If you understand,
The world is as it is.

If you don't understand,
The world is as it is.
Taking Inventory
Divorce, Family Breakdown, and Walmart
March 22, 2006

The high divorce rates, burgeoning numbers of single parent families, increases of out of wed-lock (AKA - unwanted) pregnancies, and people living with “significant others” wholly outside of holy matrimony - This has been the ride of the social roller coaster for several generations. There have been periodic ups and downs, but the rates have held steadily high. For some, these changes have set off an earthshaking alarm - a call for action. For others, it is tantamount to a car alarm going off in a distant parking lot – it doesn’t even warrant a look.

Religious leaders point their fingers at some sort of loss of faith – a wayward trek toward a sinful society that was predicted eons ago in cryptic messages predicting the end times. The end grew near with the introduction of the birth control pill of the 60’s, and the point of no return was reached with Roe v. Wade in 1973.

Right wing hacks point to some sort of communist conspiracy; the growth of an evil doing government to replace the family. By destroying the family, old people, and kids would have to depend on the big government to provide the necessary aid, comfort, and education. Holy Creeping Socialism, Batman!

Both of these groups heap blame on the women’s rights movement – which wouldn’t have happened if the civil rights movement could have been stopped! Damn … if those blacks still rode in the back of the bus, none of this would be happening.

The solution to the problem is obvious to both these groups. But, we’ll get to that later.

In medieval times, when the end wasn’t quite so near, they had chastity belts. People married soon after they reached puberty. The infant mortality rate was high enough that such things as birth control and factory efficient abortion weren’t really necessary. The upper crust arranged their marriages way in advance, and romance was limited to extra-marital affairs. Romeo, Romeo, didn’t go without then. Neither did Juliet.

Zipping forward, we see the family farm. What ever it was, it is billed today as the classic husband, wife, and children scenario. I wasn’t there, so I don’t know if the “stability” was one of dedication to “family values,” or if these values – along with the family stability - grew from the economic realities necessary for survival. One can easily suspect it worked both ways. Each family member had a role to play – a very important role. Second marriages were hardly unheard of … but they were more often done after a period of widowhood, rather than divorce.

Then, we were whisked off to the city factories of the industrial revolution. Husband, wife, and children were still all working to ensure survival. However, rather than till the soil and pray for rain, they now worked in factories – 16 hours a day, six days a week – and prayed that on the 7th day they could recover. There was hardly the space of the farm. People were crammed into small city quarters – home was often a rented room to sleep in between shifts. A mythos of security and success drew them from the farm and probably worked for a while. But poverty wages and poverty conditions soon gave rise to the ultimate evil ….. Unions. An imported demonic idea - Unions. They were deemed by some as an evil replacement for the family. I can hear the Robber Baron financed preachers of the day exposing their sinfulness now.

Moving forward, powered by the immorality of Unions and living wages, we crossed the Great Depression Bridge, turned at the corner of FDR & New Deal, and then parked in Suburbia. The family was back on the farm – a mini farm. It was a miniature castle built on a grassy green yard. The family reconstructed. Dad went to work, usually Nine to Five, five days a week. Mom stayed home, and was there when sonny came home from school. Divorce was relatively rare. Extended family get-togethers were commonplace, and leisure time was equated with family time. Obviously, not everyone had a Beaver Cleaver experience – that’s not the point. Nearly everyone aspired to it. That was a new family value – even if it was only a dream.

Factories roared, things were produced, and a man might spend his entire working life with the same company, or working his own small business. He would probably spend his whole married life with the same wife. Time, and its use, was focused on the family. One’s life was centered around it. Cousins were family. You knew their names, and stayed in contact through out life – even if it was relatively sporadic.

So, how did we get here from there? This question often sets off a blame game, stereotyping, and name-calling.

Christian Fundamentalists finger the blame on liberals – the acceptance of abortion, homosexuality, women’s liberation, unrestricted media, and even freedom of speech.

Right Wing conservatives may include the Fundamentalist’s reasons – but never leave out the element of big government. Government, by providing services to people, destroys the need for individual accountability. People forego their “Responsibilities.” Not accepting responsibility leads to the breakdown of the family. Thus, liberalism leads to divorce – and that’s unpatriotic – against family values. If we can just dispense with things like social security and Medicare, then grandma and grandpa would get to move in with their sons and daughters in order to survive. This would be an indication of the strengthening of the family. Amen.

