Ready, Willing and Able : The Divorce Transition in Sweden 1915-1974

Sammanfattning: This thesis attempts to extend the historical scope of divorce research in Sweden by providing an analysis ofhow the variations in the divorce rate over time and across geographical areas are connected to the economic, normative and institutional restructuring of Swedish society during the period 1915-1974. The thesis finds that the economic reshaping of Sweden into a modern market economy is at the center of the process that has resulted in decreased marital stability during the twentieth century. The shift from a single- to a dual-provider model and an increased integration of both men and women into market processes outside the family have resulted in lowered economic interdependence between spouses, which in turn has decreased the economic constraints to divorce. This conclusion is supported by the empirical finding that indicators of female economic self-sufficiency are associated with increased propensities for divorce, during the entire period under research in this thesis. That changes in the constraints experienced by women have been important is further emphasized by the finding that women have been more prone than men to initiate divorce, and that this gendered pattern of divorce was established already during the early twentieth century in Sweden.The results further indicate that the growth of divorce is connected not only to a shift in the provider model but also to the way sustained economic growth has resulted in a general increase in the resources available to individuals, as proposed by the socio-economic growth hypothesis. During the 1920s and 1930s, high-strata groups, such as lawyers, journalists, engineers and military officers, exhibited a divorce rate on the same level as in the general population of Sweden today. By the early 1960s, however, this positive associa- tion between social class and divorce had changed: by then it was rather couples in working-class occupations who exhibited the highest probability of divorce, which is a pattern that appears to have persisted since then. These findings indicate that a general increase and more even distribution of economic resources betweenboth genders and social classes have facilitated individuals’ possibilities to sustain themselves independent of family ties. This democratization in the access to divorce has meant that growing segments of the populationhave gained the means to act on a demand for divorce.However, another result of the thesis is that it is not possible to limit the analysis to a strictly economic perspective. Rather, economic changes have interacted with and been reinforced by changes in values, as wellas in institutions, during the periods when widespread and rapid behavioral change has occurred. In Sweden, like in most other Western countries, this was primarily the case during the 1940s and a period covering approximately the second half of the 1960s and first half of the 1970s. The studies of the thesis suggest that these two periods of rapid growth in the divorce rate stand out as periods in Swedish history when attitudes also changed more rapidly toward values that can be regarded as permissive, secular and more open to indi- vidual freedom of choice. Trenchantly, these two periods also correspond to the two harvest periods in Social Democratic welfare state policy. In the thesis it is argued that the marked increase in government services and social security at these time points integrated with and reinforced economic restructuring in a way that worked to “de-familializate” individuals by making them less dependent on family ties for social security. Institutional changes of this type have been particularly important for making single life more feasible for women and low- income groups. In the thesis, it is argued that the timings of substantial behavioral change become difficult to understand if the analytical perspective does not explicitly incorporate how such contextual-level changes in values and institutions have integrated with changes in the provider model and the economy during thesedynamic periods of the divorce transition in Sweden.