sociological perspectives in relation to causes of divorce. These include the Functionalist Perspective, the Feminist Perspective, the Internationalist Perspective, and the Conflict Perspective. Black divorce rates are higher that white divorce rates and the rates for most other minorities. Why is this so? There are many causes of black divorce, but the sociological causes are very important when discussing why blacks divorce more often. These societal causes that surround black families make it harder for a majority of them to make ends meet, and to fit into a still predominately white, middle-class society.
The Conflict Perspective is one of the most common in sociological theory. It can be defined as a struggle by different social groups in a society but after their struggle their rewards are very few. This theory seems to be the very lifeblood of the African-American people in American society. There is nothing as constant as their continuing struggle for equality and civil rights, and even though they have gained much, they still continue to struggle today, and this carries over into their family lives, and of course, divorce.
The black family is disappearing. Two sociologists, Mary Ann Lamanna and Agnes Reidman note that as recently as the 1960s, at least 70% of black families were united by marriage. Today, only 35% of black children live in a family with married parents, and only 48% of black families are married (Lamanna and Reidman 28-29). Marriage rates have risen slightly since the mid-1990s, but they are still far below what they were three decades ago. One reason that many feel is valid is the lower rate of marriageable black men available to black women, and this relates directly to the conflict perspective. More black men are incarcerated, and because of this, there are fewer black men free and available to head families. For example, statistics show that only 13% of blacks are drug users, but they represent 53% of black incarcerated (Lamanna and Reidman 29). Thus, the conflict in society that represents the disparities and racism still practiced against blacks is shown in higher incarceration rates, and a higher percentage of blacks charged with crimes than whites. More black men crowd our prisons and leave their families alone, or are never able to start their own families.
This conflict perspective uses theories of human nature and how it relates to society that show how important a person is in society. As another sociologist, Michael D. Grimes notes, “Thus, the conflict theoretical perspective contains implicit background assumptions about human nature and society that stress man’s importance relative to society and tends to stress social instability and change as central elements” (Grimes 17). This shows that the importance of blacks in American society is relatively low, and it causes the “social instability and change” that Grimes refers to. Black men are still fighting to be taken seriously, to gain the same pay for the same work, and to serve their country in business, in the military, and in society at the same level that most whites simply take for granted. As more studies are completed that show the inequity of society, it is not surprising that blacks are still trying to change society, and so they do not have time to create a solid family unit. Their culture and their society are still caught up in change and conflict, and they have to solve those societal problems before they can create viable family units throughout their culture. While the Conflict Perspective is certainly one sociological cause of black divorces and family distress, it is not the only sociological cause by far.
The Feminist Perspective is broken down into several theories, including liberal feminism, which is geared around several feminist theorists who believe sexist attitudes put women at a disadvantage by placing them in submissive gender roles, Marxist feminism, which was created from Karl Marx’s social theory and writings by Engels, who believes that women’s status is not biologically determined by the economic system of ownership and private property and so is not biological but social. Radical feminists believe that common social practices are signs and tools of male domination which support patriarchy and the oppression of women. Finally, Socialist feminists combine Marxian and radical feminism to try to analyze and change society and social interaction. Of these four types of the Feminist Perspective, it seems that radical feminism is the most applicable to causing and creating divorce and strife in African-American couples.
Traditionally, black families tend to be more patriarchal and male dominated. While African-American women often tend to work outside the home, black culture still subscribes to a dominate male ruling the home and the family, and this can cause problems in modern society. While studies have shown that more black men are participating in child rearing and taking care of the home, most of these tasks still fall to the woman, and this relates directly to the radical feminist perspective that says this kind of domination is a common social practice. This need to dominate the family and the mother can lead to strife in the family, disagreement, and ultimately divorce.
Numerous studies show that black divorce rates are higher than white divorce rates, and if one looks at most white families, they will also see a unit that is traditionally male dominated, but one that also recognizes the importance of all the family members. White women also work outside the home, and do much of the work of rearing the family, but tend to be more involved in everyday decision making in important family issues, while in black families, it is still predominately the male who makes important decisions for the family. Women are valued, but not as highly as the father, and so, men dominate the family and may carry this domination too far for some wives who want more equality and more power in decision making. In addition, because most black women are employed outside the home, they may feel their only real show of power is to raise their children themselves, rather than stay with a domineering father. They know they can take care of themselves, and alone, they can prove it to the world. Sociologist Joseph Guttmann writes, “traditionally, women have been most oppressed by the institution of the family…. To be free, women must understand the source of their oppression and how to control it” (Guttmann 23). Black women control their oppression by divorcing, or never marrying. Statistics show that 68.5% of black women giving birth were not married (Lamanna and Reidman 28), which also relates to the feminist perspective in that more black women do not feel they need a husband to help them raise their children, they would rather do it alone.
