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Marriage and Divorce Rates 
during the 
Roaring Twenties 

 


           

The 1920s marked a period of independence and “letting go” in America.  This was especially so for the younger generations who were in their twenties or late teenage years.  This decade was nicknamed the Roaring Twenties for such reasons as the popularity and spread of jazz music and the outrage and rebellion against Prohibition.  It was a period of prosperity for most of the population although the wealth was unevenly distributed it was shared among the middle-class much more than in previous years.  Prosperity arose from such booming industrial industries as the automobile industry.  Marriage rates declined as divorce rates contrastingly increased as a result of the fast-paced society during the 1920s.

            The Roaring Twenties also encompassed the Jazz Era.  After World War I, the Great Migration of African-Americans from the south to the northern states took place.  Many of these blacks settled in such industrial cities as New York City and Chicago.  Harlem, New York was one of the most popular places for blacks to settle and as a result was the major starting place for jazz music to grow in America.  As the jazz music of such musicians as Duke Ellington spread throughout the country, swing dancing was also introduced as a way to dance to the faster paced jazz.  Prohibition helped spur the fast paced ‘20s because speakeasies (secret, illegal clubs) were established across the country and hired jazz musicians to entertain patrons.  Flappers were also an important part of the era; they were young women who crossed the former boundaries for women.  They showed their ankles in public by wearing shorter dresses and more revealing skirts.  They also went to jazz clubs to drink, swing dance, and smoke, all unprecedented actions for women of the time.

            The flapper trend along with the fast-paced movement of the 1920s attributed to the decline in marriage rates during this time.  The image of the flapper was only one polarization of women during the period.  Young women, flappers or not, became very independent from the constrictions that society has always placed on them in the past.  Young women were striving for independence from overbearing families and the confines of society.  As a result, less women were interested in marriage as they were preoccupied with living their lives outside of the constrains of society beliefs and waiting before they settle down for the rest of their lives with one man.  During the 1920s, the annual marriage rates were about 99 per 1,000 single women (“Epidemiology” 1).  During the last half of the 1920s, the marriage rate steadily declined and continued to decline into the beginning of the Great Depression (“Family: Marriage” 2).  This decline is a result of men and women deciding to wait to get married and instead, do what they wish before they were forced to settle down. 

            During this time, the divorce rate of American couples actually increased.  Young married couples saw others their age enjoying themselves as single and unattached romantically.  Jealousy probably became an issue for most newlyweds during the last half of the decade.  Charts show that divorces declined at the beginning of the 1920s to seven from eight divorces per thousand married women per year, as the Jazz Era was first starting to pick up momentum.  During the last half of the decade the Roaring Twenties had picked up the most momentum across America and the divorce rate increased to eight divorces per thousand married women per year until the Great Depression (“Family: Divorce” 2).  This increase demonstrates the level of freedom and independence that was experienced and wanted by the men and women of the country.  It also shows that family life was on the backburner for young men and women at the time.  The divorce rate climbed during the 1920s.

            During the 1920s, the younger generation of America let loose and began to live their lives the way they wished.  They were influenced heavily by the popular jazz music and swing dancing.  Flappers were abound, as were speakeasies to satisfy those suffering from Prohibition.  This new found freedom influenced the decrease in marriages and increase of divorces because these Americans did not want to settle down and become, or stay, married before being able to have fun during the Roaring Twenties.

 

“Epidemiology of Divorce: National Trends in Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage”. The Future of the Children. 7 pp. On-line. Internet. 2 February 2004. Available WWW: http://www.futureofchildren.org/information2827/information_show.htm?doc_id75526

 

Wattenberg, Ben. “Family: Marriage Rate and Age”. The First Measured Century. 2pp. On-line. Internet. 2 February 2004. Available WWW: http://www.pbs.org/fmc/book/4family1.htm

 

Wattenberg, Ben. “Family: Divorce”. The First Measured Century. 2 pp. On-line. Internet. 2 February 2004. Available WWW: http://www.pbs.org/fmc/book/4family6.htm

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