Oliver James: Driven to divorce

Sometimes I long to be a taxi driver with a large, battered Mercedes in a Third World city. I would badger tourists with the following potpourri of three levels of explanation for the rise in divorce - my all-embracing conclusion to this column's series on the subject.

The first level is the reasons divorcing couples themselves give in surveys. Wives cite spousal financial problems, drinking, neglect of the home and children and a lack of love. Husbands cite parents-in-law and sexual incompatibility. This tells us little - men are from Mars, etc.

The next level is more illuminating - the antecedents that correlate with divorce. These include being young (a woman who marries before the age of 20 is four times more likely to divorce than one who marries after the age of 25); having a low income or being uneducated (people from unskilled professions are four times more likely to divorce); large differences between the couple in social class, age or education; the wife having a job or the man being unemployed; premarital pregnancy or cohabitation; registry office rather than church weddings; one or both parties coming from a family with a history of divorce.

None of these factors are explanatory in themselves. That registry-office weddings are less enduring, for example, is obviously not caused by the kind of ceremony in itself (alas, being blessed by God is not bulletproof), but indicates less commitment to the concept of marriage and therefore, less preparedness to stick it out if the relationship sours.

Many of these 'causes' are explained by each other. Brides under 20 are also more likely to have premarital pregnancies and to be of low income. The sort of people who cohabit are also more liable to be the sort not to go for church weddings.

The final level of explanation includes the full Daily Mail monty of post-50s ills, what you might call the taxi-driver level of exegesis: erosion of traditional family relationships; rising expectations of what marriage can deliver; liberal divorce laws; more working mothers; urbanisation; feminism; the decline of religion; shifts from collectivist to individualist values; and reduced stigma and greater familiarity with divorce as more people know divorcees and media reflects the trend.

You can perm any of these according to personal whim.

For example, when I had that Tony Blair in the back of the cab the other day... 'Tony,' I said, 'More than any other single thing, I blame the shift from collectivism to individualism.' And you know what he said? He said, 'I hear you - next left, then up Gloucester Terrace - but myself I blame the lack of religion and increase in working mothers. When the nanny comes in with Leo just before cabinet, I say, "Look, I can't be doing with this, I've got a country to run. See if Clare Short's got a moment to spare," - middle lane then next right, you're best avoiding the one-way system.'

And I said, 'It's like everything, really.'

Next Week: capitalism's perversion of 15-year-old girls.

Thanks to guardian.co.uk who have provided this article. View the original here.


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