Brazil and Italy Divorce Comparison Sociology Essay

The main focus of this research is on the study of the dynamics of the divorce problem in Italy and Brazil. This study includes comparison of data associated with divorce issue, factors that contribute to divorce, and governmental efforts to solve the divorce problem. To have deep understanding of the topic, scholarly sources have been used, for example, “Marriage and Divorce: Changes and their Driving Forces” by Stevenson and Wolfers, “Socio-Economic and Cultural Correlates of Cohabitation in Brazil” by Covre-Sussai and Matthijs, “Legislative Changes and their Impact on Divorce, Separation and Marriage Rates in Brazil” Maristrello Porto and Butelli, and other works.

The research presents the effects of legalization of divorce and describes the factors that account for divorce rate. Historical and cultural developments, rise of globalism, and introduction of new technology may lead to changes in people’s judgment, causing them to reconsider their choices concerning family life. The research also describes the role of the Roman Catholic Church in restricting divorce progression. Due to the significant influence of the Church in Italian and Brazilian societies it was possible to delay the legalization of divorce for a considerable period of time.

Divorce in Brazil and in Italy

For a long time family was regarded by many nations in the West as a very important social institution. Today, family has become a subject of controversy and discussion. Many researchers have raised questions about the functions of the family units in terms of husband-wife-children relationships. It became common to see women going outside the home to take income producing jobs rather than staying home with children. Many couples live together without a formality of marriage, and those who are legally married tend to separate or divorce.

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Italy and Brazil are not the exception in this matter. In these countries husbands and wives often share their responsibilities in domestic spheres and the market. Rearing their children is also included in those responsibilities. Gary Becker, in his Treatise on the Family explained this phenomenon and described it in terms of “production complementarities”. He also identified some reasons for this change: the emergence of new technology that can save labor in the home, availability of birth control and easy access to abortion (Stevenson & Wolfers, 2007). All these forces made a significant contribution to a high divorce rate in many countries, including Italy and Brazil.

Italy and Brazil have been selected for this research to learn the dynamics of the marriage failure in a deeper way. Such an approach will consider more cultural and social variables that can influence the divorce rate. Italy and Brazil are situated in different geographic regions and have different historical development. While Italy’s population is more homogenous, Brazil is an ethnically diverse country with 50% of mixed races, 42% of white people and 6.5% descendants from Africa (Covre-Sussai & Matthijs, n.d., p. 6). The religious influence in both countries has been considerable for centuries. The dominance of the Roman Catholic Church significantly influenced Italy and Brazil.

As it was mentioned before, family is a very important social institution. Families are not standing in opposition to the rest of the society as some people think. The truth is that the family units affect the values and structure of the whole society. Both, in Italy and Brazil, these units are the product of particular historical and social circumstances. They are intricately interconnected to other features in social infrastructure. For this reason, the problem of divorce should be a great concern to Italy and Brazil.

This research will compare the dynamics of the divorce problem in Italy and Brazil. It will also discuss the initiatives of the governments of both countries to solve this problem.

Magnitude of the Problem

Italy was one of the countries that held the traditional view concerning marriage, and did not accept the legalization of divorce for a long time. In 1970 a divorce law was passed in Italian parliament. Mark Seymour in his book Debating Divorce in Italy (2006) made the following comment on this event, “after several deputies had collapsed from exhaustion, a parliamentary vote of 319 for divorce, and 286 against, made Italian history: The Nation now had a divorce law” (p. 211). But only in 1974 when the divorce referendum on this matter was held the Italian public voted for its legalization. Since then the divorce rate began to increase. In 1960s, before the divorce law was passed the divorce rate in Italy was zero. The research of Gonzalez and Viitanen (2006) showed the dynamics of the divorce rate in Figure 1 while comparing the rates in other European countries (p. 24). Immediately, after the passing the law the rise in divorce rate occurred. It reached about 0.7 per 1000 population. In 1974 the rate began to decrease and it was at approximately 0.3 for more than a decade. However, in the late 1980s the divorce rate almost doubled. This phenomenon can be explained by the amendment of the divorce law passed in 1987. It made provisions for shortening the divorce process and allowed only 3 years of legal separation. Before the divorce process could last 5 or 6 years. Since the amendment was provided the divorce rate had been gradually rising and in 2008 it reached 1.3 per 1000 population (The United States Census Bureau, n.d.).

