Behind closed doors: Sociology professor debunks marriage, divorce myths

In her Marriage and The Family class, Dr. Jodien Johnson helps students view topics such as dating, communication and divorce through a sociopsychological lens. Camie Jobe | Photographer

By Kalena Reynolds | Staff Writer

During the ring-by-spring rush, lecturer of sociology Dr. Jodien Johnson teaches the trends and statistics of marriage in her class titled Marriage and The Family. The class presents topics from “a sociopsychological viewpoint with stress on personal awareness, growth and satisfaction in interpersonal relations.”

Johnson teaches about how and who people date, how people in a marriage or family communicate, sexual adjustment, parenting, cohesion, adaptability and divorce. She also debunks myths about current marriage trends and how they have evolved over the years.

“I think people are surprised when we talk about how divorce is actually decreasing — the percent of people getting divorced,” Johnson said. “Most people have been told that the divorce rate is 50%, that half of all marriages end in divorce. Certainly at the peak of [it], that was probably true, but since the ’90s, we’ve seen the divorce rate steadily coming down.”

Johnson said divorce peaked in the 1970s and 1980s, and in the 1990s, divorce laws allowed for “no-fault” divorces, meaning neither person in the marriage was responsible for it ending. However, with the decrease in divorce rates since then comes a reduction in marriage rates and a shift in overall priorities.

“Women were entering the workforce, so they could divorce and support themselves,” Johnson said. “So we saw that huge spike, and that’s when it became a really big social concern. And since then, it has been decreasing. We also see the marriage rates are decreasing. So maybe also the people that really want to be married, stay married.”

Johnson said the misleading divorce statistics are based on studies done in the ’80s on a mix of marriages. It included couples in their second, third and fourth marriages, which have a much higher rate of divorce, making it an inaccurate representation of marriage statistics.

While Johnson said divorce statistics are much lower than what most people think, she also mentioned that predictors of successful marriages have shifted.

“For example, if you have an education, you’re much less likely to get a divorce,” Johnson said. “A bachelor’s degree or higher is much less likely to get a divorce than someone without a bachelor’s degree, and so education seems to be a big influencer. If you practice a religion — not if you claim a religion, but if you actually practice the religion — you’re less likely to get a divorce.”

Every year, Johnson surveys her classes at the beginning of the semester in order to get their viewpoints on the subjects they will discuss. Seven Springs, N.C., graduate student Chloe Davis has been Johnson’s teaching assistant for the last year and has seen firsthand the thought processes of Baylor students on topics like cohabitation, divorce, gender roles and marriage.

Davis said one of the most surprising results of the surveys was that Baylor students were against living with their partner before marriage.

“It’s very surprising to me every semester that Baylor students are very against living with their spouse or partner before marriage, whereas most other universities, if we took a poll, I’m sure most would approve of cohabitation or even would be cohabiting,” Davis said. “But with this whole ring-by-spring culture, I think it really sets a tone for Baylor’s campus on not living together until later.”

Davis said students are often taught concepts like a “marriage market” — how marriage is more centered around economic trades in society.

“A lot of it is teaching them about the marriage market and how love does not have much to do with marriage, unfortunately, anymore,” Davis said. “It’s more of an economic trade. You find your best match by who can provide for you and who you feel you can provide for. So I think it gives an interesting spin on how people traditionally think of marriage and family life.”

Even though indicators of successful marriages have shifted, Johnson said the biggest transition related to marriage is people’s priorities in marriage. Why people are getting married now compared to 50 years ago is centered around the question of love and happiness rather than security.

“Marriage of the past would be unbearable for people today — these marriages that were mostly sort of arranged by our families, that didn’t necessarily include love, that were about stability and fulfilling roles and public good,” Johnson said. “Today, we would not be able to sustain those, because our culture today is not about sustaining family for the public good. It’s about individual happiness.”