Families and Households - Divorce


Divorce - Life Courses 1/3

There is no one typical family in the UK. In the past, most families lived in a nuclear family and there were few alternatives. However, due to globalisation, modernisation and social change, there are now many varieties of families.

Beck and Gernsheim (1995) (Postmodernists) suggest that an individual has a multitude of choices throughout the course of their life, creating a range of diverse options. An individual life course is now characterised by uncertainties/choices/diversity, meaning there are many ways a life course may run. There is no longer a set pattern for life. 

The most notable change within the family is an increase in the number of divorces in the UK. The number of divorces rose from 27,00 in 1961 to 180,000 in 1993 (then fell to 130,000 in 2012, but the decrease in divorce rate is due to people not bothering with marriage at all). 

The UK has one of the highest divorce rates in Europe. Half of marriages today are expected to end in divorce, which means that one in four children will experience a parental divorce

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Divorce - Life Courses 2/3

Divorce Law

Before 1857 divorce was virtually non-existent, costly and only obtainable through an Act of Parliament.

In 1969, the Divorce Law Reform Act was created and made irretrievable breakdown of marriage the sole grounds for divorce, established by proving unreasonable behaviour, etc.

In 2004, the Civil Partnership Act allowed the dissolution for civil partnerships on the same grounds as a marriage. 

Changes in divorce law were based on equality, affordability, and making divorce easier to obtain.

They also made it easier for women to gain a divorce, and each subsequent change to divorce law on grounds of equal rights for women increased the number of divorces, noted by feminists e.g 1923 Act: grounds for divorce were equalised and there was a sharp rise in the number of petitions for divorce from women

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Divorce - Life Courses 3/3

Divorce is the legal termination of marriage but there are alternatives (though since divorce became cheaper, these are less popular):

Desertion -  where one partner leaves the other but the couple remains legally married,

Legal separation - when a court operates the financial and legal affairs of the couple but they remain married and are not free to remarry, 

Empty-shell marriage - the couple continue to live under the same roof but remain married anyways (generally because they can’t afford a divorce, etc.)

The Church condemns divorce and often refuses to conduct marriage services involving divorcees.

Mitchel and Goody (1997) (interactionists) note that since the 1960’s there has been a decline in stigma surrounding divorce. As stigma declines and divorce becomes more socially acceptable, couples are more likely to see divorce as a method of resolving solving marital problems.

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Divorce - Social Change 1/3

Stigma = negative label associated with shame and judgement attached to a person/action/relationship.

Historically, there was a stigma attached to divorce because divorce was condemned by religion, which had a strong hold on society. 

Secularisation refers to a decline in the influence of religion in society.

Sociologists argue that religious institutions are losing influence on society, with evidence such as church attendance being in decline, resulting in: the traditional opposition of church to divorce carrying less weight in society, many churches softening their views on issues like divorce, and people being less influenced by religion when making decisions. 

Fletcher (1966) (a functionalist) argues that the higher expectations people place on marriage today are a major cause of rising divorce rates.

Higher expectations make couples less willing to tolerate an unhappy marriage and this is linked to the idealism of romantic love where marriage is based only on love and for each individual, there is ‘the one’.  

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Divorce - Social Change 2/3

In the past, individuals had little choice on who they would marry.

At the time when the family was a unit of production, marriages were often out of duty to family or for economic reasons and people were less likely to have high expectations and be dissatisfied by the lack of romance or intimacy. (This, however, does not apply to same-sex marriages or arranged marriages). 

Marriage continues to be popular, with most adults marrying, and the high number of remarriages shows that society hasn’t rejected marriage as an institution.

However, marriage is less embedded in the economic system -- there are fewer family firms and spouses are not so financially interdependent -- meaning that they don’t have to tolerate each other in the absence of love and may then be more willing to divorce.

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Divorce - Social Change 3/3

Feminists argue that women being wage earners creates a new source of conflict between husbands and wives, leading to more divorces. Hochschild (1997) argues that, whilst there have been reforms in the public sphere, change in the private sphere has been much slower, and marriage remains patriarchal with men benefitting from the ‘triple shift’. 

Feminists also argue that the idea of marriage is 'too rosy’ and the oppression of women within marriage/families is the main cause of marital conflict and the rise in divorce rates.

Functionalists offer an explanation for the rise in divorce rate - secularisation and high expectations (Fletcher (1966)) - but don’t otherwise explain why it is mainly women who petition for divorce. 

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Divorce 1/3

Privatised nuclear family: due to the privatisation of the nuclear family, there is a lack of family members to provide support during times of instability.

This means that there is less pressure from extended kin for a couple to stay together. However, this lets individuals make a choice without the influence of other family members dictating what should happen in their relationship. 

Parsons (a functionalist): As a result of changes in the family over time, some of its main functions have been transferred to other institutions, meaning that there is less need for a family to stay together as it’s no longer the only unit that will allow members to survive, and so there is a created importance placed on love and compatibility. (structural differentiation)

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Divorce 2/3

As individuals are living for longer due to medical/scientific advancements, couples have to stay together for longer, meaning a generation will be living together but may choose to divorce (the silver divorcees). 

