It is hard to imagine, yet true, that in 1960 the divorce rate in America was one-percent. It was even lower where I lived, but mainly because of the altitude.
Opinion polls had greater margins of error than those who said, “I do”. What happened? No one is sure, but I think it was a bad reaction to the clergy statement, “I pronounce you man and wife.” This was a poor choice of words for what turned out to be a changing world. It implied that the bride had made the transition from being single to being a wife, while there was no change of status for the groom. A man prior to the service, he remained a man afterward.
Housewives protested by entering the workforce in increased numbers. There they behaved like women and interacted with men who, what else, behaved like men. One thing led to another, and the divorce rate shot up at a pace that amazed even the human resources department.
By the 1970s the divorce rate was going exponential. This reality began having an impact on the wedding service. Remember the stock vow, “So long as we both shall live”? During the 70s, couples began using instead, “So long as we both shall dig it,” which was known as the Wood stock vow.
But weddings were relatively inexpensive during the 1970s. Parents economized by serving chips and hippie-dippie dip at the reception. The wedding itself was often held outside on the banks of rivers or ponds, which gave the wedding party the opportunity to bathe. (Remember the Great Fish Kill-Off of 1973? Six bridesmaids and six groomsmen took a dip in the lake. The bass never saw it coming.)
In the 1980s a lady named Clara Peller claimed that she came to her senses during her wedding. Realizing that the groom lacked any sort of substance, she said to the officiant, “Where’s the beef?” She left the clueless fellow at the drive-in window of a Las Vegas wedding chapel and went off to have a hamburger by herself. Since then, there has been an uptick in single persons eating and living by themselves.
Also during the 80s ,the old song, “First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes daddy with a baby carriage,” officially changed to, “First comes marriage, it passes mighty fast; then comes divorce, ‘Free, free at last!’” Not everyone believed that to be true, certainly not divorce lawyers.
By the 1990s the divorce curve was leveling off. What remained high was the level of stress at weddings. All four divorced-and-remarried parents of the couple (8 adults) would show up at the rehearsal and wedding. Having to deal with the two mothers of the couple, as well as both step-mothers, while the four husbands stood around with their hands in their pockets awkwardly looking for something to do, created unprecedented anxiety for photographers, caterers, and clergy. Thus, these professionals coined a new term. Because working these weddings was like being put through the blender, they called these people “blended families”.
During the first decade and one-half of the 2000s, relaxed attitudes toward marriage have actually increased the cost of weddings. For a bride, it is expensive paying for a wedding gown that goes with her tattoo. For the groom it is often difficult to find a tuxedo that matches his baseball cap. And even though most couples don’t sign up with a bridal registry, they ask those in attendance to buy them lottery tickets.
And not just in America. The divorce rate has increased in many countries. If the American divorce industry is going to retain its competitive edge, it may have to be supported with incentives. Here’s what is being proposed.
Because there has to be a wedding before there can be a divorce, divorce industry lobbyists recently began lobbying Congress for a wedding stimulus similar to the old, discontinued “Cash for Clunkers” Program. If this proposal passes, county clerks will present couples purchasing a marriage license with a “Cash for Your Clunker” coupon. Should a person ever want to trade in his/her spouse, he/she can redeem the coupon for up to $4,500, which will help with divorce costs, although not that much.
Obviously, the above isn’t the whole story as it pertains to the increased divorce rate, but whatever the whole story is, it seems like something important has been lost since 1960.