Divorce and the Family

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  • Created on: 25-04-15 13:32

Divorce and the Family

  • Great increase in divorce since the 1960's in the UK 
  • Divorce rate peaked in 1933 about 40% of all marriages will end up in divorce

Reasons for the increase in divorce: 

1) Changes in the law: 

  • Matrimonial Causes Act 1923- adultery is the sole ground for divorce (equalised shift between genders) 
  • Legal Aid and Advice Act 1949- Divorce is made affordable and aid was offered 
  • Divorce Law Reform Act 1969- Divorce available after 2 years of seperation

2) Declining stigma and changes in attitudes means that it is no longer negatively labelled in some societies

3) Secularisation is when a society has become less religious so the fear of being punished etc has decreased

4) Rise in expectations (parsons and fletcher) leads to the breakdown of marriage 

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Life Course and the Family

Life Course- The development and change in people's lives over periods of time. There are no fixed and predictable changes. 

Life Expectancy- The Stages of life e.g. childhood, adolescense

  • Talcott Parsons defines each stage of life:

Childhood- period when socialisation into society's culture takes place

Adolescence- when children begin to develop indepence from their parents, so that they can shift their allegiance to marriage partner

Old age- Loss of important social roles 

  • in the western world there is an increase in the life expectancy
  • Gender and class influences the life course in many ways; 
  • Those with less wealth, income and resources die earlier (Marxists and feminists) 
  • Social constructions mean that there are stereotypes on ages and how theiri behaviour should be
  • Hockey and James- Elderly have become infantilized. dependent and seen as a burden
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Divison of Labour

  • The domestic divison of labour refers to the roles that men and women play in relation to housework, childcare and employment:

Functionalist view: 

Parsons believed the roles of mothers and fathers are separate and distinct

Instrumental Leader- provides financial support for the whole family 'breadwinner' 

Expressive Leader- Mother is responsible for the primary socialisation of the young and meet the family's emotional needs

Parsons believes these roles are biological and the division of labour suits both men and women 


  • they take a 'march of progress' view which means family life is improving and becoming democratic 
  • Mostly joint conjugal roles exist
  • women now go out to work and men help with household duties 
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Divison of Labour

  • leisure time is spent together as couples
  • studies show that the symmetrical family was found more in younger families as a result of major social changes
  • Higher standards of living, new technology
  • 2013 research update shows 'career man' and 'at home dad' will be obsolete in future
  • gender pay gap predicted to close by 2040 

Feminist view: 

Ann Oakley believes little has changed with women still doing most domestic duties

  • the term symmetrical family is an exaggeration 
  • her research found that most couples found the fathers role one of 'taking interest' so the mother loses the reward of playing with children and has twice the amount of domestic duties 

Bernades- Notes that in the UK most female careers are interrupted by chidlbirth, and only a small number return to their careers. 

Schor (1993) claims two major economic developments: 

1 Housework has become commercialised, new gadgets and technology means domestic labour has been reduced, so women can now work and afford these technologies

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Childhood can be seen as a social construct as society defines what childhood is. 

Aries- Childhood today is a social invention, and it did not exist in the middle ages. It is seen as an economic asset to help the government financially

  • class and gender differences in childhood are present, e.g. lower classes are more exposed to danger, and boys and girls are introducted to different things to prepare them for the workforce

Childhood in the middle ages: 

High death rates, 'little adults', punishments, financial assets, cheap labour and heavy duty jobs

Childhood in Western society: 

Laws made for their protection, happiness is important, distinct life schooling and percieved as innocent. 

March of progress view:

Consensus approach- position and status of childhood has improved since the middle ages

Conflict view- there has not been increasing progress

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Inequalities between adults and children: 

1) Adults control over children can take extreme forces of emotional, sexual or domestic abuse

2) Age patriarchy: leads to control over childrens space 

3) Children are economically dependent on parents

Iona Opie (1993)- childhood is not disappearing but children have their own independent culture compared to adults

Postman (1982)- Childhood has become a separate status. TV blurs the distinction between adults and children. 

Toxic Childhood- mass media and adults damage children.

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Birth Rate- Number of births oer 1000 in the population

Total fertility rate- average number of children women will have during their fertile years

  • Since the 1900's there has been a long term decline in the birth rate, however three baby booms in the 20th century. 
  • All-time low of 1.63 children in 2001

Reasons for the fall in the birth rate:

1) Changes in the position of women: Legal equality including right to vote, educational opportunities, paid employment, changes in attitude, contraception to control birth 

2) Decline in the infant mortalility rate: (Number of infants who die before their first year per 1000 babies born alive)

this leads to a fall in the birth rate because in countries with higher infant mortality rate parents produce more children to replace those who have died.

Infant mortality decreased because; improved housing and sanitation, better nutrition, improved services for mother and children. 


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3) Children have become and economic liabilty

  • Laws banning child labour, introducing compulsory education and raising the school leaving age means they're dependent
  • changing norms- children expect they have a right from their parents in material terms so the cost of raising them has risen 

4) Child Centeredness-

  • Childhood is now socially constructed as a uniquely important period in an individuals life
  • parents now have fewer children and lavish more attention and resources on these few

Birth rates, fertility rates and family sizes have fallen because of the increase in immigration. On average mothers from outside the UK have a higher fertility rate than those born in the UK

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Death rate- number of deaths per 1000 in population

  • In the UK, the overall number of deaths has decreased since 1900. The death rate stood at 19, whereas by 2007 it had almost halved
  • Rose during the 1930's and 1940's due to a period of economic depression

Reasons for decrease:

Improved Nutrition-Thomas Mckeon, argues that improved nutrition accounted for up to half of the reduction in death rates. Particulary reducing the number of deaths of TB.

Howover, this doesn't explain why females who recieve a smaller share of the family food lived longer by the males.

Medical Improvements- Advances such as the introduction of antibiotics and blood transfusion allow people to be treated and prevents the amount of people dying. By-pass surgery have reduced deaths from heart disease by one-third.

Environment improvements- Improved housing, purer drinking water mean less infection.

Other social changes- Decline in dangerous occupations e.g mining. Also, smaller families reduced the rate of transmission of infection.

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