The Relationship between Teenage Marriage and Divorce Rates
The United States has been considered as having the highest divorce rates among the industrialized countries today that many have begun to view divorce as a social disease. Divorce has been defined as the dissolution of marriage resulting from a series of events which had eventually led to the breakdown of the marriage (Guttman 1-2). There are many reasons as to why marriages breakdown causing both parties to decide on getting a divorce. This paper will focus on the age of the parties who had married as the reason for a marriage to be dissolved through divorce. Specifically, the paper aims to show that marriages involving one or both parties being in their teenage years have a higher divorce rate as compared to marriages between men and women who married at a later age. The paper will present demographic data with regards to divorce rates observed among those who had married in their teenage years. It will also present the different reasons why teenage marriages occur as well as why these marriages are more easily prone to ending up in divorce.
According to numerous research studies conducted, the highest rate of divorce in the United States occurs between married couples who had married during their teenage years. In a report published by the U. S. Census Bureau, it had stated that men who have married before the age of twenty two make up 28% of the total number of individuals who had gone through a divorce in the United States while 27% are women who had married before the age of twenty (Sebald 420). The report published also showed marriages between men and women prior to the age of 18 are four times more likely to end in divorce as opposed to those who have married at the age of 25 or older (Kiernan 35; Weeks 5), causing many researchers to view the likelihood of a marriage ending in divorce within the first two years is directly related to the age of both parties at the time they had married (Moore and Waite 20).
Generally speaking, couples who decide to enter marriage during their teenage years possess a number of common characteristics. One of which is their socio-economic status. Regardless of the gender, an individual who decides to enter into marriage during his or her teenage is would most likely come from families with low socio-economic status. In a study conducted by Moss, it was determined that most of the couples who had married during their teenage years were those who come from rural communities (104). The demographics presented by Moss were supported by other researchers who stated that couples that marry during their teenage years are those who come from families whose parents are involved in low-paying occupations (Gibson 139; Hammond, Cole and Beck 118; Kiernan 36).
Another common characteristic found among couples who marry during their teenage years is they have not received a high level of education. In a study conducted by the Medical Research Council’s longitudinal study, it has been determined that 77% of women who have married during their teenage years have been found to possess low academic achievement (Gibson 139). This information is supported by a study conducted by Spanier and Glick which showed that 51.2% of the females who had divorced have completed 11 years of academic education or less married between the ages of 14-19 while 30.7% male respondents that have divorced completed 11 years of academic education or less married between the ages of 14-19 (331-32).
The third common characteristics found among couples who marry during their teenage years are those that belong to unstable families. These individuals are those whose parents have been separated by divorce or by death (Hammond, Cole and Beck 118, Kieran 36).
The most common reason for this is teenage pregnancy. Pre-martial conception has been considered by many researchers as the primary reason for couples to marry during their teenage years regardless as to how long they have been together (Bernardes 138). In fact, it is more likely that a bride is pregnant in teenage marriages as compared to those who marry at a later age (Weeks 4).
Another reason why couples who married during their teenage years is the belief that getting married would greatly improve their quality of life, and thereby their status in society. This is partly due to the glorified image of marriage portrayed in television programs and movies viewed by teenagers in the United States. Many couples who enter marriage during their teenage years have been disillusioned by media that entering into marriage would signal the end to feelings of loneliness, insecurities, sexual frustrations and the like. Because most, if not all, of these television programs and movies viewed by these couples do not portray the problems faced by married couples, the concept of marriage has become extremely enticing on their part (Sebald 416). This belief is also be brought about by the various characteristics commonly shared by couples who enter into marriage during their teenage years as mentioned earlier in this paper.
In line with this, many teenage couples decide to enter into marriage as a means to escape. Oftentimes, these teenagers view marriage as a means for them to be free from continuous conflicts with parents in their respective homes. By getting married, they are able to escape the control of their parents which has been known to cause a teenager to experience episodes of low self-esteem and feelings of being inadequate (Sebald 417).
Teenage couples have also considered getting married as an initiation to adulthood. It has become the accepted notion that marriage is only for adults. By getting married, teenagers believe that they have been able to establish their status as adults in the hopes that they would be perceived as more mature individuals as compared to their peers (Hammond, Cole and Beck 117; Sebald 418).
