Changing Family Patterns: Divorce

Covering DIVORCE. Stay tuned for more reasons for changing family patterns:

  • marriage
  • childbearing
  • cohabitation
  • stepfamilies
  • same-sex relationships
  • lone parent families
  • ethnic differences
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  • Created by: Rebecca
  • Created on: 18-09-12 10:41

Divorce (Legal changes)

  • Divorce is one of the reasons for changing family patterns. Today, 40% of marriages end in divorce which is 6 times higher than in 1961, 7 out of 10 of which are petitions from women.

Legal changes

  • Legal changes have given married couples the freedom to divorce e.g. Divorce Reform Act 1969 'irretrievable breakdown' which widened grounds. Divorce is not the only solution to unhappy marriages, it is also a solution for desertion, legal separation and 'empty shell' marriages (a marriage without any emotional attachment/love between the married couple. They may only be married due to reasons such as financial stability).


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Divorce (Stigma)

Less stigma

  • However, legal changes does not explain why more choose to exercise freedom. Due to factors such as declining stigma, there is no longer a negative label attached to divorce. It is now seen to be more acceptable therefore more married couples are now willing to divorce to solve their problems. In the past, divorce was stigmatised as churches condemned it.


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Divorce (Secularisation)


  • Another reason as to why more married couples are choosing to divorce is secularisation, which is when religion no longer has influence over the descisions people make. Therefore, couples may obtain a divorce because they may no longer feel constrained by religion.
  • Bryan Wilson suggested that religious institutions and ideas are losing influence on people due to, for example, declining church attendance. Which means that the churches' opposition carries less weight on the couples. Therefore, they are a lot softer on divorce now
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Divorce (Change in women's position)

Changes in women's position

  • Women today are now working and are financially independent, therefore they become less dependent on their husbands wages and are able to afford a divorce.
  • Feminists have suggested, now that women are wage-earners, it creates a new source of marital conflict.
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Divorce (Change in women's position continued...)

  • Arlie Hochschild suggested that the public sphere (employment) are now more equal. But in the private sphere (marriage), women are still doing 'triple shift' (Taking care of the children, tending to domestic chores and having a job) which results in dissatisfaction for the women. Rising divorce shows that women are rejecting patriarchal oppression which may explain why petitions have mainly been from women.
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Divorce (Rising expectations of marriage)

  • The rising expectations have also contributed to high divorce rates. In the past, a family was often seen as a unit of production, and marriages were contracted for mainly economic reasons. Therefore, the low expectations of marriage lead to not feeling dissatisfied by the absence of romance in the relationship.
  • Functionalist Ronald Fletcher suggested that these rising expectations are linked with the modern ideology of romantic love - a marriage based purely on love and not for economic reasons, as it was in the past. Therefore, if the love dies, then the marriage is likely to end in a divorce.
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Divorce (Rising expectations of marriage continued

  • However, feminists argue that functionalists fail to acknowledge women's oppression within the family and they also fail to explain why it is mainly women who seek a divorce.
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Perspectives for high divorce

  • Feminists are in favour of divorce as it provides women freedom from patriarchy.


  • Whilst the New Right sees divorce as undesirable as it undermines the nuclear family. They believe that divorce can lead to deliquency in society and cause a dependency culture (being dependent on the welfare state, by providing the poor with money for doing nothing removes their incentive to go out and find work)
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Perspectives for high divorce continued...

  • Functionalists have an optimistic view of high divorce rates, as they believe that the institution is not threatened due to remarriages which shows that society has not entirely lost faith in marriage.
  • Whilst postmodernists believe that high divorce rates gives individuals choice and in turn creates greater family diversity in society.
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