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Half of all American marriages IN THE SEVENTIES ended in divorce. The rate is very different today.
July 12, 2011 2:04 AM   Subscribe

You thought you'd heard every possible take on this topic, but perhaps you haven't heard this one: The housing bubble was caused by Gen-Xers decorating their nests so their marriages wouldn't end in divorce, as their parents' had.

Actually kind of a heavy topic - my apologies for the jokey lead-in.
posted by subdee (51 comments total)

This post was deleted for the following reason: if you're apologizing in the post for your post maybe you should rethink it and try again tomorrow? -- jessamyn



 
Well, in several countries the divorce rate has actually plunged as the housing bubble has burst. What Debt has joined together, let no man put asunder.

(Suicide rates, on the other hand...)
posted by Skeptic at 2:19 AM on July 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Here's the thing, a lot of those problems described for kids with divorced parents...especially in the decades before divorce became more common...happened for kids with married parents too. No matter what the family situation, everyone has to work to make each other happy and the causes and solutions to the problems are never as simple as they seem.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 2:19 AM on July 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


Oh yay, Gen-X's unelected spokespeople have learned the lesson well: it's all about ME. ME!
posted by chavenet at 2:22 AM on July 12, 2011 [4 favorites]


The author of that piece needs some serious therapy. Or more therapy. Or different therapy. Something.
posted by Justinian at 2:31 AM on July 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


Yeah, if I could do this post over I'd probably use this as the lead instead:
Every generation has its life-defining moments. If you want to find out what it was for a member of the Greatest Generation, you ask: "Where were you on D-Day?" For baby boomers, the questions are: "Where were you when Kennedy was shot?" or "What were you doing when Nixon resigned?"

For much of my generation—Generation X, born between 1965 and 1980—there is only one question: "When did your parents get divorced?"
posted by subdee at 2:32 AM on July 12, 2011 [5 favorites]


Indeed, Gen-X's quest for perfect nests drove us to take out more home equity loans and to spend more on remodeling, per capita, than any generation before it, according to Harvard's Joint Center for Housing Studies.

I'm confused. The bit I quoted is the only line in the article about the housing bubble, as far as I can tell. If the post is about that, why not link to the Harvard study? If the post is about GenX divorce, why frame it as about real estate?
posted by dubold at 2:33 AM on July 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


But I thought of this in response to that last thing posted on the housing bubble, so here it is.
posted by subdee at 2:34 AM on July 12, 2011


Most people took money out of their homes during the bubble. And most people know that, at best, the value of a house has only a little effect on the quality of the family relationships therein.

Coming from WSJ, it's hard for me to believe the editors weren't secretly sniggering at the author as they decided to run this. But the article itself has very little to do with the housing bubble.
posted by newdaddy at 2:35 AM on July 12, 2011


So I've been kicked out of my own generation because my parents didn't get divorced?

(Somehow this fits in, John Hughes can make a movie about us being rejected by our own generation).
posted by sien at 2:35 AM on July 12, 2011 [4 favorites]


After hearing about my background for some time, my distinguished therapist made an announcement: "You," she said, "are a war orphan."

Nested in pride of place in the middle of the article, this statement combining passive aggresive self-pity and thinly veiled gloating over her own boundless worth and wealth is where I lost any residual shred of sympathy for the author.

Maybe having just read this story following a child of the Rwandan genocide's struggles to come to terms with adulthood didn't help...
posted by protorp at 2:35 AM on July 12, 2011 [11 favorites]


Adultery is far more devastating for us than it was for our parents or grandparents.

As it is for all war orphans.
posted by three blind mice at 2:38 AM on July 12, 2011 [6 favorites]


I, I, I....me, me, me...this is just a particularly overwrought version of the classic "reporter/writer hits middle age, makes a bunch of decisions, interviews 3 of her own friends, and mistakes this for a massive shift in the way all families operate" story.

"Our lives have been framed by the answer. Ask us. We remember everything."

"I can't help feeling that every divorce, in its way, is a re-enactment of "Medea": the wailing, murderously bereft mother; the cold father protecting his pristine, new family; the children: dead."

"You," she said, "are a war orphan."


