Family ecology theory is a “theoretical perspective that explores how a family influences and is influenced by the environments that surround it. A family is interdependent first with its neighborhood, then with its social-cultural environment, and ultimately with the human-built and physical-biological environments. All parts of the model are interrelated and influence one another” (Lamanna and Riedmann, 2009, p. 515). In essence, the culture and environment around the family can often dictate or inform what it does, particularly when weighed against one’s instincts. In a marriage that is not working out or experiencing problems, often what the immediate culture and neighborhood says about divorce helps to determine whether or not the couple thinks it is a good idea to do the same.
There are different areas and cultures in which divorce rates are more common – the coasts and major cities, such as Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles have higher divorce rates, which is typically related to how high the populations are. In cities and the West and East Coasts, more liberal, free-spirited attitudes persist, wherein relationships are more casual and divorce is far more accepted. As a result, it is far more likely for a couple to get divorced because of an infidelity or over financial issues; often, people have more cause to break up a marriage, and there is not as much of a culture of shame regarding divorce.
In rural areas and the Midwest, there is a much higher stigma regarding divorce in the environment. Religions such as Christianity have a much greater pull in these areas; as that religion carries a much higher stigma regarding divorce (naming it a sin), there is a lot more reticence about getting a divorce. It is not helped by the fact that others do not get divorced as often in these areas. People often look down on others who get divorced; this attitude is exacerbated in these regions – this makes it all the more difficult for a couple to dissolve their union when it is clear that there is no reconciling their differences.
On the other hand, environments where marriage is treated casually often means that couples will get a divorce before attempting to work out issues. They are not as invested in their relationships, as they feel they can simply get another one if they so choose. This has extended to legislation regarding divorce as well. In all fifty states, divorce law carries the possibility of having a no-fault divorce for a couple; this means that there is little to no expectation of alimony or child support. The couple merely breaks up and moves on with their lives. This is due to a rapidly changing attitude about marriage in the cities and major areas, slowly creeping into more rural environments (Regan, 1994).
In the culture of twenty five years ago, it was more likely that the issue of infidelity would be grounds for divorce, and would even affect custody and money issues in the divorce. Today, in urban areas more often than not, this is not a factor; what’s more, instead of alimony, often the property is simply split between what each partner gets. Gender neutrality is becoming more of a phenomenon; it is now often considered to be just as much the woman’s fault as the man’s for improper conduct in the marriage, leading to these divorce filings. The emphasis of these marriages now rests on just getting a “clean break,” and diminishing the continued role of each other in their lives.
This is due to a social environment wherein women are not as financially dependent upon men for their continued livelihood; they work and toil just as much, if not moreso than men. I the country, however, there are still somewhat traditional familial roles, leading to a reliance upon the man for caring for the household, and the expectations of women in a divorce are much higher. It is much more likely for a divorce to end in alimony and child support payments than in the city, where both parties likely work and have their own careers to deal with (Regan, 1994).
The macrosystems encountered in each type of environment are interesting. Urban areas are much more forgiving, multicultural, and accepting of different lifestyles. This includes divorced individuals of both sexes; the pervading wisdom is no longer of a man who cheated on his wife, or a woman who failed in her marriage. Instead, it is simply viewed as ‘something that happened,’ and the parties involved move on, their neighbors being much more accepting of the phenomenon. In the country, small towns are full of people who know everyone else, and so it is much more likely that the other person in the marriage would still be a factor in one’s life following the divorce. As a result, it can seem like less of an incentive to have one, particularly since it is not likely that the partner will be completely removed from one’s life. Cities, due to their size and scope, make it a much bigger possibility to never run into the partner you divorce from again. Given these different cultures, the attitude toward life after divorce can be much more positive in a city than in the country (Bengtson et al., 2005).
These attitudes affect the children as well; in the city, there are many more distractions and activities to occupy a child. Often, both parents will work full-time jobs, and barely see their child except at nighttime. As a result, they have a smaller time investment in the child, making it not as big of an adjustment when one partner gets custody rights of the child and one does not. There is often a culture of custody sharing that can be quite convoluted, particularly in a city; dates and times have to be arranged, commuting is much more of a hassle, and schedules need to change according to the parents’ jobs or personal lives. This is also true of divorced couples with children in smaller towns and rural areas, but in many instances, one of the parents (typically the wife) is a stay-at-home mom, so they often have more time with the children. This gives them a greater emotional investment in the child, and a higher life priority on the family itself; therefore, there is more of an incentive to stay together, even in the face of irreconcilable differences.
Often, couples will stay together merely for the children; this is a phenomenon that is becoming increasingly rare, however, in the face of play dates and busy schedules that often mean a stable, healthy family has a smaller influence on their children’s education and upbringing anyway At the same time, in the past few decades there has been an increasing stabilization of marriage and divorce rates, due to the changing of gender roles and a greater emphasis on equality and sharing the workload in a marriage (Lamanna and Riedmann, 2009). This is slightly more heightened in a rural environment, where the stakes for maintaining a marriage in one’s social and cultural circle are greater, but they still exist in the city.
In conclusion, the family ecology theory indicates that the environment in which a family lives can either exacerbate or suppress the desire to have a divorce if the couple is having problems. Social pressures are different in major cities and rural areas; cities with high divorce rates have a culture of more liberal, frivolous marriages, where couples will marry and break up several times with comparatively little backlash from their community. In rural areas, the social environment they live in would look down upon anyone who got divorce, no matter how justified. It is very surprising how much the upbringing and environment of a family will dictate whether or not the family ends, regardless of the reason.
Bengtson, Vern L.. Sourcebook of family theory & research . Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage, 2005. Print.
Lamanna, Mary Ann, and Agnes Czerwinski Riedmann. Marriages & families: making choices in a diverse society. 10th ed. Belmont, Calif.: Thomson, 2009. Print.
Regan, Milton. "SYMPOSIUM: Divorce and Feminist Legal Theory." Georgetown Law Journal 82 (1009): 2119. Print.