Thirty years ago educated women were at the forefront of feminist demands for liberal divorce laws. Now, however, new research from the United States has found their attitudes have been transformed.
According to the researchers, women with university degrees are the social group most likely to believe divorce should be made more difficult.
At the opposite end of the social spectrum, conservative views towards marriage that prevailed in the 1970s have softened and it is now the least educated members of society who are most likely to have liberal attitudes to divorce.
Researchers believe the change may have come about because many witnessed the damage caused by divorce in their parents' generation.
The belief of graduate women that divorce should be made more difficult may also be influenced by a perception that family breakdown among poor families is to blame for much of the growth in crime and yobbish behaviour.
The polarization suggested by the findings was predicted 11 years ago by the sociologist Charles Murray.
He called the phenomenon "New Victorians and New Rabble," meaning that one part of society, affluent and well-educated, "will edge back towards traditional morality while a large portion of what used to be the British working class goes the way of the American underclass."
Steven Martin, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Maryland, who led the new study, said: "Highly educated women in the 1970s were the most likely to say divorce should be made easier. They now say divorce should be made more difficult. Women who had not completed high school education have moved from being essentially neutral to having the least restrictive attitudes toward divorce."
Experts believe the situation is likely to be similar in Britain, where divorce rates have quadrupled since 1970 and about 40 of marriages break up.
London divorce lawyer Vanessa Lloyd-Platt, who has been practising for 30 years, said there was increasing social pressure for women to have successful personal lives.
"There used to be a stigma but women's lib said, 'Be free, you don't need a man. Let's get a divorce.' But very slowly there's been this move towards women staying at home, women looking after the children and all these women are giving up work," she said.
Chris Lovelock, 38, who lives in Southfields, southwest London, with her husband Julian and young son and daughter, said she detected increasingly conservative attitudes to marriage among her age group.
"It (divorce) used to be acceptable because you get to a certain point in your life when things get harder and people just give up on the marriage," said Lovelock, a former IT consultant who now stays at home to look after the children.
"People try harder now, because it seems giving up is copping out. Just because you don't see eye to eye for a bit doesn't mean you should just give up."
The new attitudes to divorce were drawn from an annual survey which since 1970 has questioned samples of 5,000 women aged 25-39. Respondents were asked if divorce should be made easier, more difficult or left the same.
Source: China Daily