Growing More Equal and Growing Apart? SES and the Rise of Divorce in Sweden, 1880-1970.

Glenn Sandström, Centre for Demographic and Ageing Research (CEDAR), Umeå University
Maria Stanfors, Lund University

Study background Divorce increased dramatically over the 20th century. Explanations of the rise of divorce are economically or culturally oriented with one strand emphasizing modernization and industrialization setting off both cultural and socioeconomic change, altering the production mode of the economy as well as the role of the family. While a negative association between divorce and socioeconomic status (SES) is established in studies of divorce after 1965, little is known about the micro-determinants of divorce in the past and whether this association has long-tap roots. Objectives We investigate the micro-level determinants of divorce among men and women in Southern and Northern Sweden, 1880-1970. We contribute to the literature by documenting the rise of divorce, analyzing the risk of divorce in itself, and comparing it to the risk of widowhood across time. We focus on SES of the man the woman, and the couple’s origin. Data and methods We estimate hazard models to analyze data from the Scanian Economic-Demographic Database (SEDD) and POPLINK. Data consist of individual-level longitudinal information including detailed information on occupation and income, as well as on different demographic outcomes. Results We find a positive – not negative – association between SES and divorce. This association applied to men as well as to women, net of their husband’s SES. The association for men declined over time, turning into the modern negative association between SES and the risk of divorce after WW II. Main conclusions The SES gradient in divorce risk reversed during the first part of the 20th century as marital instability spread from the elite to the common man. As people grew more equal socioeconomically, couples drifted apart as divorce got less costly in both economic and social terms.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 221. Various Effects of Socioeconomic Status