Sociology�Family Unit�Marriageand Divorce

Notes on marriage and divorce for the Family Unit of AS Sociology

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Sociology ­ Richard
Emma Rudd BMA
Sociology ­ Family Unit ­ Marriage and Divorce
Most people argue that the family is in `crisis'. They point to the rapidly increasing divorce rate,
cohabitation, illegitimacy and number of single parent families.
What is happening to Marriage?
Marriage has increased in popularity, reaching a peak in 1971. Since then there has been a
significant decline in the number of marriages, from 459000 in 1971 to 250000 in 2001.
There is a decline in first marriages where neither partner has been married before. But there is a
growing number of remarriages, in which one or both partners have been divorced these
marriages constitute 15% of all marriages in 1971 and 40% in 1996.
The average age at which people first marry has steadily increased in recent decades. Since 1971
it has risen from 24 to 30 for men and from 22 to 28 for women. By 1998 there were relatively few
young people who were married. Of those under the age of 24 just 3% of men and 7% of women
were married. More than one third of all 18 ­ 49 year old women are now single.
Is Marriage still the Norm?
Despite all the arguments about the decline of marriage, it continues to be the case that most
people in Britain grow up and form a nuclear family for part of their adult life. Most couples who get
married or have stable cohabitation relationships have children.
The family unit is still mainly one in which children are brought up by two `parents'. The majority
(71%) of young people live in families headed by a couple. Just less than a quarter (24%) live in
single parent households. The majority of loneparent families (90%) are headed by women, and
the major reason is separation or divorce from the male partner, although some women are single
or widowed.
Cohabitation is most likely to be found among those aged 25 ­ 34 years. Over one in five (22%) in
this age group currently cohabit. The majority (59%) of those who live together subsequently go on
to marry that partner.
In some respects marriage is more popular because people marry more often. The percentage of
remarriage has risen from 14% in 1961 to 40% in 1996.
Cohabitation
Living together as a couple is no longer seen as `living in sin'. Increasingly the idea of cohabiting is
being viewed as respectable. Two thirds (67%) of the British public now regard cohabitation as
acceptable, even when the couple have no intention in getting married.
The idea that people should get married if they have children is also fading away. In 1989, 7 in 10
people held this view. By 2001 the proportion had fallen to just over half (54%). Nor is there much
support these days for the belief that married couples make better parents ­ only 1 in 4 (27%) think
this is the case.
Marriage Patterns for AfricanCaribbean's and Asians
Research carried out at Essex University in 2000 indicates that only 39% of Britishborn
AfricanCaribbean adults under the age of 60 are in a formal marriage compared with 60% of white
adults. Moreover this group is more likely than any other group to intermarry. The number of
mixedrace partnerships means that very few AfricanCaribbean men and women are married to
each other. Only one quarter of Caribbean children live with two black parents.
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Sociology ­ Richard
Emma Rudd BMA
There is also a tradition of women living independently from their children's father in the
AfricanCaribbean community. This could be partly explained historically, from the days of slavery,
when husbands and wives were sold to separate plantations. But Wilson (1987) argues that a black
woman may be reluctant to marry (or live with) a man whose chances of getting / keeping a job are
low and make him an unreliable source of income for themselves and their children.…read more

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Sociology ­ Richard
Emma Rudd BMA
Changes in legislation which have made divorce easier but also social changes in which the law
reflect are seen as the main causes of the increase in divorce rates.
Have Women Broken up the Family?
The position of women has changed in a number of ways, such as the wife does not have to put up
with an unsatisfactory marriage they are not expected to be socially subservient to their husbands.…read more

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Sociology ­ Richard
Emma Rudd BMA
Sociology ­ Family Unit ­ Births and The Ageing Population
Births
One of the strongest trends has been the rise in illegitimacy. Illegitimacy rates are rising, as more
people have children without being married. Some of the stigma associated with illegitimacy no
longer exists. This is countered by the New Right's assault on unmarried mothers, who have been
the scapegoat to a certain extent by the media who blame them for the modern failings of society.…read more

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