Debating divorce

Last weekend, the University of Helsinki hosted the European Divorce Research Conference. About 60 researchers discussed separation and divorce from sociological, economic and demographic perspectives.

Debating divorce

At the beginning of the 20th century, nearly all marriages in Finland ended with the death of a spouse. Over the past 100 years, marriages have increasingly resulted in divorce, and since the late 1980s, the divorce rate in Finland has been among the highest in Europe.

“What is more, a large proportion of union dissolutions in Finland are no longer covered by divorce statistics because cohabitation, which is prevalent today, is dissolved more quickly than a marriage”, adds Senior Research Fellow of Sociology Marika Jalovaara.

Jalovaara is the local organiser of this year’s divorce conference, which was called into being 10 years ago by the European Network for the Sociological and Demographic Study of Divorce. Its aim is to encourage research on the various aspects of separation and divorce, on factors that contribute to relationship stability, and on the positive as well as negative consequences for partners, children and societies.

“Until 2000 there was only little European empirical research; studies from the USA were dominant”, says Sociology of Education professor and initiator of the European research network Jaap Dronkers. It soon became apparent that findings from the US could not exactly be transferred to Europe.

Dronkers explains: “Whereas divorce in the US is found to be closely connected with forms of social inequality and the lack of social welfare, this relation is looser in continental Europe. Single-mother poverty, for instance, is less of a problem when there is a welfare policy and partnered women are employed.”

Various factors have been discussed as causes for the increase of divorce, among these growing individualisation, secularisation, and liberal divorce laws. However, despite numerous efforts, there is little convincing empirical evidence.

Even the economic independence of women, a factor often argued to enhance the risk for divorce, proves to have a more complex relationship with the issue than has been earlier assumed. Researchers such as Jalovaara have found that in contemporary Nordic countries, for instance, the employment of a female partner actually lowers the risk of separation.

“The most obvious reason for increasing divorce rates is that divorce has simply become a more accepted solution for relationship problems in today’s society”, Dronkers thinks.

“Last weekend’s anniversary conference had the theme ‘looking back and looking forward’”, says Jalovaara. Researchers discussed how better knowledge about divorce can be gained through cross-national comparison, while taking into account the effect of national contexts.

In the keynote speech for the conference, Dronker emphasised, “In the future, we should be even more concerned with the societal consequences of divorce instead of looking only at individuals.”

European Network for the sociological and demographic Study of Divorce »»

European Divorce Research Conference 11th–13th October 2012 in Helsinki Finland »»

Research database TUHAT: Marika Jalovaara »»

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Text: Claudia Gorr
Photo: 123rf
15.10. 2012
Translation: University of Helsinki Language Services
University of Helsinki, digital communications

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