Families and Households - Marital Breakdown

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Divorce is a major cause of changing family patterns and greater family diversity.
Changing patterns of divorce
Since the 1960s, there has been a greater increase in the number of divorces in the UK.
About 7 out of every 10 applications for divorce now come from women. This is a sharp
contrast to the situation in the past. For example, in 1946 only 37% of petitions came from
women ­ barely half todays figure.
Some couples are more likely than others to divorce. Couples whose marriages are at
greatest risk include those who marry young, have a child before they marry or cohabit
before marriage and those where one or both partners have been married before.
Explanations for the increase in divorce
sociologist have identified the following reasons for the increase in divorce:
1. Changes in the law
Gradual, changes in the law have made divorce easier. There have been 3 kinds of changes in
the law:
Equalising the grounds for divorce between the sexes.
Widening the grounds of divorce.

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Making divorce cheaper.
When the grounds were equalised for men and women in 1923, this was followed by a sharp
rise in the number of divorce applications by women.
However The Divorce Reform Act of 1971 was the most significant, because before one
partner had to `prove' that they had been wronged by the other, but after the act,
matrimonial offences were replaced with the `irretrievable breakdown of marriage'.…read more

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Many sociologists argue that religious institutions and ideas are losing their influence and
society is becoming more secular.
Goode (1971) argues that the change in attitude towards divorce is part of secularization
which is a decline in religious belief. He believes secularization is mainly in western societies
and shows more people will get divorce, as religious values have less influence in our lives in
today's modern society.
4.…read more

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These developments mean that women are more likely to be able to support themselves in the
event of divorce.
Many feminist also argue the fact that women are now wage earners as well as homemakers has
itself created a new source of conflict between husbands and wives and this is leading to more
Radical feminist such as Bernard (1976) observes that many women feel a growing dissatisfaction
with patriarchal marriage.…read more

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There have been a number of important changes in the pattern of marriage in recent years:
Fewer people are marrying, marriage rates are at their lowest since the 1920s.
However there are more re-marriages. In 2005, 4 out of every 10 marriages were
re-marriages. For many people, this is leading to `serial monogamy'. (a pattern of
marriage ­ divorce ­ re ­marriages)
People are marrying later.
Couples were less likely to marry in church.…read more

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Many churches refuse to marry divorcees. Divorcees may also have less desire to
marry in church.
However, despite a fall in the numbers marrying for the first time, the institution
of marriage remains popular.
Cohabitation involves an unmarried couple in a sexual relationship living together. As
marriage has declined cohabitation has increased
Reasons for the increase in cohabitation
Increased cohabitation, rates reflect the decline in stigma attached to sex outside
marriage.…read more

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For some people cohabitation can be a temporary phase, as one or both partners
could be awaiting a divorce.
However Kiernan (2007) argues that it is difficult to generalize cohabiting couples.
Due to the fact that it can include couples who are about to marry and couples who
are testing the strength of their marriage. These types of cohabitation have become
socially acceptable in the last 10 years.…read more

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The decline in the numbers marrying, and the trend towards people marrying larger, mean
that more people are remaining single.
Many of these are living alone. Stein (1976) argues that a growing number of people are
opting for `creative singlehood'-the deliberate choice to live alone.
However, while many of these choose to remain single and live alone, some are alone
because there are too few partners available in their age group.…read more

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The later age at which women are having children, smaller family sizes and the fact
that more women are remaining childless, all reflect the fact that women now have
more options than just motherhood.
Lone parent families
Lone parent families now make up 24% of all families. One child in four lives in a lone-parent
Over 90% of these families are headed by lone mothers.…read more

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Stepfamilies account for over 10% of all families with dependent children in Britain.
Ferri and Smith (1998) found that stepfamilies are very similar to first families in all
major respects and the involvement of stepparents in childcare and childbearing is a
positive one.
Allan and Crow (2001), stepfamilies may face particular problems of divided loyalties
and issues such as contact with the non-resident parents can cause tensions.…read more


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