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In 2011, the Italian National Institute of Statistics gave more detailed information on separations and divorces in Italy. According to their data, “In 2011 separations were 88,797 and divorces 53,806; compared to the previous year a substantial stability is observed (+0.7% and -0.7%)” (Istat, n.d.). Total rates of separation and divorce indicate the rise of these phenomena. For example, in 1995 the numbers of separations and divorces for 1000 marriages were 158 and 80 respectively. In 2011 these numbers grew to 311 and 182.

Recently the Italian Government has introduced another amendment that simplified the divorce process. The 3 years term of legal separation that had been required by the law, was reduced to 6 months. This initiative will probably contribute to the further growth of divorce rate.

The historical development of divorce legalization in Brazil was similar to Italian. The Brazilian society was not willing to accept the divorce law for a long time. This phenomenon was attributed to the influence of Christianity represented by the Roman Catholic Church. Only in 1977 the divorce law became legal. In the 1960s and the early 1970s the divorce rate was zero, the same indicator as in Italy before the introduction of the divorce legalization. But since 1980 this dynamic has changed. The researchers Maira Covre-Sussai and Koen Matthijs, in their project on cohabitation in Brazil discussed the marriage trends. Their research covered different regions of Brazil inhabited by various ethnic groups. The graphs 1 and 2 show the dynamics of marriage and divorce rate in the period from 1980 to 2007 (Covre-Sussai & Matthijs, n.d., p. 7). It is remarkable that soon after the introduction of divorce law marriage rate dropped by 4 – 6 marriages per 1000 adults in different regions during the next decade. Then the marriage rate stabilized. However, it never came back to the initial point. The divorce rate has shown an ongoing growth in all regions of Brazil since 1980. In the North this rate grew from 0.1 to 0.8 per 1000 adults in the period from 1980 to 2006. In the Central West the divorce rate rose 4 times within the same period. To be precise, if in 1980 the rate was approximately at 0.5, in 2006 it reached 2.00 per 1000 adults. It is also necessary to say that the initial rate 0.5 was more predominant in the Brazilian society.

The Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (2012) published average data on this issue.

According to their data the divorce rate rose from 0.5 to 1.4 per 1000 adults from 1980 to 2006. But then, the graph showed a rapid growth from 1.4 to 2.6 per 1000 adults from 2009 to 2011. The Civil Registry 2011 revealed an astonishing fact: divorce rate rose to 45.6% in only one year. The Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (2012) put it in more detailed way,
The number of divorces in Brazil reached 351,153 in 2011, with increase of 45.6% over 2010 (243,224). As a result, the divorce rate reached its highest level since 1984 (2.6 divorces per 1000 inhabitants aged 15 and over), even more than in the previous year (1.8%).

It is remarkable that the rapid growth of divorce rate occurred after the Brazilian Government provided the 66th amendment to the constitution. According to the new legislation a year period of separation was not necessary to be divorced any more. This event took place in 2010, just in the period when the rapid rise of the divorce rate occurred. Considering the fact that Italian Government has recently introduced an amendment that reduced a period of separation, a prediction can be made that Italy will soon experience a new rise of divorce rate.

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To have a full picture of the magnitude of divorce problem it is necessary to research structural factors that may count for it. The major factor that influenced marriage and family was globalization. Both, Italy and Brazil have been affected by the globalization process to a different degree though. Since 1960s many countries, particularly in Europe, have experienced the second demographic transition. In their research on socio-economics and cohabitation, Maira Covre-Sussai & Koen Matthijs put it in the following way, “Secularization, privatization, individualization and urbanization seemed to contribute to the shifts from collective to individual behavior” (n.d., p. 9). These factors influenced human mind: people began to acquire critical thinking and evaluate current social and economic conditions. New motivations in social consciousness have been formed, such as equality, freedom and self-fulfillment. As a result, people began utilizing these ideas and standards as they forged their families. Therefore, the growth of divorce rate, decline in fertility, cohabitation and economic autonomy of women are directly related to the 2nd demographic transition. In the social background there were changes, such as abandonment of previous traditions, beliefs and values. Under the influence of these changes couples began to consider new options in their life. For example, they may take the decisions related to legal marriage, living with a spouse and having children (Covre-Sussai & Matthijs, n.d.).

