The Atlantic

Educated Americans Paved the Way for Divorce—Then Embraced Marriage

The countercultural revolution of the 1960s and ’70s didn’t get rid of the institution of marriage. It transformed it along class lines.
Source: George Marks / Getty

The countercultural revolution of the 1960s and 1970s threw the American family into chaos. Young adults—educated liberals especially—revolted against the constraints of 1950s family life, engaging seriously with formerly fringe ideas like open marriage and full-time employment for mothers. The old rules were in tatters, and nobody really knew what the new rules were. The likelihood that a given marriage would end in divorce doubled, to 50 percent, between 1965 and 1980.

Academics and pundits of the era generally assumed that the retreat from marriage would continue apace. Some of individualism, personal growth, and liberation from traditional constraints would reduce marriage rates and increase divorce rates. Others focused on economics, arguing that the of traditional gender roles would undermine the division-of-labor benefits of marriage, rendering the arrangement less sensible and less appealing. Cultural and economic analysts often clashed, but they tended to that educated liberals would pave the path away from marriage.

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