Marriage is a milestone that most of us would love to reach at some point in our adult lives. The emancipation of women in most spheres of society has put the archaic gender roles in focus and as a consequence, the relevance and purpose of marriage as an institution has to be examined.
In order to do so, one needs to view the evolution of marriage through various historic and economic epochs. These economic ages played a role in morphing marriage into what we know it to be today. Central to this exercise are the modern woman’s motivations to get married and sustain a marriage. I have decided to solicit the help of basic psychology and the recent marriage and divorce statistics to do just that.
“Marriage for the pursuit of love is a fairly new concept that gained traction in the 1500s…”
The most recent marriage and divorce statistics released by Statistics South Africa reveal that the rate of divorce has increased by almost 5% from 2012 to 2017. It is reported that 51.1% of the divorce proceedings were initiated by wives while 34.2% were initiated by husbands.
Many may argue that this statistic may be a reflection of the inability of modern South African woman to endure the challenges of marriage as women of bygone times have. As the microwave generation, instant gratification may be hard wired into our collective psyche. It is therefore not surprising that most divorces occur between five and nine years of marriage. The question of what may have hampered our ability to bekezela has piqued my interest from the rime of the release of the marriage and divorce statistics.
The court endorses three main reasons for the dissolution a marriage. These are an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage, mental illness and the continuous unconsciousness of a spouse. Financial difficulty is a major driver of divorce as well. Couples who are not economically active account for a quarter of the divorces registered. Marriage for the pursuit of love is a fairly new concept that gained traction in the 1500s.
Initially, marriage was an institution reserved for the wealthy who wished to form economic and political alliances. With the end of feudalism and the effects of the renaissance, marriage was for lack of a better word; expropriated for the enjoyment of the ordinary man. For most of recorded human history, marriage was meant to serve the purposes of reproduction and economic survival.
The legal doctrine of coverture ensured that wives were reduced to the legal status of a minor. They had no authority over their own property and could not exist as independent legal entities. Wives were not permitted to enter legal contracts, draft wills or exercise control over their own wages. The underlying assumption was that man and wife were one being: the husband. Due to the subordinate status of the wife, her consent wasn’t required in the execution of any financial decisions. In light of such an oppressive system, marriage was by far the most critical financial transaction a woman could possibly undertake.
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a basic psychological tool you may have come across in a life orientation class. It is represented by a pyramid that houses five needs in order from the most primitive to the more complex needs that differentiate us from animals. The two lowest levels house basic physiological and safety needs. The middle tiers relate to psychological needs such as love, esteem and a sense of belonging. The need to self actualize is at the apex of the pyramid. Self actualisation is the need related to personal growth and the fulfilment of the purpose of one’s life. As is the case with any decent video game, one cannot proceed to address a higher need without satisfying the most basic needs.
The gradual liberation of women has rendered marriage obsolete as a tool for women’s economic survival. The average age for women to get married has increased from 30 years in 2012 to 32 years in 2016. This is mainly due to the women pursuing tertiary education and choosing to climb the proverbial corporate ladder.
As women are increasingly able to satisfy their basic physiological needs in the absence of marriage, their motivations to marry and remain married elevate from the most primitive to more complex. It is intellectually lazy to assume that character deficiencies lead to a higher number of women initiating divorce. Women increasingly initiate divorce in modern times because their needs are more complex than they were before.
Women who opt for divorce want out of the union more badly than they want to benefit financially from marriage. If the predictions of a fourth industrial revolution in our lifetime are true, marriage may increasingly be used as a tool of self-actualize and not so much as a tool to satisfy our most primitive needs.