Aspects and reasons for family diversity in the UK



  • Marriage has declined since the 1970s.
  • A large proportion of marriages have been remarriages.
  • It is becoming a norm to have a series of marriages/long-term relationships in their lifetime - serial monogamy.



  • Marriages in 1940 - 470,549, marriages in 2012 - 262,240. (even though the population is bigger).
  • Remarriges in 1940 - 9%, remarriages in2012 - 34%. (more divorces rather than widowed).
  • Civil ceremonies in 2012 - 70%. (overtaking religious ceremonies).
  • People born in 1930 married by age 40 - Men: 90% Women: 94%.
  • People born in 1970 married by age 40 - Men: 63% Women: 71%.
  • Mean age for marriage in 1972 - Men: 28.8 years Women: 26.2 years.
  • Mean age for marriage in 2012 - 36.5 years Women 34.0 years.
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  • Evidence suggests that cohabitiation was not uncommon in past centuries, esp. in the lower class.
  • Since the 1970s, people cohabiting has increased.



  • People aged 16+ cohabiting in 1996 - 6.5% , in 2012 - 11.7%. (fastest-growing family type).
  • 39% cohabiting couples had dependent children, compared with 38% married children.
  • In 2012 there were 2,893,000 cohabiting heterosexual couples and 69,000 cohabiting homosexual.

Boujouan and Bhrolchain:

  • Cohabitation before marriage is the norm - 87% in 2004-7 and 30% 1980-4.
  • Couples tend to live together for longer prior marriage - 1980s >2yrs and 2004-7 around 4yrs.
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  • Used to be negative: 'old maid' 'spinster' (applied to older women).
  • Being single is seen as more glamourous within the media - Sex and the City, Friends etc.
  • Creative singlehoodchoosing to be single rather than not finding a partner.
  • Hall et al. - many single people found freedom in being solo and chose to focus on their careers rather than maintaining long-term relationships.
  • Heath - 'kippers' - young people who choose to live with their parents to save money after completing their education.
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Explanations of changing patterns of marriage and

Changing social attitudes

  • Up until 1960s, there was social pressure for most couples to marry before setting up a home together.
  • If pregnancy happened outside of marriage, the mother was expected to either marry the father or give the baby up for adoption.
  • Cohabitation or sex outside of marriage has become more socially acceptable.

Park et al.

  • In 1989, 71% agreed with the statement that "People who want to have children ought to get married", but in 2012 only 42% believed this.
  • In 2012,  75% believed that sex before marriage was 'rarely wrong' or 'not wrong at all'.
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Explanations of changing patterns of marriage and

The decline in family values

  • The New Right believe that there has been a weakening in traditional family values because of the declining popularity of marriage.
  • They believe that marriage is the basis of stable family life and alternatives like cohabitation are bad because they are more likely to break up.
  • Morgan argues that governements have not given enough support to marriage in terms of tax and the benefit system for couples bringing up children.
  • This means that a couple may not get married because they could get more benefits that way.
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Explanations of changing patterns of marriage and


  • Individuals are no longer bound by traditional social norms and loyalty to families.
  • They seek relationships and lifestyes that fulful their needs as individuals.
  • Many therefore seek alternatives to marriage - LATs, singlehood, cohabitation etc.
  • Giddens argues that in late modernity, there has been a transformation of intimacy:
    - individuals no longer seek the traditional view of romance that is assosiated with love.
    - there has been an influence on confluent love: where individuals enter more temporary and fragile intimat relationships.

Jamieson et al. 

  • Most cohabiting couples strongly stressed their committment.
  • Some cohabiting couples had a 'try-and-see' method which was not as committed.
  • Still saw marriage as 'good for the children'.
  • Sociologists suggested that the rise of cohabitiation does not represent a turning away from committment, but is simply an alternate choice than marriage.
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Explanations of changing patterns of marriage and

The changing role of women

  • Many feminists see marriage a patriarchal institution, as for centuries it meant the woman passing the control of her father to her husband.
  • Greer (radical feminist) sees the decline in marriage as a positive development because women are no longer accepting oppression by men.
  • Women now have mroe options because they are better educated and have more job opportunities.
  • Sharpe - in 1976 teen girl's priorities were love, marriage, husbands and children but in 1996 priorities were education, careers and financial independence from men.
  • There is still a search for 'finding Mr. Right'. - Langford found that many women feared being alone and wanted to be wanted.
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Explanations of changing patterns of marriage and

The continuing importance of marriage

  • Even though marriage is declining, it is still seen as important for many people.
  • People may be delaying marriage rather than rejecting it.
  • As women are becoming more work-centered, they might wait until they're in their 30s to think about marriage.
  • Many people who cohabit go on to marry.
  • In 2012, 1/3 of marriages were remarriages, meaning that the high levels of divorce have not stopped people from getting marriage again.
  • Families headed by married couples is still the most common family type, as 12.2 million were married-couple families.
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Marital breakdown and divorce

Types of marital breakdown

  • Divorce is the legal ending of a marriage.
  • A marriage can breakdown without resulting in divorce.
  • We can't know how many marriages in the past broke down, because it used to be very difficult to get a divorce.
  • Many unhappy married couples would have remained in 'empty shell' marriages, staying together for outward appearances.
  • Divorce has increased from the late 20th century, but people are more likely to stay married than get a divorce if their marriage breaks down.
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Trends in divorce

  • In 1960, there were 28,868 divorces in England and Wales.
  • In 1993, there were 165,018.
  • In 2012, there were 118,140.
  • 42% of current marriages will end in divorce.
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Divorce legislation in England and Wales

1857 Matrimonial Causes Act

  • Set up civil divorce courts with grounds of - adultery, cruelty and desertion.
  • Divorce was still frowned upon and was difficult for women to win.
  • Women didnt't gain the frounds of adultery until 1923.

1937 Matrimonial Causes Act

  • Extended the grounds to drunkeness and insanity.

1949 Legal Aid and Advice Act

  • This provided legal fees for those who could not afford them.

1969 Divorce Reform Act

  • Couples only had to show that their marriage had broke down and could not be fixed.
  • Couple had to be separated for at least two years.
  • Made divorce accessible to everyone.
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Divorce legislation in England and Wales

1984 Matrimonial Proceedings Act

  • Reduced the amount of time that a couple had to be married before they could petition for a divorce from three years to one year.

1996 Family Law Act

  • Decreased the amount of time a couple had to be married from 1 year to 18 months.
  • Introduced a 'period of reflection' with compulsory marriage counselling.
  • This was an attempt from the government to reduce couples applying for divorce.

2011 Practice DIrection 3A

  • Divorcing couples had to have a meeting with their solicitors where they attempt to resolve disputes before they were allowed to go to court.
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Explanations for changes in divorce

The law

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