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Divorce and Desertion

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DIVORCE AND DESERTION Disease and crime and bad habits are abnormali ties which even in their milder forms interfere with normal home life. They may go so far as to de stroy it altogether, or at least to mutilate it by re moving one or the other or both of the heads of the family, leaving the remnant to go on but haltingly if it keeps together at all. Disease may result in premature death. Insanity or crime may leave wife or husband worse than widowed.

Family bonds may be broken by the abrogation of responsibility, through divorce or its informal substitute, desertion. Divorce is increasing rap idly in the United States, and so steadily, over the forty years for which records have been studied by the Census Bureau, that what is called by a sort of grim humor a "normal rate of increase" for a five-year period has been computed. It is an in crease of thirty per cent over each preceding five years, and that is much faster than the population is increasing. The real significance of these figures is revealed when we learn that of every thousand marriages in existence in x88o, two were dissolved during that year by divorce; in 1890 there were three; in 19oo, four. This is a far higher rate than is found in any foreign country for which data are available, with the single exception of Japan. Hard times is the only influence which has a visible effect in checking this tendency. After each of the financial panics or industrial depressions the in crease was retarded or cut off entirely for a year or two, though it leaped ahead faster than ever after prosperity had been restored. This may be due partly to the sensitive response of the marriage rate to unfavorable economic conditions, resulting in fewer new marriages and consequently fewer opportunities for divorce than there would have been under normal conditions. It suggests also,

however, that considerations of economy may have had a bearing in postponing the necessity for main taining two establishments in place of one; and further, that the pressure of economic problems may operate to put in the background the indul gence of emotion and trivial personal grievances.

In so far as this increase in divorce is merely a writing into the official records of transactions which formerly were carried on without reference to laws or conventional standards, as is probably true of large parts of the Negro population, it is not an unhealthy symptom. In so far as it repre sents open, frank adjustment of relations which under harsher laws would have been adjusted sub rosa, it may not be undesirable. In so far, however, as it is due to a light assumption, and an equally light repudiation, of family responsibility, it repre sents, as does desertion, its substitute in classes of society with less regard for conventions in such matters, a grave menace to normal home life. Of the two, desertion is probably the graver problem, because of the evasion of financial responsibility which its informality favors. Efforts should not be spared—intelligent, resourceful efforts, including any necessary expenditure of money—to find de serting husbands and fathers and exact of them to )1 the utmost the fulfillment of their obligations. A desertion bureau is coming to be as necessary as a marriage license bureau. The principal safe guard, however, against this danger which threat ens the home lies not in laws or courts but in that t fundamental education, that direction of character in youth, to which we have had so many occasions to refer that it may seem a monotonous refrain.