One thing that people occasionally mention in the comments on this weblog is that it seems futile to be “conservative” because the arrow of history goes in one direction. Even many conservatives, including myself, have fallen into this assumption. But upon a closer inspection of history I think we need to be careful about this, as the truth can sometimes confound our coarse models. For example, I strongly suspect that when it comes to love and marriage the realized element of individual liberty has not had a monotonic trajectory over human history. More plainly, free choice declined over the past 10,000 years, and has reemerged in the past few centuries. Whether this is liberal or conservative is less relevant than that it shows that attitudes, beliefs, and practices, do not always change in magnitude in one direction, only at different rates. More recently, sexual mores in the West shifted to a more puritanical direction between 1750 and 1900, only to switch back to a more relaxed attitude over the 20th century (with a punctuated shift in the 1960s).
And these sorts of trends are evident even over a shorter time scale. So it may be with attitudes toward divorce. One could argue (I probably would) that “liberal” attitudes toward divorce in the 1970s was a correction from an unsustainable equilibrium leading up to the 1960s. But over the past few decades it does look as if college educated whites have had second thoughts about the “arrow of history.” At the very least they are now more likely to stand athwart history and yell “stop.”
Below are results limited to non-Hispanic whites with college educations. Note especially the change in those with “No religions.” They seem clearly to have had enough.
Attitudes toward divorce laws:
|Born before 1946||Easier||35||19||18||15|
|Born after 1965||Easier||*||*||16||17|
|1986 index income <$20,000||Easier||36||18||20||16|
|1986 index income $20,000-$50,000||Easier||37||21||19||16|
|1986 index income $50,000>||Easier||39||22||20||18|
All results computed from the GSS