Marriage is for life, right? Most Australians agree with the proposition. But most also think it is perfectly all right for unhappy couples to divorce, even if they have children.
The apparently contradictory attitudes emerged in a survey of 11,325 Australians, published in the latest Family Relationships Quarterly newsletter.
Roughly half the men (51 per cent) and women (56 per cent) agreed either strongly or moderately with the statement that “marriage is a lifetime relationship and should never be ended”.
But an even bigger proportion of the same group (63 per cent of men and 70 per cent of women) thought it was “all right for a couple with an unhappy marriage to get a divorce, even if they have children”.
Almost 30 per cent of the men and women endorsed both views – that marriage was “until death us do part” but divorce was an acceptable escape route.
Ruth Weston, principal research fellow at the Australian Institute of Family Studies and co-author of the study with Lixia Qu, thinks she understands the seeming contradiction.
“People believe you have to go into marriage thinking it is for life,” she said. “They believe marriage should be a serious commitment. But they acknowledge the ideal may not pan out, hopes will be dashed, and as the course of the marriage unfolds, the ideal may need to be set aside.”
The study shows only 24 per cent of Australians hold consistently anti-divorce views.
A higher proportion of women than men in all age groups clearly accepted divorce, and those in their 50s were more accepting of divorce than younger or older age groups.
Rejection of divorce was highest among teenage boys and men over 70. Ms Weston said the high rates of cohabitation in Australia might give the impression people no longer took marriage seriously. “Some people say marriage is just a piece of paper. But the study indicates people see marriage as a really important institution, but acknowledge that it doesn’t always turn out all right.”
A separate study shows that following their parents’ divorce, children are unlikely to have a close relationship with their paternal grandparents.
Only 19 per cent of non-resident fathers said the relationship was “very close” between their own parents and their children. But in the wider community the vast majority of grandparents had close or very close bonds, according to the study of 5000 parents published in Family Matters, the journal of the Australian Institute of Family Studies.
Ms Weston said resident mothers were usually the gatekeeper of who children saw after divorce.
Source: Canberra Times