Family diversity

  • Created by: holly6901
  • Created on: 15-01-20 10:07


  • Cohabitation was common among the lower classes, for whom marriage was less important as a mechanism of inheriting property.
  • The number of people marrying in the UK has declined since the 1970s
  • The number cohabiting or living as couples outside marriage has increased


  • The percentage of people aged 16+ who were cohabiting increased from 6.5% in 1996 to 11.7% in 2012
  • It is the fastest-growing family type in the UK
  • 39% of heterosexual cohabiting couples had dependent children, compared with 38% of married couples
  • The average age of people cohabiting has increased in recent years, young people are delaying marriage for longer and older people who have divorced and are cohabiting has risen
  • Between 1996 and 2012, the over 65s had the largest percentage increase in the cohabitation of all age groups
  • In 2012, there were 2,893,000 cohabiting heterosexual couples in the UK and 69,000 same-sex couples
1 of 7


  • An increasing proportion of the population chooses to remain single
  • Attitudes to remaining single have changed through TV programmes like Friends and Sex and the City
  • Some sociologists have used the term creative singlehood to describe how some people stay single as a lifestyle option 
  • A study of never-married people by Hall et Al (1999) suggests that many people find freedom in staying single and choose to concentrate on their careers instead
  • Heath (2004) notes the rise in kippers or boomerang children who return home after university. In 2011, 1 in 3 men and 1 in 6 women aged 20 to 34 still lived with their parents, a 20% increase in 15 years.
  • Increase in rents means young people delay setting up on their own and remain in an ambiguous state of being 'adult-kids'
2 of 7

Changing social attitudes

  • Up until the 1960s, there was strong social pressure on most couples to marry before moving in together
  • In pregnancy out of marriage, women would be expected to marry the father or give the child up for adoption
  • Many sociologists argue that cohabitation and sexual relations out of marriage is more socially acceptable
  • In the British Social Attitudes survey, in 1989 71% agreed that people who want children should get married, however, in 2012 it was 42%
  • Views on sex before marriage were even more liberal with 75% believing it was rarely wrong or not wrong at all
3 of 7

The decline in family values

  • The decline in family values
  • For New Right thinkers, the decline in marriage is seen as a weakening of 'traditional family  values'
  • From this perspective, marriage is the bedrock of stable family life alternatives, such as cohabitation, are no substitute as they are more likely to break up than marriages
  • Patricia Morgan (2000) argues that in recent years, government have given insufficient support to marriage both through public support and financial support  through the tax and benefit system
4 of 7


  • Individualisation
  • Ulrich Beck and Elisabeth Beck-Gernsheim say the changes in marriage rates reflect a process of individualisation in late modernity
  • Individuals are no longer bound by loyalty to families and seek a lifestyle which fulfils their personal social needs

  • Many see marriage alternatives as offering more freedom and less risk
  • Anthony Giddens argues that in late modernity there has been a transformation of intimacy and individuals no longer seek the type of romantic love associated with traditional marriage.
  • There has been a growth of confluent love where individuals enter more temporary intimate relationships
  • Those who do marry are more likely to end it when they can’t find confluent love
  • Giddens feels the quality of intimate relationships is improving, especially for women who are no longer trapped in unhappy marriages


5 of 7

The changing role of women

  • Feminists have often seen traditional marriage as patriarchal
  • In the past, a woman passed from the control of her father to control of her husband
  • Radical feminists such as Germaine Greer (2000) see the decline in marriage as good
  • Women today have more options than in the 20th century because they are more educated and have better job opportunities.
  • Sharpe carried out 2 studies in London, in the first study (1976) girls priorities for the future tend to be love, marriage, husbands and children, however in the second study (1994) their priorities tended to be about education, careers and financial independance
  • Some feminists argue the search for love is still a powerful influence on women
  • In several in-depth interviews with women, Wendy Langford (1999) found that many women still fear being alone 
  • Langford suggested love is still the natural basis for relationships  and a way in which individuals can transcend a meaningless, hard and alienating world
  • On the othe hand, it conceals the way men excercise power and control in relationships over women
  • Evidence sugggests women haven't given up the search for love
6 of 7

The continuing importance of marriage

  • There is still evidence marriage is important
  • People may be delaying marriage instead of rejecting it
  • Women in particular have become more career-oriented and generally wait until their mid-30s before they embark on marriage
  • Many people who cohabitate subsequently go onto marry
  • In 2012, around a third of marriages were remarriages  for one or both partners 
  • The high level of divorce has clearly not deterred people from trying again
  • In 2012, there were 18.2 million families in the UK, of which 12.2 million were married
7 of 7


No comments have yet been made

Similar Sociology resources:

See all Sociology resources »See all Families and households resources »