Changing Patterns and Family Diversity


40% of marriges end in dirvorse

6 x more likely than 50 years ago

Reasons for this

  • Legal changes 
  • Less stigma
  • Secularisation
  • Higher expectations of marriage
  • Womens financial independance 
  • Feminsit explanations
  • Moderninity and individualisation
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Legal changes

19th century divorse was amost impossible

20th century legal changes made divorse easier

1969 = irretrivable breakdown 

cheaper divorse

1949 = legal aid 

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Less stigma

Stigma = negative label 

In the past divorse was stigmatised

Most churches condemned it 

since 1960s stigma declined

Made divorse more acceptable

Couples more willing to divorse

Because divorse is more common, this normalises it reducing the stigma futher 

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Secularisation = decline in the influence of seligion on society 

Wilson = religious institutions and ideas are losing influence


church attendance 


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Higher expectations of marriage

Functionalists such as flecture 1966 = higher expectations of marriage today are leading to higher divorse rates

Linked to the ideology of romantic love

Marrige is now based fully on love and not economic factors

if love dies there is no reason to stay together

In the past family = unit of production = marriages took place for economic reasons

People then had lower expectations and were not dissatified by the absence of love = divorse less common

Functionalists = optomistic 

They argue a high rate of re- marriages shows divorcees havent rejected marriage

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Womens financial independance

More women are now in paied work

Lone parent welfare benifits are avalibe

Makes women less economicaly dependent on their husbands

More likely to afford divorse 

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Feminists explanations

Women becoming wage earners creates a new source of marital conflict

Women are increasingly likely to be treated equally at work

However at home expected to perform a tripple shift 

The awareness of patriarchal opression at home could divorse and also explain why 70% of divorse petitions come from women 

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Moderninity and Individualisation

Beck and Gidson 1992 argue that in late modernty tranditional norms to stay with the same partner for life lose hold.

Results in divorse as more unwilling to stay married if marraige fails to fulfill personal fullfillment

Moderninity encourages both sxes to pursue their career ambitions and to adopt a fre market, consumerist identity based on self intrest

Causes conflic of intrest that pull couples apart 

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Fewer first marriages because...

  • changes in attitudes = less pressure to marry
  • Alternatives =  Such as cohabition are less stigmatised
  • Womens economical independance = Freedom not to marry 
  • Impact of feminism = Some women see marriage as a patriarchal institution
  • Rising divorse rates = may pu some off marrying 

Other marriage trends...

  • More re- marriage = Rise in serial monogamy
  • later marriages = Young spend longer in educationand cohabit first
  • Fewer church weddings = Due to secularisation and some churches not marrying divorcees 
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1.5 m couples in england and wales cohabit.

Due to less stigma about sex before marriage

And women not needing financail security of men

Cohabition could be...

Trial marriage - cohabitation before marriage - now the norm

An aternative to marriage - Couples who see marriage as patriarchal may opt for cohabitation as a more equal relationship

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Same sex marriage and relationships

Now a greater acceptance of same sex couples

Legal policies and equality of same sex couples 

Weeks1999- lead to stronger relationships within same sex couples 

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Over half of children are not bing born outside of marriages

5x more than in 1971

Main reason for this is th increase in cohabitiion

Most births are registered by both parents 

Women are having children later 

More are remaining childless or having fewer children

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Lone parent families

Account for 1/4 of families

3x more than 1970s

Due to increased divorce and less stigma 

New right blame genourus welfare benifits for ecouraging the increase and creating a dependancy culture

Over 90% of lone parent failies are female headed

Due to the fact women are suited to the expressive role

Courts giving mothers custody 

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Reconstituated or step families

Increasing due to divorce and re- marriage rate

Now account for 8% of families with children

Most likely children from the mothers previous marriage

High at risk of poverty as they have more children and may also support children from previos relationships

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Ethnic diffrences in parenting

More black lone parents 

  • 49% of families , 23% white and 11% Asian
  • May be the legacy of slavery
  • Result of high male unemployment 
  • Black women valueing independence more highly 

Larger Asian Households

  • Due to cultural importance of extended family and ned for support when migrating
  • Most asian households are nuclar
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The extended family today

Functionalists  = in modern society the nuclear family replaces the extended family 

Willmott 1988 = Found that it still exists as a dispersed extended family. where relaives remain frequent contact

The bean pole family = extended vertically through 3 generations but not horrizontaly 

  • doesnt contain cousins
  • aunts

Partly the result of increased life expectancy and smaller familiy sizes 

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Obligations to relatives

Most peope still feel obligation to their wider extended kin

Finch and Mason 1993 found that half their sample had carerd for a sick relative 

Reciprocy (balance) is important , people feel that help recived should be returned

More is expected of daughters than of sons

Extended family performs important funcions eg finanicaly and domestiicaly

However this is diffrent from parsons extended family whose members lived together and were bound by strong mutual obligations 

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Perspctives on family diversity

Changing family patterns are leading to more family diversity

A wider range of family types rather than a dominance of nuclear families

Diffrent perspectives on the extent and importnace of family diversity

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Functionalism and The new right


Modernist sociological perspective

sees the conventional nuclear family with a division of labour based on biological diffrences between the husbands instrumental role and the wifes expressive role as uniqulely suited to the needs of modern industrial society and of family members

The new right

More political than sociological 

Has had a considerable influence on government policies 

Takes conservative viw of the family and opposes diversity 

It sees the conventional nuclear family as the only normal and natural one

Other family types are seen as unnatural and producing socail problems

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Chester the neo- conventional family

Chester 1985

increased diversity but  the nuclear family will remain dominan

Only important change has been from ...

  • The conventional family , with the male bread winner                          To the ...
  • Neo conventional family = both spouses work

Nuclear family remains th norm that most aspire to be

Cohabition has increased but is temporary phase

Most not in nuclear families have been or will be at one stage

Statistics on household compositions are just a snapshot so they dont show these changes in individuas life cycles 

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The rapoports 5 types of diversity

Rapoport and rapoport 1982

Disagree with chester 

They see diversity as central to the family today

Unlike the new right, they see diveristy as meeting peoples needs not causing family decline

Five types of diversity...

  • Organisational - joint or segregaed conjugal roles
  • Cultural - ethnic groups have diffrent family strucutres 
  • Class - diffrences in child rearing practices
  • Life cycle- diffrences eg pensioner couples, parents with young children
  • Generational diffrences - attitudes to cohabition
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Postmodernism and family diversity

In post modern society there is a high level of family diversity

Postmodernists see this due to greater individualism and choice 

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The individualisation thesis

These ideas have influenced he individualisation thesis of giddens and beck who claim that individual self intrest now governs our actions

In the past peoples lives were defined by traditional gender and family structures with fixed roles that prevented them from choosing own life course. Expected to marry and play conventional gender roles in a traditional patriarchal family

Today The patriarchal family has been undermined by individualism. Disembedded from traditional family structures leaving us free to chose how we want to live our lives.Gidden argus one reason for this is gender equality

Gidden argues that these changes have been brought about the pure relationship rather than a relationship defined by law and tradtion

The negotiated family Beck argues that equality and individualism have crated the neotiated family whcih is not fixed but varied according to its members wishes. More equal than patriarchal families , less stable as focuses on the needs of individual rather than family

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The connectdness thesis

From a personal life perspective

Smart 2007

Alternative to individualisation theisis

  • Traditional patriarchal norms and structured inequalites limit peoples choices about relationships and families.
  • We are not disembedded individuals. Make decisions about relationships within a social context or web of connectedness. Challanges pur relationships eg parents divorce but stay connected via children
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