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US Marriages and Divorce Clash with Other Cultures

US Marriage and Divorce Clash with Values of Other Cultures


This is a part of the series, “New American Stories” produced by Erika Lorentzsen. At 50 percent, the United States has the highest rate of divorce in the world. As immigrants adjust to new life in America, they must also adapt to how marriage is viewed here verses back home. Some may hold onto ancestral traditions.


According to the last census, half of all marriages in the United States end in divorce, and in North Dakota 37 percent. What marriage may mean for a New American Muslim or Latino might be different from someone who hasn’t lived here all their lives. Shamsi Sheikhuna is from Somalia.


Where I guess where I’m from marriage is one of the biggest and not just Somalia, but also a Muslim girl. Marriage is like half your religion, which is very, very important. We take marriage extremely important. Unlike in the US, People get married and divorced way too quickly. Then after the divorce it becomes money problem or custody problem.     


Edwin Aybar from Puerto Rico says there’s a double standard when it comes to women, especially in terms of divorce in Latin American countries. Divorce is, also, more difficult, because of the extended family.


Oh yes I’ve found that in cultures that have more of a communal sense to them, when you hear family it’s more the nuclear family. It means grandparents, cousin, nephews, everybody. Divorce is a little bit more difficult than here in the US. One, more people are affected and two, more people are involved in the relationship; it becomes a little bit more difficult. It’s not as commonplace and not as a socially acceptable.  A woman who gets divorced here can start dating right away. Especially for the women, unfortunately, the women who gets divorced is going to be shunned a little bit more.

Erika –

About half of the households in North Dakota are married couples. Still, what might explain the delay of marriage could be urbanization? Joy Sather Wagstaff is an assistant professor of anthropology at NDSU. She says some of it might have to do with individualism.


A really big distinction between most Western countries and the rest of the world is literally our ideas about the self or individual. In the US and Europe, we’re very oriented to think about the world as ourselves as independent people, even though we are enmeshed in these webs of family, friends and community. In many other countries you have a cultural value where the individual is far less important than the collective. People do not act, think, feel and behave with the individual self at the forefront; rather they act and engage within the best interest of the collective. And often the basis of that are the family and then larger kinship units and then community.


Immigrants see American customs through the lens of their culture. Learning how to live in a new community where they are seen as individuals can be a huge cultural shift. This is Erika Lorentzsen for Prairie Public.


In our next report, being nice can be misinterpreted from one culture to the next. Midwestern nice might not seem natural to someone coming from Europe. Hugging might not be done in some cultures as a greeting. This series was made possible by the support of the Humanities Council and FM Area Foundation.

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