Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Step is not a four letter word

Many of our notions about second marriage families are based on hypothetical comparisons to an idealized form of the nuclear family. For instance, many people believe, even if they don't come right out and say it, that divorce is caused by personal failure in the relationship.

It is as if we now have the legal, but not the moral, right to divorce. What is not talked about is that divorce is also a function of our increased life span. In 1850, it is estimated that life expectancy was about 40 years. For those born in 1990, life expectancy is about 80 years. This gives us a substantially longer time "til death do us part." The average length of marriage in the late 1700's was 7 years, because one of the spouses died. (Ironically the contemporary average length of time between marriage and divorce in the U.S. is also 7 years.)

Also, given the short life spans of our ancestors, second marriages were very common. In fact, 100 years ago, 20-30% of marriages were second marriages, just as they are today. Traditions for remarriage varied across religious and cultural groups. Some advocated remarrying immediately to have the "best" results, others suggested waiting one year. Whatever the arrangement, stepfamiiies were an important group in the community.

Read more: National Stepfamily Resource Center

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