The solution for these groups is simple. They have much to learn from the Taliban.

Having women be silent, wear Burkas, and cover their whole bodies in clothing would certainly be a step forward in decreasing divorce and strengthening the family. Perhaps we could add death by stoning for adultery. While it may take a while to adjust to not letting women drive – it can be done.

As for the men, they need to pledge allegiance to some Grand Ayatolla CEO. Granted, this may be a bit different from pledging allegiance to a local warlord, but the effect should have the same solidifying effect on the family.

Back to reality: What has changed? Why the high divorce rate and the break down of the family?

Often, we look around and try to identify (or blame) changes or conditions on something specific. This is tantamount to viewing reality through a straw. A bigger picture gets missed as we zero in on our selected target.

If we broaden our perspective, we find the following element as one of many that contribute to the changes we have observed in the family. Assigning blame is no longer the purpose of analysis. Cause and effect are not always orchestrated with a contrived intent by someone, or a group, hiding behind a curtain.

It has long been noted that certain career fields have higher rates of divorce than others. The careers most often identified in this category include police, firefighters, waitresses, nurses, soldiers, and fishermen, to name a few. It has also been found that the odds of divorce are highest when husbands and wives contribute about equally to family income.

When we look at the careers most prone to divorce, we see people who have jobs that are not usually of the nine-to-five type. Some often have rotating schedules that frequently change not only the hours they work, but the days of the week they work. The other jobs require terms of absence – soldiers go off to war, and fishermen sail for months.

In both cases, what is experienced is a decrease in interaction between family members. The term “grow apart” is often heard when people reminisce about what went wrong with their relationships. (However, keep in mind, people can grow apart while still sitting in the same room. Turn on the television, and what happens to communication.)

I think it would be safe to assume that, as we have evolved into what is fancily called the “Post-Industrial Era,” or into a “Service Economy” – more jobs, careers, and professions are like those identified as not being nine-to-five, Monday through Friday. Many require working the holidays as well.

Good paying factory jobs are fleeing the country. These were the jobs that allowed for a one income family. Economic realities of the working class now require both the husband and wife to work – just to make ends meet. Part of that is the result of wanting to buy “Things.” The other part is that real wages have lowered.

Not too many women can, or want, to stay home. If both are employed in a service industry, the time when both are at home at the same time has decreased significantly. For many, it is as if they take turns staying at home to watch over the children. They wave as they pass each other going through the doors. Cell phones become their main means of communicating.

Many of these jobs are in retail – selling foreign goods. During Beaver Cleaver’s time, most stores were closed on Sunday. Therefore, even if you worked as a clerk, you, like most others, had Sunday off – and what you sold was made in the USA at the factory where your neighbor worked. Now, we seem to be racing toward a retail world that has 24/7 in sight.

Big Box stores hire part time employees to save on costs such as health care. Many people have (need) more than one job in the service sector – both of which pay a bare living wage – if that. They work a cash register here, stock a shelf there, and serve up some fries when time allows. Some people even do all that while going into debt getting an education with the hope of overcoming the treadmill. When complete, most will continue running faster on that very same treadmill to pay off their student loan – they find that they have been educated for a job that has been outsourced.

Time may be money. However, time is also a major cohesive element in family relationships. Time, for the worker bee, is in short supply. Time is expensive – most can’t afford it. The single income family is disappearing – part out of economic necessity, part out of choice. Many today need both parents to be working - not to buy a car, but to pay medical expenses or medical insurance. Being a single income family is not an option for most.

Therefore, may I submit for you contemplation, a major reason for the breakdown of the family is the transition into a service based economy that, in turn, has resulted in a decrease in financial income. Banter about and scream about loose morals, homosexuals, big government, and even abortion. But the fact of the matter is that you cannot overlook the economic context in which all this transpires. To do so, is to look at the world through a straw. And don’t lie about a growing, prosperous economy. Most worker bees know better; single, married, divorced or homosexual.

One last comment:
Old academic myths often become treated like fact – just as religious books. There is an old argument that has been used to dispel the idea that economic hardship causes divorce. It is based on some magically acquired statistic that indicates divorce rates increase with improving economies. This is a two edged sword. If one doesn’t view relationships in some sort of stagnant perspective, it would seem more likely that effects of the economic hardships may cause stress resulting in irreparable damage to relationships. Then, when financial times improve, an out is provided for both parties.


In search of
The Holy Vent