History of Family Breakdown in the United States

Family breakdown started around 1850 in the United States I would guess, certainly no later than 1870, family breakdown being visible in social statistics as soon as comprehensive social statistics started to be tabulated. From the source “100 Years of Marriage and Divorce Statistics United States, 1867-1967”, page 27 of 68, it gives the number of marriages in 1867 as 357,000 and the number of divorces as 10,000 for a divorce rate of 2.8%. According to Census data in 1870 13.1% of all females over age 10 worked, this proportion rising to 14.7% in 1880 and 17.0% in 1890. Again based on Census data in 1890 2.2% of married white native women with native parents worked, this proportion rising to 3.0% in 1900. This shows very clearly that divorce was already in the process of rising in 1870 and that women working was already in the process of rising in 1870; rising divorce and rising women working being fundamental parts of family breakdown.

What does divorce and women working have in common? They both represent or are a consequence of men abandoning women, men abandoning their duties and obligations towards women; the man having a duty to keep his marriage to a woman intact and to maintain his commitment to his wife and the man having a duty to support women so that the woman doesn’t have to work. Even worse men abandoning women leads to women abandoning children, it leads to adults failing in their obligations towards children, this then worsening things for the next generation.

Women’s empowerment is also a direct result of men abandoning women, women being empowered to enable the woman to take care of herself because the man is no longer taking care of her as he should, women’s empowerment therefore being a part of women’s abandonment. The man “liberates” the woman so that the man doesn’t have to take care of the woman anymore.

So this process of men abandoning women, women’s liberation, feminism, was already underway by 1870 as shown by the rising divorce rate and the rise of women in the workforce at that time. Men abandoning women being the foundation or the starting point of family breakdown.

To put things in a staging system here:

Stage 1: From 1870 to 1940 – Slow steady deterioration. Politically this is shortly after the end of coverture through the Married Women’s Property Acts; coverture being the prior established system of male guardianship over women inherited from England. From 1870 to 1940 the divorce rate went from 3.1% to 16.5%. The illegitimacy ratio or out-of-wedlock birth ratio went from 2.0% in 1917 to 3.8% in 1940. White married women in the workforce went from 2.2% in 1890 to 12.5% in 1940. Marriage itself is steady during this period, nearly everyone marries and the age at marriage doesn’t change much and fertility stays high, significantly above replacement level. During this time women were granted the right to vote in 1920.

Stage 2: From 1940 to 1960 – Acceleration in family breakdown combined with an increase in marriage and an increase in fertility (the baby boom). Politically this is the time of World War 2, the post-War recovery, the return to family life and domesticity and having babies now that the war is over and times are good economically. The median age at first marriage went down significantly for women during this time from 21.5 in 1940 to 20.5 in 1947 down to a minimum of 20.1 years in 1956. The proportion of women of reproductive age 14 to 44 years old who were married started out at 58.7% in 1940, increased to 68.8% in 1950, peaked at 70.5% in 1955, and then fell down a bit to 68.8% again in 1960. The peak year for fertility was in 1957 when the Total Fertility Rate (TFR) reached 3.754 births per woman.

Regarding the continuing family breakdown during this period; the divorce rate went from 16.5% in 1940 to 25.8% in 1960. The illegitimacy ratio went from 3.8% in 1940 to 5.3% in 1960. The proportion of white married women in the workforce went from 12.5% in 1940 to 29.8% in 1960. This huge increase in married women working was probably the biggest negative factor indicating danger ahead.

Stage 3: From 1960 to 1995 – The fastest acceleration in family breakdown combined with a relentless decline in marriage and a sharp decline in fertility. Politically this is the time of women’s liberation, of modern feminism, of so called “gender equality”. This is when employment discrimination against women becomes illegal, when you have the female controlled birth control pill and female controlled abortion, when no-fault divorce based on mere choice comes.

This is when out-of-wedlock births explode and go mainstream as something relatively socially acceptable; the illegitimacy ratio going from 5.3% in 1960 to 32.2% in 1995. Due to the introduction of no-fault divorce where either the husband or wife can initiate a divorce simply as a matter of choice without having to prove “fault” of the other party the divorce rate went from 25.8% in 1960 to 48.1% in 1975. Divorce then being stable after that; the divorce rate not changing much hovering around 50% from 1975 to 2010. Regarding married women working; in 1960 29.8% of white women worked, this increasing to 60.7% in 1995. This being approximately the peak of married women working; married women working hovering around 60% from 1995 to 2010.

The TFR peaked in 1957, the height of the post-war “baby boom”, at 3.754 children per woman, then fell to a minimum of 1.738 children per woman in 1976. Fertility then rose to 2.081 in 1990, then fell to 1.971 in 1997, then rose to 2.120 in 2007, then fell to 1.766 in 2017.