All these changes have affected people both, in Italy and Brazil. Today Italian people have been experiencing tougher demands in the course of their life. They can also have more opportunities for self-fulfillment. As a result their lifestyle is now very hectic. Both, men and women are professional and are capable of doing different jobs. But their busy life often prevents them from paying attention to emotional needs of each other and from showing care to their children. Therefore, the lack of affection led to relational problems and caused a separation and divorce. The upper middle class in Brazil has been experiencing similar relational problems, but since this social class is not large, Brazilians deal with these problems at a lesser scale than Italians. Unlike Italy, Brazil has never been the state with sufficient welfare that could provide all the necessary needs and proper education to people from all social classes. It is well known that poverty and low education do not encourage people to get married. For this reason many Brazilian people cohabit instead of getting married. Poverty and low education may also contribute to divorce rate in Brazil (Covre-Sussai & Matthijs, n.d.).

Coming back to globalization impact on family it is important to note the role of new technology in divorce rate growing. The emergence of Internet and development of cell phones pushed the boundaries and allowed people quick and easy access to communication with each other. Social services gave more opportunities for connection with friends or making friendship. All these factors contribute to relational problems within the family unit significantly. For example, in Italy many young people tend to use the instant messaging service. The service allows people to send free messages via smartphones. Such a service often tempts Italians to converse with the opposite sex. These affairs via smartphone may result in divorce.

In Brazil the society is poorer, and is affected by the social services via smartphones at a lesser level. However, the Internet is now available for many Brazilians and it gives them an opportunity to connect with the opposite sex in the Internet cafés.

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It is also important to mention some historical developments in Brazil that influenced the attitude to the family in the country. Back in the 18th century, when the Catholic Church had control over marriage the slaves were not allowed to be married. The only option they had was to have informal unions. Portuguese colonizers who came to Brazil without their wives also chose informal unions taking indigenous women. Thus family organization in Brazil had a particular history that laid the foundation for interracial and patriarchal relationship (Covre-Sussai & Matthijs, n.d.). However, in the modern Brazilian society authoritarian attitudes are tolerated less and they may lead to divorce.

To complete the research on the magnitude of divorce problems it is important to mention one more reason that often cause divorce in Italy. The Italian family has a special tradition that is characterized by the close relationship and strong emotional ties between mother and her son (Straussner, 2001, p. 6). Thus when the son gets married these ties often interfere with his marriage relationships. Mother views her son’s spouse as a rival. She often visits the couple’s household and attempts to replace her son’s wife doing things in the house. These mother’s initiatives often cause conflicts between spouses, and ultimately lead to separation and divorce.

Efforts to Reduce the Problem of Divorce

It may sound surprising to the contemporary Italians but the Italian Parliament made great effort to prevent divorce problem. Their struggle against legalization of divorce had been going since 1860 until the popular referendum that took place in 1974. A lot of research on this matter has been done by Mark Seymour in his book Debating Divorce in Italy (2006). He did a very good job studying the efforts of Italian Parliament to prevent divorce law. During the period of 1860 – 1870 the divorce proposal was not included in the 1865 Civil Code. The proposal was not introduced during the period of the Historic Right either. Until 1901, all the attempts of divorce proposal were futile owing to deliberative procedures in the parliaments. Though some representatives kept introducing proposals for divorce they were always declined or postponed. After 1901, any initiative to allow divorce could not even pass the initial stages of the review in the Italian Parliament. Many historians tried to understand why so many divorce initiatives failed to pass. The historian Ernest Ialongo (2008) from CUNY Graduate Center, gave the answer in his review.

