Love is a dying tradition: work is eliminating families

Image, By Charlene Smith ©

Love is a dying tradition as marriages and family life disappear according to a rush of new studies.

Globally divorce rates have gone up about six fold since 1960. 

The Brookings Institute in the United States reported this year that, “Fewer Americans are married today than at any point in at least 50 years.” This correlates with data in the same report that says while half of women didn’t work 40 years ago, it is rare for women not to work now and they’re waiting longer to have children, if at all. Today in the United States a third of first time mothers are older than forty and around 10 percent of men and women are declining to marry.

These are the most job-focused generations ever. We work longer hours – up to 500 hours more a year according to stats – and because we have become so consumed with accumulating degrees, status, and wealth, the other significant need for successful humans – good relationships fall by the wayside. Yet, if you’re very rich, you’re more likely to seek marriage and to stay married. Stats show that half of the wealthiest one percent of Americans (and they earn 40 percent of U.S. wealth) are in stable, happy, long-term marriages. 

Research by the Organisation of Economic CoOperation and Development suggests that marriage is a dying trend. “Since the 1960s the family has undergone significant transformation. In many countries, the extended family has all but disappeared, and the traditional two-parent family has become much less widespread as divorce rates, re-marriages, cohabitation, single parenthood and same-sex partnerships have all increased.


“Families have seen more mothers take up work in the labor market, their adolescents spend longer and longer in education and training, and elderly members of the family live longer and, increasingly, alone.”


OECD figures show that family breakups are economically costly. “In Britain that figure is now £42bn per year and rising, according to the Relationships Foundation. Family breakdowns cost more than the entire defense budget in that country. Today in Britain there are two million single parent families: there were one million in 1980. Across the world children are most likely to be raised by their mothers only. In most developed nations up to 15 percent of babies are born without a resident biological father. 


Recent demographic projections performed by OECD countries suggest that the next 20 years are likely to see a continuation and even acceleration of changes in household and family structures. In particular, the number of single-adult and single-parent households are expected to increase significantly, as is the number of couples without children.


In Britain today, 40 percent of all children can expect to see their parents split up before their 16th birthday.  At least half of family breakdown takes place within the first three years of childhood.  (However, the latest study from the Center for Social Justice and the Bristol Community Family Trust estimates that, of children born today, 48% will see their parents split by their 16th birthday.  

OECD research has shown that, of all countries (not just the 30 member countries), the UK has the fifth highest lone parent rate, after Latvia, Estonia, the Czech republic and the US.

We talk a lot about love, but today we say those words and forget it’s ancillary: commitment, and that, in turn, implies responsibility. We are good about our responsibilities in the workplace, but have forgotten responsibility for our personal happiness and for those closest to us. Maybe now is the time for a values check.



About Charlene Smith

Charlene Smith is a multi-award winning journalist, broadcaster and documentary film maker. She is the author of 14 published books, including two on Nelson Mandela. Born in South Africa, she has also lived in Japan and Argentina and currently lives and works in Boston as a communications consultant.
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