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The Social Construction of the Divorce “Problem”: Morality, Child Victims, and the Politics of Gender


*Department of Sociology, University of California—Riverside, Riverside, CA 92521 (


Although divorce rates have been stable or dropping for two decades, Americans seem anxious about the state of marriage. Drawing on the sociology of knowledge and a social constructionist approach to the study of social problems, we examine reasons for this collective anxiety, documenting how the divorce “problem” has been framed by organizations promoting conservative family values. We examine the history of divorce and identify social contexts associated with cyclical claims that divorce reflects a breakdown of the moral order. In the contemporary context, we examine how social science experts are used to portray children as victims of divorce and how such images legitimate the political objectives of specific interest groups and mask underlying issues of gender inequality.