Strip all of this self-centered whining away, and what you've got is that people today marry later than people in the 1970s did, and the later the marriage, the lower the liklihood of divorce - though that likelihood never gets to 0.
posted by Wylla at 2:38 AM on July 12, 2011 [5 favorites]


This article is basically just the author taking their personal experiences and extrapolating them to the whole amorphous "generation x".
"Orphans as parents—that's not a bad way to understand Generation X parents" seems pretty overblown; an entire generational cohort didn't experience childhood as orphans. That's a patently ridiculous claim based on nothing but anecdote.
"Adultery is far more devastating for us than it was for our parents or grandparents" she claims, "[because] the traditional standard for men—love is love and sex is sex—is dying out" That's a pretty subjective experience to be making claims about "us". This is just a story about someone's life dressed up with oblique reference to studies so it can be written in in the plural voice.
posted by Dr. Christ at 2:40 AM on July 12, 2011 [4 favorites]


I wonder if I was weird--my parents divorced and by that point it was like a miracle. A+++++ would endure again. Not because it wasn't bitter, but because my god did things suck before that point. The mere notion of getting up in the morning and my dad not being asleep on the sofa and requiring me to creep around the kitchen to get breakfast quietly enough not to wake up someone who slept like a Vietnam vet.

Which I guess taught me that kids can survive a hell of a lot, but also that this whole "marriage and family" thing is seriously overrated as a way to spend your younger years despite my family's insistence that this was the way to go.

I live in an apartment with a cat. My girlfriend and her kid live elsewhere at the moment. I'm more worried about blended pets than the kid. And you know, if I had a house and the credit for a home equity loan, I'd have gone through some serious temptation, which would have nothing to do with my parents' divorce. It's called "HGTV". I don't think my parents ever had opinions on home decor that went very far. My mom's idea of decorating involves a lot of little roosters. I? I can tell you I want an open floor plan because I want to be able to cook and socialize and I don't even have any houseguests. I can tell you I like hardwood floors and Maine Cottage and I want to learn how to do upholstery to recover my antique wing chairs. No trauma necessary for that. We live in a world that gives us complicated tastes--and the folks who could spent like it.

I think this chick may have also overspent on therapists.
posted by gracedissolved at 2:41 AM on July 12, 2011 [8 favorites]


...and most of the studies she references are crap, anyway. (Higher divorce rates for those who live together before marriage? Of course! Many if not most of those who don't live together belong to religious groups that also forbid divorce! Etc. etc. )

I am surprised to see this technique (if you can call memoir+asking friends+iffy stats a 'technique') used in a divorce story. Usually it's reserved for scary-teen-parenting stories and women-under-40-are-leaving-the-workforce-in-droves-to-become-yummy-mummies stories.)
posted by Wylla at 2:45 AM on July 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


I was born in 1976 and my parents divorced in 1993. My girlfriend is from a relatively stable family. Does this mean our eventual marriage will fail?
Because I'll be more determined to make it work it than she?
Also, I'm a man and love is love and sex is sex, and I believe in shared rearing of children. Will I be a good father?

I did not find answers to any of those questions in the article. Well, maybe it wasn't about me after all.
posted by Laotic at 2:57 AM on July 12, 2011


Where did they hide the Times Sunday Magazine banner?
posted by maxwelton at 2:59 AM on July 12, 2011


That was a weird article.

Anecdotes aren't data, I know, but after thinking about it for a bit, in my social circle at least, I'd say the opposite holds: there seems to be a correlation between people who went all-out to invest in and create the perfect home and people who have got divorced so far. Perhaps they also wanted the perfect marriage.

Whereas the people who seem happy with a rather less-than-perfect home also seem happy with their marriage. Actually, happier in general. Seems like another example of if you keep aiming for perfection, you keep setting yourself up for disappointment.
posted by dowcrag at 3:04 AM on July 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


My sympathy to the author but this is a really disjointed article. It seems like she's just trying to find some outlet to talk about her issues while throwing in a hodgepodge of data from surveys, studies, etc.

One of the things I don't get is the chart, which says that at the height of the divorces, the rate was 22 divorces for every 1000 married women. That sounds like a divorce rate of 2.2%, which seems pretty low. Or am I missing something?