Because the Church, through its Opera dei congressi, had successfully mobilized public opinion and parliament against divorce. Starting with the divorce proposal of 1881, the Opera began sending out petitions to parishes throughout the country that were then signed and forwarded to parliament.

There was not any other non-governmental establishment that could contribute so much to preservation of the family institution. Secular organizations , were not usually interested in sacredness of the family and moral values. Secular Italian government and non-governmental organizations, such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank invested their funds into the economy system or social projects. But the measures on improvement of living standards were not sufficient to protect the family units. It was necessary to protect and cultivate moral values. The Church showed its concern when the morality was questioned by some representatives of the Italian society. Eventually, it managed to delay the introduction of divorce law and the gradual destruction of the family institution in Italy.

In the 1960s the Italian nation was influenced by the secularization process that started in the Western societies. Secularization of the Italian state, the weakened influence of the Vatican in the Italian communities and the triumph of individual freedoms over religious and social traditions led to the legalization of divorce. As the result of this triumph, in 1970 the divorce law was passed. Four years later, public referendum supported the decision concerning the divorce matter made by the Italian Parliament.

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In Brazil the Catholic Church had a strong influence too. It managed to delay the introduction of divorce until 1977, seven years longer than in Italy. When the divorce law was introduced several amendments were issued that accelerated the divorce process.

The Brazilian governments tried to reduce the divorce problem by the implementation of laws that prevented divorce. The evolution of laws that supported divorce began in 1916 when the Civil Code allowed marital unions to be dissolved after the death of the spouse. Litigious judicial separation was also possible. The law had specific requirements for judicial separation: mutual consent and willingness to be married for another 2 years. According to the research of Porto and Butelli (n.d.)

In litigious judicial separation at least one of these must have occurred: adultery, insult, homicide attempt, or voluntary marital abandonment. However, even after judicial separation was granted, the marital bond was kept, impeding new marriages from both individuals. (p. 6)

In 1977, the law 6.515 and the Amendment to the country’s Constitution n.9 allowed the dissolution of marriage but at the same time impeded new marriages. The new legislation also made a provision for prior separation that could take more than 3 years. However, a few months later there emerged the Divorce Act. This legal document provided not only separation but indirect divorce.

In 1989 there the Law 1.841 was issued. It provided more freedom for those who decided to divorce: divorced individuals were allowed to remarry. As a result, successive divorces became possible.

The Civil Code issued in 2002 modified the divorce process in Brazil. Marriage dissolution was provided in 2 ways: through judicial separation and divorce.

In 2007 Law 11.441 was issued. It allowed the consensual divorce to be granted in the civil registry. Thus, divorce, separation and dividing the assets became possible whenever the spouses made agreements on its terms. As a result it became much easier to get divorced than before.

Ultimately, Brazilian governments failed to reduce divorce problem. Non-governmental institutions, such as the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund, managed to assist the Brazilian society with reducing their social problem. Like in Italy, the finances were spent on economy system and some social projects, but not on preserving family values. Over time the divorce rate rose significantly, and statistics showed no evidence that the problem would be successfully dealt.

It is really difficult to predict what the divorce problem in both countries will look like in 10 years as there are many factors that can influence the dynamics of this matter. For example, the introduction of new laws that simplify divorce process can trigger a new rise of divorce rate. The introduction of new technology will also affect the family institution and may contribute to divorce rate. Considering the reduction of the Church’s influence and the willingness of Italian and Brazilian governments to provide new laws encouraging divorce, this problem will only get worse over the next 10 years.

The majority of population in Italy and Brazil had been family oriented before the divorce was legalized. Thus, legal restrictions on divorce helped to preserve families. The dominance of the Roman Catholic Church also served as a positive factor. The Church influenced both, society and government ensuring moral values in Italy and Brazil. It appears that specific historical developments, globalization process and the introduction of new technology may affect the family unit in a negative way. However, if legal restrictions and the Church’s influence remained it would be possible to avoid the rise of divorce rate and preserve family institution.