When we reflect on the Roaring Twenties we usually think of speakeasies, the Ford Model-T, and pomp and flair as illustrated in The Great Gatsby. The 1920’s was a century ago and we may not see our connection to their definition of family, and marriage. However, the 2020’s is still connected to the past. A tree branch cannot exist without its roots, no matter their differences. The overall perspective of marriage was, and still is, shaped by the economy and gender roles 100 years later.
The U.S. economy was booming in the 1920’s because World War I had ended with devastating destruction of European infrastructure and the U.S. was contracted with the task of producing materials for their reconstruction. The U.S. was a major producer at this time and more people were given opportunities to make a living in urban cities. According to Gene Smiley from Marquette University, between 1923 and 1929 the average weekly earnings rose 5.3% for skilled male workers and 8.7% for unskilled male workers (ehs.net). Dr. Constance Ahrons, a marriage and family therapy expert, stated in her book The Good Divorce:
“Divorce rates tend to decline during hard times, and rise in times of prosperity. Divorce rates decreased during World War I, increased when the war ended, decreased after the stock market crash of 1929, and stayed low during the Great Depression and World War II. When the war ended, the rates shot up once again.”
This trend may distinguish the rate of divorce when comparing 1920 and the predicted rate of 2020. In 1920, the US population was 106.5 million compared to 332 million in 2020 (U.S. Census Bureau). One would expect divorce rates to increase with the growing rate of the population. According to cdc.gov, the rate of divorce in 1920 was 12.0 per 1,000 population and surprisingly in 2019, the divorce rate was 2.9. However, this does not take into account the decreasing rate of individuals entering into marriages. Americans may not see the necessity of marriage once held for couples.
Society has changed when it comes to gender roles. Gender roles have unarguably changed since the 1920’s. The U.S. Department of Labor conducted research that indicated women were 21% of all gainfully occupied persons in 1920, and in 2010 they were 47% of employed persons. These changes should be kept in view to understand how relationships have changed in 100 years. Opportunities began to make themselves apparent for women in 1920 because, after a century of protest, the United States ratified the 19th amendment granting women suffrage rights (the right to vote). Rights for women changed drastically once politicians understood that their voice mattered. Today citizens cannot be denied their right to vote after they reach the age of majority no matter their gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, or disabilities.
Since then, the definition of marriage drastically changed. In the 1920’s the world began to see women enter the work force in numbers never seen before, whereas in 2020 it is not uncommon to see women as CEO’s and leaders of fortune 500 companies and highly esteemed associations. The progress made in the U.S. for the prosperity of women stems from the struggles endured by women a century ago. Today women are able to achieve more than they used to, but there is still a struggle for certain rights, privileges, and treatment. The financial prosperity of women beacons equality with their spouses. Contributive equality has always been a theme for conflict between friends and national allies, and relationships are not immune. Sometimes in this age, women are the breadwinners and men are sometimes house-husbands. In The Intern (2015), a movie about a CEO named Jules (Anne Hathaway) and her older intern (Robert Dinero), Jules faces difficulty balancing her work and marriage to her house-husband. The movie sheds positive light on Robert Dinero’s old-time chivalry and shows how his marriage was something to be admired with a woman from a different time. In contrast, Anne Hathaway’s character struggles with her unsupportive spouse for several reasons. Today we sometimes have a paradisiacal view of the past without remembering the struggles that came with it.
The economy and gender roles of our society have deeply impacted the way we view marriage. The 1920’s shifted our archaic lifestyles, and the 2020’s may also add to that progress. We have come a long way, and equality will be the balancing factor for the survival of traditional marriages. Times have changed, along with our economy, and gender roles. Our world was impacted by the 1920’s and our world will continue to see changes in the next century. Perhaps the institution of marriage will become obsolete, or maybe our survival will require it more than we did before.