Also, it rarely works to misrepresent the text of an article just to be all jokey.
posted by Deathalicious at 3:05 AM on July 12, 2011


The knick knack and new appliance threshold has been reached.
posted by clavdivs at 3:13 AM on July 12, 2011


I dunno. The article kind of gets to something that applies to me as a child of a divorce. I'm all for other people getting married, but that mental box in my head where I put "marriage" memories and images and feelings? It's pretty bleak, as in, "do not want ever."

And there was no physical abuse or anything. I love both of my parents deeply. But man, put them together and let the endless malaise, recriminations, and buried anger barely boiling to the surface begin. For me, marriage will always be a category of "what two loving people do to ensure they'll wind up hating each other, and kind of messing up their kids a little bit as well."

And then my Dad went and put himself through two more messy divorces, so that doesn't help me want to put a ring on it any time soon.
posted by bardic at 3:55 AM on July 12, 2011


I am confused. All this time I thought the housing bubble was caused by poor people, black people in particular, and the left. But all along it was actually masterminded by The Divorce Generation. Should have known, should have known that all that irony would fuck their heads up.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 3:59 AM on July 12, 2011


If you actually get to the end of the article, you'll notice that this has been adapted from a memoir, so maybe the snark about how the author is only talking about herself is, you know, kind of moot. It's a memoir. She's talking about herself. That's how it works.
posted by mcwetboy at 4:10 AM on July 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


the housing bubble was caused by the death of irony...
posted by ennui.bz at 4:11 AM on July 12, 2011


One of the things I don't get is the chart, which says that at the height of the divorces, the rate was 22 divorces for every 1000 married women. That sounds like a divorce rate of 2.2%, which seems pretty low. Or am I missing something?

2.2% every year.

I, I, I....me, me, me...this is just a particularly overwrought version of the classic "reporter/writer hits middle age, makes a bunch of decisions, interviews 3 of her own friends, and mistakes this for a massive shift in the way all families operate" story.

Smack down! Sadly, I think that's the truth for most opinion-journalism out there.
posted by gjc at 4:11 AM on July 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Indeed, Gen-X's quest for perfect nests drove us to take out more home equity loans and to spend more on remodeling, per capita, than any generation before it, according to Harvard's Joint Center for Housing Studies.


Funny this, because I've seen far too much media lately claiming Generation X is the generation most likely to never own a home because of the price bubble caused by their 'greedy' Baby Boomer parents*

(Me: Gen X, divorced parents, married, non-home-owner)

*Unless your parents give you a helping hand onto the property ladder, of course.
posted by wingless_angel at 4:20 AM on July 12, 2011


If there is any generation that is a competitor for the mantle of self-absorbtion, it is GenX. Specifically, those GenXers who are a half a generation younger than the Boomers, who are not echo-boomers. If there is a spokesman/archetype for this generation, it is Billy Corgan.
posted by gjc at 4:20 AM on July 12, 2011


She seems pretty enamored of her own navel.
posted by Devils Rancher at 4:25 AM on July 12, 2011


I really have gotten to the point where every single WSJ article I come across, I find myself asking "so how does this fit the Murdoch / Wall Street narrative of how everyone who already has money is supposed to win at the expense of everyone else"?

Most of the time the answer is obvious and I can just dismiss the article as coming from yet another Murdoch propaganda media mouthpiece.

This article, however, is just a mess.
posted by hippybear at 4:30 AM on July 12, 2011 [7 favorites]


You know, between this article, one recent-ish one my parents sent me a copy of about migraines ("it turns out that there are triggers and early warning signs! Here is a list, in case you've never experienced a migraine"), and one article about dyslexia and "Asian languages" ("look at how messy this twelve-year-old boy's handwriting in his native English is, and how neatly formed these Japanese characters are in comparison," next to what appears to have been written by a five-year-old in both cases), I've basically just completely written off the potential for a non-economy-related article in the Journal to be non-garbage.
posted by DoctorFedora at 4:39 AM on July 12, 2011


Boomers are bad. Gen-xers are bad. Everyone is bad. Instead of blaming a whole generation for the ills of the world, why don't we just cut to the chase?