The other thing that happened after 1960 was a continuous drop in marriage, in the proportion of women of reproductive age who where married. The median age at first marriage for women went from 20.3 in 1960 to 24.5 in 1995. The proportion of women of reproductive age 15 to 44 who were married went from 71.1% in 1960 to 53.0% in 1995.

Stage 4: From 1995 to 2010 – The end of the decline in marriage quality with continued decline in marriage. Politically this is the beginning of an effective backlash against social decline; you had the Republican Revolution lead by Newt Gingrich where Republicans made big gains in Congress in the 1994 mid-term elections. You had “the end of welfare as we know it” where Bill Clinton signed a law to repeal the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) automatic indefinite welfare entitlement to single mothers. You had anti-crime legislation to “put 100,000 more cops on the street” to deal with soaring crime and drug abuse especially in black “ghetto” neighborhoods. This is also when the soaring very high level of out-of-wedlock births was getting a lot of attention from conservatives.

In terms of social indicators something quite remarkable happened; indicators of the quality of marriage, indicators of husbands’ investment in their wives, stopped declining. The divorce rate was basically stable around 50%; the divorce rate being near 50% continuously from 1975 to 2010. In addition married women working stayed quite stable; 61.0% of married women (all races) working in both 1995 and 2010.

In regards to illegitimacy the out-of-wedlock birth ratio did rise from 32.2% in 1995 to 40.8% in 2010 but this was mostly due to less women being married in their reproductive years (15 to 44 years old) rather than an inclination of a woman to have a child out-of-wedlock increasing. The out-of-wedlock birth ratio is a combination of 2 factors; what proportion of women of reproductive age are married and how strong is the woman’s bias to have a child within marriage rather than outside of marriage. In 1995 the married birth rate was 82.6 and the unmarried birth rate was 44.3 with 53.0% of women of reproductive age being married; this meaning the unmarried birth rate was 53.6% as high as the married birth rate in this year, this being an indicator of the strength of marriage, the less inclined a woman is to have a child out-of-wedlock the more she is valuing marriage as the correct context within which to have a child. In 2010 the married birth rate was 84.2, the unmarried birth rate was 47.5, and 45.0% of women of reproductive age were married; the unmarried birth rate being 56.3% of the married birth rate in this year.

So comparing 1995 to 2010; the unmarried birth rate went from 53.6% to 56.3% of the married birth rate, not a very big change over 15 years. This indicates the quality of marriage remaining about the same from 1995 to 2010. The problem was that marriage itself declined from 53.0% of women of reproductive age being married in 1995 to 45.0% being married in 2010.

Stage 5: From 2010 to 2017 up to the present – The increase in marriage quality combined with a continuing decline in marriage. Politically this is represented as a more forceful backlash against feminism and against the “status quo.” This is the Rise of the Tea Party, a series of electoral defeats for the Democrats starting with the 2010 mid-term elections, the election of Donald Trump. Culturally this is the rise of the Manosphere and the “Red Pill” on the internet.

In terms of social indicators now you actually start to see IMPROVEMENT! at long long last after more than 100 years of pretty much never ending deterioration. From 2010 to 2017 the divorce rate went from 52.6% to 42.4%; the last time the divorce rate was as low as 42.4% was in 1973 at 40.1%. Married women working (all races) went from 61.0% in 2010 to 58.2% in 2017. The out-of-wedlock birth ratio went from 40.8% in 2010 to 39.8% in 2017 but better yet the ratio of the unmarried birth rate to the married birth rate went from 56.3% in 2010 down to 46.9% in 2017.

The bad news since 2010; marriage continues to declines. The proportion of women of reproductive age who are married went from 45.0% in 2010 down to 41.5% in 2017. Also the TFR went from 1.931 in 2010 down to 1.766 in 2017.

What will Stage 6 be? I expect the next major change will be when marriage no longer declines among women of reproductive age; that will be a big deal because then we will no longer have the negative force acting against us of ever declining marriage. There are already hopeful signs that at least the rate of marriage declining is slowing down. The proportion of women of reproductive age who are married only declined from 41.9% in 2015 to 41.5% in 2017; this being the slowest rate of decline since 1991.

This is really happening. People are becoming more conservative in their aspirations and their goals regarding family life. From 1870 to 1995 the bias was always always in the direction of withdrawing from duty and responsibility and letting the institution of the family and the principle that men are to take care of and dominate women rot. Then starting in 1995 there started to be a real conflict between those who wanted more investment and duties and obligations in family life and those who wanted to continue to let things slide and deteriorate. Then starting in 2010 those pushing for conservatism and a return to principles and duties started to get the upper hand, started to influence the family situation more.