The primary cause of divorce in the United States regardless of whether the couple married during their teenage years or at a later age is due to marital dissatisfaction. One of the primary reasons for marital dissatisfaction has been determined to be the most common reason as to why couples marry at an early age. Recent researchers conducted with regards to the various determining factors of divorce show that divorces brought about by marital dissatisfaction is most common among couples with children (Gottman 4). This is mostly on the part of the teenage mother. Upon the arrival of the child, the teenage mother becomes overwhelmed with the responsibilities brought about by motherhood. This has often caused teenage mothers to begin experiencing feelings of anxiety and episodes of depression. This eventually causes friction and strain to the relationship of the teenage couple. As a result, decide to end the marriage in a divorce (Hetherington and Arasteh 119; South and Spitze 585; Weeks 3).
Another reason why couples who marry during their teenage years are more likely to go through a divorce than those who marry at a later age is due to the financial status of the couple. As previously mentioned, couples who have married during their teenage years are unable to attain a high level of academic achievement. This being the case, both parties would have to settle for low paying jobs. The situation becomes more complex upon the arrival of a child. In order to ensure that the needs of the family are met, oftentimes the mother would have to tend to the child on her own while the father would search for added employment. This would often leave the mother feeling unsupported in terms of rearing the child and feeling abandoned by her spouse. The financial situation faced by the teenage couple and the arrival of the child can lead of both parties experiencing spousal distress. This would eventually cause conflict to arise between the couple (Contreras, Kerns and Neal-Barnett 109; Crawford, Houts, Huston and George 433; Gibson 139).
The period of adolescence, which encompasses the teenage years, is the time when an individual searches and begins to form his or her identity. One important factor in the development of such identity is the involvement of their peers. By entering marriage while still teenagers, both parties unknowingly hamper their identity development. The responsibilities and duties brought about by marriage isolate one or both parties from their peers and restricts any form of independent activity commonly enjoyed during this age. This premature and abrupt halt on the personality development on the part of the couple causes them to become ill-prepared for social and economic difficulties commonly experienced by married couples. This would leave one or both parties feeling deprived of being able to develop independently through a phenomenon called Lost Adolescent Syndrome. Over time, they begin to regret entering into the marriage. In order to regain this lost independence brought about by the marriage, the marriage is often ended through a divorce (Moss 106; Sebald 417).
Many teenage couples who get married are not able to comprehensively grasp the concept that marriage is a constant decision making process. Before one decides as to whether they should marry or otherwise, they must be fully agreeable that they are compatible with each other. In a study conducted by Haskey, that “couples who apparently cohabited had a lower chance of divorce” (qtd. in Bernardes 138). In the case of teenage couples, they did not have any opportunity to determine their compatibility with each other through cohabitation. Their inability to determine this prior to marriage greatly increased episodes of conflict between couple to occur, causing one or both parties to become unsatisfied with the marriage and deciding to go through a divorce.
This paper sought to support the premise that teenage marriages have a higher divorce rate as compared to marriages that occur at a later age. In the literature presented in this paper, it was determined that couples who have married below the age of 18 are four times more likely to end their marriages through a divorce as compared to couples who have married at the minimum age of 25.
Couples who marry during their teenage years possess a number of similar characteristics. More often than not, individuals who enter marriage during their teenage years are those that belong to low socio-economic class families, have a low educational attainment, reside in rural communities and whose families have been broken as a result of a divorce or death.
There are four primary reasons why teenagers marry at an early age. The most common reason is pre-martial conception or teenage pregnancy. Other reasons include the belief in the glorious image that getting married would be able to solve all of their problems, as a means to be considered an adult, thus being viewed as more mature and as a means to escape.
The root cause why couples who marry during their teenage years end their marriage in a divorce is due to marital dissatisfaction, often on the part of the mother. Entering into marriage during this age abruptly halts identity development brought about the need to fulfill responsibilities and duties that come with married life. Because teenage girls would need to care for the child, teenage girls are more susceptible in experiencing marital dissatisfaction brought about by being overwhelmed on the responsibilities of motherhood on top of the other social and economic difficulties faced by married couples, teenage girls are more prone to become unsatisfied with the marriage and would come to a point when she would regret entering into this, resulting in the marriage being dissolved through a divorce.
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