The housing bubble is all YOUR fault. So is war, and strife, and hunger. And our massive debt. YOU DID IT. There, I said it.
posted by crunchland at 4:43 AM on July 12, 2011


This article isn't anything new. Yes, we know Xers whose parents got divorced (like mine did) didn't love the experience as a kid and want to do better. But for Christ's sake, it's 2011. This phenomenon started 30 years ago. This has been done to death.

Actually kind of a heavy topic - my apologies for the jokey lead-in.

You know, if you have to work an apology into the post in advance for how you're framing it, you might want to give revision some thought. Just sayin'.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 4:51 AM on July 12, 2011


i couldn't get past the first 2 paragraphs. the question i thought would be the equivalent to d-day, kennedy's assasination, and nixon resigning, was 'where were you on 9-11'.
but then my parents aren't divorced, so maybe i'm just biased. that and the events of the last 10 years.
posted by fuzzypantalones at 5:04 AM on July 12, 2011


I think the only coherent response I can muster to this article is "What the hell?"
posted by valkyryn at 5:07 AM on July 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


I guess this lends credence to the idea that "sex is passe" because young folks had childhoods that were more miserable because of their parent's divorces and they believe that by being more monogamous and conservative they can prevent that in their own lives. I think some people (including me) might find this article a little scary because it implies that there isn't much you can do to prevent it.

Unfortunately it dwells on things that seem to be correlated with dissolved relationships (living together before marriage), but which don't have a plausible mechanism for causation. Why does she think that living together before marriage was a factor in her divorce anyway? She casually mentions it and then starts talking about how she's a helicopter parent. As a Gen Y, looking back on Gen X, which strikes me as neurotic and dysfunctional about them is their obsession with their children to the exclusion of their other relationships. Maybe conservative institutes don't fund studies about that though.
posted by melissam at 5:09 AM on July 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


I'm lucky, my parents went to lunch after the divorce (court stuff) then we went to the Auburn cornfest were the old man got me baked and handed 10$ for the shooting range game and elephant ears. My dad "Came out of the closet" a year later. But my mom helped clean out the closet by acceptance and friendship. There was boozing and fighting like a lot of families but I'm grateful to be spared the horrors of divorce. And the boozing and fighting stopped oddly enough. Hell, my dad moved a few blocks away and when i was 16, we moved and i only saw him a few times before he died. Thank goodness he as a no bs, short on words kinda guy, yet he was animated at times like few I have met. I said before he died that the family will now have only two queens instead of three. O, Meme, Oh whatever.
i guess, be grateful for what you have been spared.

as to the article, take what you want and leave the rest...not much to take though.
posted by clavdivs at 5:23 AM on July 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


I am confused. All this time I thought the housing bubble was caused by poor people, black people in particular, and the left. But all along it was actually masterminded by The Divorce Generation.

Of course there are a million and one scapegoats out there who aren't the actual greedy bank executives who schemed to devise dangerous and unethical lending practices.
posted by aught at 5:25 AM on July 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


Two paragraphs in and all I can think is "Wow lady, project much?"

Really hate the "Gen X" label. This was thrown at anyone vaguely my age and up to 10 years younger, coined by a boomer generation toobusy with their own collective self-fascination to get to know the people younger than them enough to actually find a meaningful label. And Gen Y? Seriously, not even trying. What does that make my kid then, Gen AA? We're past Z now right?
posted by caution live frogs at 5:43 AM on July 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Anything so that Wall St does not have to be blamed, right?
posted by Flood at 5:51 AM on July 12, 2011 [1 favorite]



For much of my generation—Generation X, born between 1965 and 1980—there is only one question: "When did your parents get divorced?"


They were never married :/

Odd. My mother has not hatred for my father, but it's interesting how he can literally get shaking mad when he learns that she has a place in my child's life.
posted by zombieApoc at 5:51 AM on July 12, 2011


*no

ugh. i hate spelling errors.
posted by zombieApoc at 5:52 AM on July 12, 2011


What does that make my kid then, Gen AA? We're past Z now right? --- If your kid was born within the last 15 years, he will be forever known as a "millennial."
posted by crunchland at 6:00 AM on July 12, 2011


Growing up, my brother and I were often left to our own devices, members of the giant flock of migrant latchkey kids in the 1970s and '80s.