From 1870 to 1960 the family situation just kept getting worse and worse but things still held together; they held together in the sense that people were still invested and capable in family life in the sense of continuing to get married at a good young age and continuing to have enough children to keep things going, to maintain and grow the population. Then starting in 1960 things “fell apart” and marriage itself started to disappear and be pushed back to older and older ages. Marriage has been continually declining since 1960, since 1955 to be more exact, in spite of the improved marriage situation since 1995 and especially since 2010. I think this is because people’s abilities do not match their internal standards or expectations regarding marriage and family life. They are placing demands on themselves that they cannot meet, that at least they cannot meet now. Instead of having a bad marriage they are putting things off to have a better marriage when they are more capable of taking on the responsibilities and expectations they assign to themselves of what they need to be able to provide or achieve as a future husband or wife.

As people develop their capabilities and skills further and more importantly teach their capabilities and skills to others then the knowledge of how to become a good husband or a good wife will become more widespread and then people will be more capable of marrying and performing well in their marriage and then that is when marriage will stop declining. Then as things develop more and the culture overall starts to turn in a positive direction then marriage will actually increase and then things will really start to become healthy and good again.

Below is a graph of the divorce rate in the United States from 1867 to 2017:

In this graph you will see a steady accelerating increase in the divorce rate up until it shoots straight up and then goes into a plateau with a short up and down spike in the divorce rate around 1947. The up and down spike around 1947 is probably related to World War 2. The divorce rate went from 18.1% in 1942 to 30.1% in 1945 then down to 23.1% in 1950. I’m guessing that sweethearts got married before the man went off to war and then when the man returned safe and sound back to civilian life maybe the couple wasn’t so sure about the marriage anymore. The divorce rate started out at 2.8% in 1867, then rose steadily up to 27.1% in 1967, then shot up suddenly to 48.1% in 1975, then plateaud until 2010 at 52.6%, then fell down to 42.4% in 2017. The reason for the sharp increase in the divorce rate from 1967 to 1975 was the introduction of no-fault divorce when earlier you had to prove “fault” in order to be granted a divorce.

Note: Divorce Data for the years 1998 and 1999 are missing; I interpolated between 1997 and 2000 for the line graph

Below is a graph of the out-of-wedlock birth ratio in the United States from 1917 to 2017:

The out-of-wedlock birth ratio or illegitimacy ratio started out at 2.0% in 1917, all races included. This ratio then rose steadily but slowly up to 5.3% in 1960. Then it accelerated and rose rapidly up to 32.6% in 1994, then it plateaud reaching 33.5% in 2001, then it rose quickly to 41.0% in 2009; since 2009 it has drifted downwards slowly reaching 39.8% in 2017.

Below is a graph of Indicators of Marital Failure in the United States from 1977 to 2017:

In this graph the blue line is Married Woman Workforce (the proportion of married women in the labor force), the red line is Unmarried Woman Fertility Ratio (the fertility rate of unmarried women divided by the fertility rate of married women), and the black line is the Divorce Rate (the number of divorces divided by the number of marriages). All of these are indicators of marital failure; these indicators going down is good. Notice how all these indicators have trended downwards since 2010. Ideally all these indicators would be close to zero, and they were all close to zero 150 years ago. Married women working started very low with 2.2% of white married women working in 1890. Married women working then rose steadily up to 61.6% of married women working, all races, in 1997. Then this ratio went down to 60.5% in 2004, then rose up to 61.4% in 2009, then this ratio fell down to 58.2% in 2017. Looking at the Unmarried Woman Fertility Ratio; this ratio was at 13.8% in 1960; this rising steadily up to 55.7% in 1994; the ratio then falling to 50.2% in 2002; the ratio then rising to its all time high of 59.6% in 2008; then falling down to 46.9% in 2017.

Related articles:
Marriage is Masculinity and Coverture
Out-of-Wedlock Births Plateau and maybe begin Decline
The Feminist Explosion 1960 to 1995
The Cultural Revival has Already Started! Good news since 1995!

Source of Statistics:
Has the Percentage of Employed Women Peaked for Good?

The History of Married Women in the Workforce

1900 Census Special Reports: Statistics of Women at Work

Censuses from Different Years

Historical Marital Status Tables

Statistical Abstract of the United States from Different Years

Vital Statistics of the United States

Monthly Vital Statistics Reports

National Vital Statistics Reports

National Vital Statistics System – Marriages and Divorces

Bureau of Labor Statistics – Data Tools – Labor Force Statistics

About Jesse Powell TFA

Anti-Feminist, MRA, Pro-Traditional Women's Rights Traditional Family Activist (TFA)
This entry was posted in Cultural History, Social Statistics and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to History of Family Breakdown in the United States

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