There is a difference in the ways certain groups are likely to divorce:

  • teen marriages are twice as likely to end in divorce, especially in the first five to seven years
  • working-class marriages have a higher rate of divorce
  • childless couples and couples of mixed backgrounds are likely to separate for long periods of time
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Divorce 3/3

The New Right: high divorce rates are undesirable as it undermines traditional nuclear families and creates an underclass of welfare-dependent lone mothers and boys without male adult role models (in line with Charles Murray). 

Feminism: high divorce rate is desirable as it shows women breaking free from patriarchal oppression (in line with Germaine Greer)

Postmodernists: high divorce rates give individuals the freedom to choose to end a relationship when it no longer meets their needs, and are a cause of greater family diversity (Beck, Gernsheim & Stacy)

Functionalists: higher divorce rates don’t prove that marriage is under threat but are merely a result of the high expectations of marriage. High rates of re-marriage shows peoples’ commitment to the idea of marriage (in line with Fletcher)

Interactionists: aim to understand what divorce means to the individual. Morgan (1996) argues that we cannot generalise about the meaning of divorce because every individual’s interpretation is different. e.g Mitchell and Goody, one interviewee described the day her father left as one of the happiest days of her life, another never recovered. 

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Divorce - Gender Roles 1/4

Young and Wilmott (1973) (functionalists) argue that within our modern society, the symmetrical family is becoming increasingly dominant which means a more equal and less patriarchal structure. The changes in labour division result in a shift from traditional segregated conjugal roles to integrated conjugal roles. 

These changes occur because:

  • improved living standards in the home,
  • decline of the traditional extended family,
  • greater geographical and social mobility,
  • improved status of women + more women in paid employment,
  • commercialisation of housework (cleaners, child care, gardening),
  • weaker gender identities
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Divorce - Gender Roles 2/4

Decline of the traditional extended family + greater geographical/social mobility:              As society progresses, there is an increase in geographic/social mobility resulting in individuals weakening extended kinship networks whilst focusing on the ‘couple’.

Bott (1957)  states that the network the couple has around them influences the type of roles they assume - to avoid embarrassment. Increased geographic/social mobility would mean role integration as couples are more reliant on each other. 

Improved status of women + more women in paid employment:                                    Women in society gain greater equality within society, improving their perceived status.  because of this status change, there are more women entering paid employment. Laurie and Gershuny (2000)  found women in paid employment do less housework, becoming a shared responsibility.

HOWEVER, it’s argued by Kan et al (2011) that even though men have contributed more to domestic jobs, the two genders are still divided. Men do more ‘masculine’ jobs (DIY) and women do ‘feminine’ jobs (caring, housework). Females are seen as crucial to maintain the families standard of living.

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Divorce - Gender Roles 3/4

Commercialisation of housework: (the number of products offered to reduce the burden of housework).                                                                                                                                         Silver (1982) and Shor (1992) identify that this takes away some of the drudgery of housework, meaning it is easier and less skilled, meaning that women can do less and men can do more.

HOWEVER, in households within the lower socio-economic band women may not be able to do less as they are unable to afford such products/services. 

Weaker Gender identities:                                                                                             postmodernists -  there is a pick and mix in terms of what people can and won’t do in relationships, meaning we are less contained by masculine and feminine roles (Beck, the individualisation thesis).

HOWEVER, Kan’s research contradicts this and argues that this may be more idealistic rather than realistic.

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Divorce - Gender Roles 4/4

Criticisms:                                                                                                                              Evidence suggests that we have not completely reached this symmetrical role; women still do more than men and complete specific tasks within the household.

Knudsen and Waerness (2008) in a comparative study of 34 countries found that there were no modern countries where men did more housework than women.

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Divorce - The Dark Side of the Family 1/2

People who die violently are likely to die at the hands of someone they know. Selbourne (1993) - the largest category of victims is children under five, at the hands of a family member. 

Warm Bath theory - going home to your family is like stepping into a warm bath, relaxing you. The role is to stabilise personalities, (Parsons 1951). 

Lang (1976): Mental illness happens because of the pressures of family life. If you have a destructive family relationship, you may develop schizophrenia 

Types of abuse within families: sexual/physical/emotional abuse, neglect

Feminists: men commit domestic violence and abuse because they are able to exert power over women and children. Hester and Rowe (1996) studied domestic violence and the law and suggest that male dominance in families still exists and that the law isn’t helpful.

Lockhurst (1999) studies male victims of domestic violence: ‘the problem of woman on man violence is ‘underestimated, under-researched and underfunded’. 

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Divorce - The Dark Side of the Family 2/2

The privacy and intimacy of family life can be a source of danger to the vulnerable and weak. 

Statistics:                                                                                                                              Domestic abuse affects 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men, and accounts for 16% of violent crimes but is the least reported. 1 in 10 children experience neglect. 

The definition of domestic violence in England and Wales expended in 2013 to include victims aged 16 and 17 and controlling/coercive behaviour. 

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