According to a 2004 marketing study about generational differences, my age cohort "went through its all-important, formative years as one of the least parented, least nurtured generations in U.S. history." Census data show that almost half of us come from split families; 40% were latch-key kids.

Particularly noxious here is the casual slippage between of "children of divorce" and "latchkey kids." Having your parents split up? Pretty traumatic for most kids, I'd imagine. Hanging out at home watching TV and doing homework by yourself for a couple of hours before your mom and dad come home from work? Not the same as being a war orphan.

So yeah -- maybe I'm beanplating this, but I think the thrust of the article is just about the same as everything else in the WSJ about family life.

"Kids need a parent at home all the time or else they'll get screwed up. And it had better be mom, because, well, just because. Also, when women get jobs they might be able to get divorced, and that's bad too. This woman was so bad that she didn't wash a dish for a year! People should aspire to be more like that Catholic couple because marriages used to be really happy when everyone was Christian. You can tell the mom in this article was a really bad mom because she didn't wash the dishes. Yep, moms should stay home and devote themselves to their children. Unless they're liberals, in which case they're "helicopter parents" who are raising a generation of coddled weenies. In conclusion, women need to stop giving their daughters androgynous middle names like "Gregory," and just for safety's sake should probably not wear pants."
posted by escabeche at 6:07 AM on July 12, 2011 [5 favorites]


caution live frogs: "And Gen Y? Seriously, not even trying. What does that make my kid then, Gen AA? We're past Z now right?"

Well, it seems around the time boomers started raising children we got the term "millenials" or "echo boomers". Personally, I think these demarcations of generations are overwrought. The baby boomers are a statistically interesting case in population growth and decline, but from there on, I don't see much to write home about.
posted by pwnguin at 6:08 AM on July 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


The "statistic" that half of all marriages end in divorce was always false. In the controversial study that precipitated this myth, participants were asked, 20 years after they were first contacted, "Are you and your spouse still married?" A number of people who were widowed ended up saying "no", and those were counted as "divorced".

The actual divorce rate was slightly under a third, and this was for a fairly small sample. That's still a lot, but it's less shocking than to say "half of all marriages"...

I wish I had a link to the debunking article(s), but I read it a long time ago, and I don't remember where. It's a shame - I think it should be required reading, especially among those who do economic and statistical analysis for a living.
posted by Citrus at 6:09 AM on July 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


Whereas the people who seem happy with a rather less-than-perfect home also seem happy with their marriage. Actually, happier in general...

dowcrag,
Yes!!
I'd stitch that into sampler & turn it into a cunning throw pillow for the sofa!

(If I could find a needle, or a thread, or even the sofa under all the crap in the living room.)
posted by Jody Tresidder at 6:15 AM on July 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


As a Gen Y, looking back on Gen X, which strikes me as neurotic and dysfunctional about them is their obsession with their children to the exclusion of their other relationships.

This.
posted by Slothrup at 6:17 AM on July 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


The housing bubble was caused by Gen-Xers decorating their nests so their marriages wouldn't end in divorce, as their parents' had.

We have houses?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:18 AM on July 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


WON'T SOMEBODY THINK OF THE MORTGAGES?
posted by mazola at 6:30 AM on July 12, 2011


For much of my generation—Generation X, born between 1965 and 1980—there is only one question: "When did your parents get divorced?"

Really? Not "Where were you when the Challenger blew up?" Perhaps followed by a conspiratorial exchange of Challenger jokes?

Man. My parents stayed together. No wonder I'm doing this wrong.
posted by Capt. Renault at 6:31 AM on July 12, 2011 [4 favorites]


As a Gen Y, looking back on Gen X, which strikes me as neurotic and dysfunctional about them is their obsession with their children to the exclusion of their other relationships.

I'm a child-free Gen Xer myself and I can't entirely disagree with this statement. I've been known to say that while I was on the fence about motherhood for a long time, one of the tipping points was all the scary mommies I knew. But maybe I just don't get it because my parents were older and they did their divorcing before they got to each other.

escabeche nailed my sense of the article. The author is a useful idiot for that viewpoint IMO, but her neuroses are not generationally defining.
posted by immlass at 6:32 AM on July 12, 2011


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