worldwide, but it was particularly pronounced in advanced industrial societies. In countries of the European Union, for instance, divorce rates rose 400 percent between 1960 and 2004.

In several cross-national comparisons, the study cites divorce rates as consistently related to a society’s “level of cultural individualism, with highly individualist societies exhibiting higher divorce rates,” and that “…there is a distinct individualist perspective on marriage and divorce such that marriage (and romantic relationships in general) enables individuals to disclose dimensions of oneself and thus share their ‘real self’ with a partner.”

“At the same time,” the study continues, “the self’s authenticity is often evaluated based on the overall quality of one’s relationships. Thus, when people perceive that their marital relationship no longer allows for self-discovery and self-disclosure, they opt out… because individualism sanctions the pursuit of one’s self-interest, people in individualist societies are often unwilling to sacrifice their personal fulfillment for a bad marriage, even when the act of divorce implies great emotional and financial costs. In sum, it appears that people in individualist societies tend to put the self first when it comes to entering, remaining in, or leaving a marriage.”

Interestingly, the “individualist” approach to marriage contrasts with that typical in what is referred to as “collectivist” cultures. “In collectivist societies,” says the study, “there tends to be greater adherence to tradition and social conventions, including respect for the parents’ wishes in selecting one’s partners or religious interdiction regarding relationship maintenance. For instance, divorce is typically considered a bad thing and must be avoided. Furthermore, East Asian societies tend to place greater emphasis on family unity and self-sacrifice. As a result, marriages are less likely to be dissolved even when remaining in the marriage is at odds with one’s personal level of satisfaction.”

Divorce — Laws, Culture, and Stigmas

Laws and national customs often have a great deal of influence over the divorce rate. For instance, in the Philippines, divorce is illegal, and the alternative, an annulment, is difficult to obtain and both costly and time-intensive. According to LegalZoom, Filipino law does allow for legal separation and marriage “voids,” but only in special cases. (Muslims in the Philippines also have the right to divorce.) Thus, divorce rates in the Philippines are significantly lower than in other countries.

And some of the more patriarchal societies believe only a husband may seek a divorce, which has its own impacts. (In Israel, women can’t get a divorce on their own; Rabbinical law states that a divorce can only be granted if it is requested by the husband.)

However, even if divorce is legal, it may not necessarily be viewed favorably. According to the nonprofit Unchained at Last, “most communities that practice arranged or forced marriages view divorce as shameful and they tend to place the burden largely on women to avoid that shame and keep a marriage intact, even when that means women must sacrifice their safety or happiness.”

A girl or woman who tries to resist or leave such a marriage is often limited by certain religious laws and social customs, and may risk ostracism or honor violence. In nations where child marriage/forced marriage are commonplace — and a woman seeking a divorce is seen as rebellious and deserving of punishment — she may be shunned by family and friends, or worse. “If she was brought to the US as part of an arranged/forced marriage,” adds Unchained at Last, “she might be constrained, as well, by her own immigration status.”

These cultural constraints and stigmas could very well be at least part of the reason divorce rates in arranged marriages are so low. In a 2012 Statistic Brain study, research revealed that the global divorce rate for arranged marriages stood at just 6 percent — astonishingly low in comparison to the norm (in the US, the divorce rate is declining, along with marriage rates, but it stands at 40 to 50 percent). In India, where 90 percent of marriages are arranged, the rate of divorce is about 13 per 1,000 marriages.

The study about divorce decisions, cited above, acknowledges, “Similarly, several papers have found that communities whose members are more socially integrated (as measured by church membership, urbanicity, and population change) have lower divorce rates.” However, it’s important to note that a low divorce rate doesn’t necessarily mean happier marriages.

Our Intent

Wouldn’t it be nice if there were never any need for divorce? Imagine a world of pure matrimonial bliss, where all marriages were built on a foundation of mutual love and respect, free of mistreatment, abuse, or infidelity. Here, every couple would prioritize frequent and open communication, enjoy a great sex life, cooperate regarding financial issues, and raise children without conflict — all free of meddling in-laws.

If you’re married, have ever been married, or know someone who is married, you know the above scenario is rarely, if ever, representative of reality. Divorce is, quite simply, a way of life for many, and in some places, the majority.

Therefore, in candidly discussing this topic, our intent isn’t to present a cavalier attitude or dismissive attitude about divorce, but rather to expose entrenched beliefs that may hinder our progress in life or cause us to deny ourselves happiness. Hence the title, “releasing the ties that bind.”

It is by better understanding ourselves — specifically, the cultural, historical, and religious impacts on our beliefs, hopes, and expectations for the future — that we are better able to make decisions in the long-term best interest of both ourselves and our partners.