Sociologists believe the functionalist perspective shows that modern society is a system. They recognize that inside a system there are functions and dysfunctions, and they try to identify these elements and functions of society that make up the system. In addition, they consider members of this society share essential and strong beliefs and values. Obviously, this perspective applies to African-Americans. Their culture is strong, and they have strong belief systems and values, born because many of their ancestors worked as slaves in the American South, and were never free. Thus, they have an extremely strong belief and value system, and they also have a history of racism and neglect in the nation. Their values and beliefs become even more pronounced when they fight for their rights and their equality. Probably one of the most important elements of African-American culture is their close ties to Africa and the culture they left behind. This is why so many African-Americans are returning to their roots and celebrating their diversity by returning to beliefs, religions, and even folk art and culture that were common in their African forefathers. Obviously, this creates functions and dysfunctions in members of African society and how they interact with traditional white society. The Functionalist Perspective means that mini-societies can spring up in society, where the members form groups that exist quite well, even though they may be far removed from what traditional society thinks is acceptable. This can put stress on the group, and on the individuals, and this can also lead to divorce.
For example, black society is feeling the pressure of a poor economy by higher unemployment rates. In 1994, for example, the national unemployment rate in July was 5.5%, but among blacks it was 10.9% – nearly twice as much (Weathersbee). Statistically, this shows that blacks are having a harder time finding and keeping jobs, and when they do, they are lower-paying jobs. Unemployment in the black community is a function of the economy, but it is also a function of society because those in many black communities tend to be less educated, lower income, and with fewer means of climbing out of their poverty and lifestyle. Sociologist Guttmann continues, “There is an inverse relationship between divorce rates and social class. That is, when education or income are used as indicators for social class, people from lower social classes tend to divorce more than do people from higher social classes” (Guttmann 4). Thus, in lower income black families, the stresses of poverty, unemployment, and lack of education may translate to divorce and disillusion. Because unemployment is higher among blacks, it makes them a sub-group in our nation, which they have been as a culture almost since they came to this country. This ads to their strong beliefs and values and makes them susceptible to the Functionalist Perspective when it comes to divorce.
Finally, the Internationalist Perspective blends cultures, beliefs, and society into one global perspective. It also blends nationalities into one “human” unit, and it can have a great affect on societies. It can bring them closer together, but it can also push them further apart. This perspective recognizes that all cultures have some commonalities and values, and that so, all cultures should be able to get along together. While this seems to be a viable solution to world problems, it is still a social problem that can help lead to divorce, because it does not recognize the diversities between cultures that can grow and fester if they are not recognized and dealt with. In addition, this has relevance in mixed-racial marriages that may lead to divorce.
The Internationalist Perspective has become more prevalent in a world that has become much smaller due to electronics, communication, computers, and a general globalization of the planet. Today, there is far less stigma attached to mixed-race marriages, and because there are so many immigrants from other countries in America, they marriages are much more common. They blend cultures and ideals, and make the couple more “global” in their outlook, but not recognizing differences in culture and beliefs can lead to divorce. Statistically, about 7% of American married households are mixed race and many of these mixed race families that are African-American and white report more difficulties in their marriages (Lamanna and Reidman 38). This is because many of the people in these marriages, including the children, feel they are “on the fence” in society – they do not fit into either black culture or white culture, and so, there is literally nowhere for them to fully belong and fully interact with society. Thus, the International Perspective may encourage more understanding and openness between the people’s of the world and their cultures, but it does not always translate into everyday life and family values. Families have differences, cultures have differences, and societies have differences. They can blend successfully, but not always, and divorce may be the result of this continuing reliance on a global, International Perspective.
Grimes, Michael D. Class in Twentieth-Century American Sociology: An Analysis of Theories and Measurement Strategies. New York: Praeger Publishers, 1991.
Guttmann, Joseph. Divorce in Psychosocial Perspective: Theory and Research. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1993.
Lamanna, Mary Ann and Reidman, Agnes. “Chapter Two.” Marriages and Families: Making Choices in a Diverse Society, 8th edition. California: Wadsworth Publishing Co., Inc., 2003. 22-51. http://220.127.116.11/samples/sociology/06SO205LamannaRiedmannM&F9Ch2.pdf
Weathersbee, Tonyaa. “Higher Black Unemployment in Era of Tax Cuts.” BlackAmericaWeb.com. 18 Aug. 2004. 14 July 2005. http://www.blackamericaweb.com/site.aspx/bawnews/economy817
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