Individual and Structural Perspectives on Divorce


Divorce refers to the act of permanent dissolution of a marital relationship between couples. The modern institution of the family is very unstable especially because of the rising number of cases of divorce that are reported. The rising statistics on the frequency of divorce is due to the structural and individual factors that influence decisions of married couples to file legal cases for divorce (Amos & Davies, 2007; Amato, 2010). The structural factors in divorce encompass all those ways through which the society and the social institutions contribute or influence people’s decision to divorce from marital unions. The individual influences include the personal factors that guide a person’s choices and decision to seek for divorce after marriage. These factors are thus not pegged on societal values, mores or even norms.

Individual and Structural Lens of Divorce

Divorce can be viewed from individual perspective or structural perspective. When viewed from an individual perspective, it involves an examination and analysis of all those personal beliefs, values or temperaments that can trigger one’s resolve to seek divorce. This implies that the decision to seek for divorce is influenced by very personal/individual factors. For example, Lowenstein (2005) cites that people with more education are often better placed in making decisions with respect to who to marry and how to work-out the success of the marriage. Studies conducted have demonstrated that there is a negative relation between intelligence and the decision to divorce a marriage partner (Lowenstein, 2005; Amato, 2010). Therefore, when divorce is analyzed under individual lens, the analysis focuses much on the very personal and subjective factors that influence the decision of a couple to divorce. These may include individual attitudes towards divorce, subjective and personalized perceptions of the institution of the family, personality and temperament among other individual variables (Amato, 2010).

When viewed from a structural perspective, divorce is analyzed with a broad focus to the socioeconomic, socio-cultural, and institutional factors that influence divorce decisions. Under the structural lens, divorce is caused by factors, other than individual variables, that are beyond a couple but strongly determine and influence their decisions to divorce. Lowenstein (2005) postulates, for example, that in countries where divorce laws are very liberal, couples find it very easy to obtain divorce. In such instances, divorce cases are expected to be very high since a partner finds it rather relatively easy to file case for divorce and terminate the marriage instead of enduring to build a stable marital relationship (Amos & Davies, 2007). Women’s independence, economic factors and religious incompatibilities are some of the structural and institutional factors that must be studied under the structural perspective of divorce. Compared to the individual perspective, this broad approach to the analysis of divorce gives more objective understanding and justification of divorce and is thus the most appropriate approach for accurate and unbiased study and understanding of divorce.

Sociological Theoretical Perspective of Divorce

The social conflict perspective of sociology best explains divorce as a social phenomenon in the present day America. According to this perspective, divorce is caused by the power struggles between the husbands who believe they are the head of families and want to maintain the status-quo and the wife who with modern empowerment strives to edge out the husband as the head of the family (Mooney, 2012). The struggles and conflicts thus surround control and use of family resources, the chain of command and the sharing of financial responsibilities in the family. The conflicts and wrangles between the husband and the wife thus play out in a typical; reflection of the struggles between the bourgeoisies and the proletariat in Karl Marx sociological conceptualization of the structure of the society (Mooney, 2012). Thus, divorce in the present day American society can accurately and objectively be understood from the social conflict perspective.


Objective and accurate understanding of divorce as a social phenomenon calls for an integrated approach towards such intellectual endeavors. This calls for an analysis of divorce from the structural point of view but with careful considerations of individual variables as units of analysis in such studies. 

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