With the beginnings of World War II, marriage rates skyrocketed. This in part was due to a break in the Great Depression along with many young men wanting to experience married life before marching off to war, not knowing if they would return. According to J.R. Woods and Sons, a ring company, marriage rates increased 250% after the Selective Service Act was passed and continued to climb (Mintz & Kellogg, 1988). Additionally, after the draft, marriage rates increased another 25%, and after Pearl Harbor rates rose 60% higher than the same month the previous year (Mintz & Kellogg, 1988). This rate rose dramatically for many reasons; some married because they were impatient, some married to receive money from the government, and others married because they could die at war. Furthermore, “some married to avoid draft, since men with dependants were deferred until 1942” (Mintz & Kellogg, 1988). Whatever their reasons, rates increased at a rate unseen in the past, a major shift from the Civil War.
One man who did not fall into this category of quick marriage was Brandon Scott Bailey (an airman, 1st class Red Horse Squadron). He decided to wait until he got stationed to marry his girlfriend, choosing not to rush their relationship. He wrote to his girlfriend often, blaming her and complaining “I have kicked myself for joining the Air Force so many times because I desire to be with you…” (Schaeffer, 2004). He told her all about the women that threw themselves at him and how he turned them down, earning him criticism from his comrades who told him his girlfriend never had to know about the other women. He was one case in which the relationship did not end as quickly as it started because it was not rushed into marriage.
Women at Work
As men marched off to war, women were left to take care of homes and businesses and fill war-time jobs in industries to support war effort. This led to a new found independence and many concerns about women in the workforce straining marriages. Typically, women working were young and unmarried, but with the arrival of World War II, the majority shifted to married, older women. It was voiced that “in our complicated society, with its traditional concept of employment as a masculine prerogative, a woman’s working may have symbolic meaning for her husband and may be a threat to him if he is not altogether secure in his masculinity” ( Mintz & Kellogg, 1988). Society was concerned that this shift to married women working would cause marital friction through wives undermining husbands’ self-image. This may sound dramatic but at the time, it was a concern of many.
With quick marriages came rising divorce rates as well. Between 1940 and 1944, divorce rates rose from 16 per 100 marriages to 27 per 100 marriages with 1 in 6 marriages ending in divorce in 1940 to 1 in 4 marriages ending in divorce in 1946 ( Mintz & Kellogg, 1988). The spike in divorce rates had many possible causes, the most obvious being a lack of foundation.
Because men were marrying women they hardly knew before leaving for war, there was little time to build a relationship leading to infidelity on both accounts: men falling prey to prostitution and women abandoning their husbands for lovers they met in their husbands’ absences. If they managed to stay together until the end of the war, there was estrangement due to separation to deal with upon men returning. What’s more, women enjoyed their independence in their husbands’ absences and some were unwilling to relinquish the freedom. The perception of divorce was changing with the generations also meaning it became more acceptable to separate from a spouse. For all of these reasons and more, those quick marriages before the war also ended with the war.
The media is a window into concerns of a time period. Thus, it is no surprise that divorce appears in the media, such as films, interlaced with war topics. As an example, in 1949, just after the war (while the memory is vivid and the wounds are still fresh), the film Sands of Iwo Jima was produced. It is a film about Sargent John Stryker, a U.S. Marine, whose wife leaves him, taking their son with her and leaving him to deal with his anger and pain (Sands of Iwo Jima, n.d.). He takes out his feelings on his soldiers, spiralling out of control and causing concern among his subordinates. The point being that this shift in culture was concerning to society, and past generations were unsure of how to deal with the change, leading to films of war interlaced with themes of divorce and the repercussions.
Marriage and divorce rates changed so rapidly that society as a whole became concerned about the subject. Older generations were concerned about virtue and traditional values while younger soldiers and teenagers brought forth an emerging younger culture completely different from previously accepted norms. Intergenerational friction was created as changing rates in marriage and divorce forced a shift, not necessarily a negative shift. This was a dramatic change from the past and society had to figure out its implications and how to deal with it.
Mintz, S., & Kellogg, S. (1988). Domestic revolutions: a social history of American family life. New York: Free Press
Sands of Iwo Jima. (n.d.). IMDb. Retrieved March 2, 2014, from http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0041841/
Schaeffer, F. (2004). Voices from the front: letters home from America’s military family. New York: Carroll & Graf