Marriage and Cohabitation
Marriage rates are declining. In the 1860s there were, each year, about 60 men and over 50 women marrying per 1,000 unmarried adults, a trend that had climbed higher by the early 1970s. Since then rates have dramatically dropped. In 2009 there were only 21 men and 20 women marrying per 1,000 unmarried adults. Leaving aside factors such as war, the changes reflect changing attitudes.
During pre-modernity (from medieval times until about the eighteenth century):
- marriages were arranged amongst landed gentry, often to unte estates;
- poorer people married locally, for love or economic reasons,or might have a 'shotgun wedding', where a man was forced by a pregnant girl's parents to marry her. Single parenthood was highly stigmatised and older women living alone were objects of pity or sometimes feared as witches.
During modernity (from 18th century until about the 1950s):
- there was increased literacy amongst the middle classes, and intellectual enlightenment when religious beliefs and traditional values began to be questionned. Romantic individualism encouraged the choice of partners for love;
Marriage and Cohabitation
- as younger people undertook new types of work during industrialisation they often moved away from kin and community and were more influenced by their own desires:
- however, there was still parental supervision over middle-class young women until at least World War One, with pressure to marry suitable partners. Illegitimacy and 'living in sin' were stigmatised and divorce was unusual.
During postmodernity (from about the 1950s and now):
- increasing numbers of young people leave home while still single, especiallly since the growth of universities in the 1960s. They are more likely than in the past to meet partners from different backgrounds;
- they are away from parental supervision and are not financially independent so are more likely to cohabit than marry;
- secularisation has led to the weakening of religious beliefs about sexual morality, making marriage seems less necessary to many;
- the availability of free contraception on the NHS, especially the pill since the 1960s, has increased 'sexual liberation';
- educated women are keen to establish careers before contemplating marriage and children, and some do not have these as goals at all;
Marriage and Cohabitation
- instead of following the life course of their parents (job, marriage for life, children), young people conteplate a wide range of possibilities and create the lifestyle they want;
- the rising cost of weddings may be a disincentive to some couples.
As a result of these factors:
- more people live alone at marriageable age than in the past or live in shared singles households. In 2011 29% of the UK population lived alone, compared with 12% in 1961;
- many cohabit and have children but never marry. Fewer than one in 100 adults under 50 are thought to have been cohabiting in the early 1960s, compared with one in six in 2010;
- others cohabit and then marry their partners aftr some years, having children at some point
- there has been a long-term rise in the proportion of conceptions and births outside marriage. In 2010, 57% of all conceptions in England and Wales were outside marriage;
- since 1970 the mean age at first marriage has increased by almost eight years for both men and women. This reflects the fact that men ans women are delaying getting married. In 2010 the mean age at marriage for never-married men was 32.1 years. The provisional mean age for never-married women was 30 years compared to 24.4 & 22.4 in 1970;
- families are smaller as lond-term relationships are formed later. Conception rates for women over 30 have increased in recent years, extending to the over-40s. Many families are described as beanpoles, as there are few children but 4 or 5 generations may be living at one time.
Before the 19th century, divorce could only be obtained through parliament at great cost. Unhappy couples without wealth might seperate informally, but were not legally free to marry again. Marriage was regarded as a sacrament because of vows made to God. With secularisation, attitudes gradually changed. The growth of individualism made personal happiness more of a priority than approval by the community. Stigmatisation lessened as more people sought legal seperations and divorces:
- 1857: the Matrimonial Causes Act made divorce available through law courts. A husband only had to prove that his wife had committed adultery, but a women had to prove adultery plus either desertion for two years, incest, bigamy, ******, **********, **** and cruelty. The wife's adultery was seen as a more serious matrimonial offence than the husband's as it risked his property being passed down to children who were not his
- 1923: the Matrimonial Causes Act gave women equal rights with men regarding the grounds they could cite for divorce, though proof of the matrimonial offence was still needed. The Act also added other grounds for divorce such as being of unsound mind, having a communicable venereal disease at the time of marriage or refusing to consummate it.
- 1949: the Legal Aid and Advice Act enabled poorer people to receive financial assistance with divorce.
- 1969: the Divorce Reform Act (in effect from 1971) reflecteda change in attitudessince irretievable breakdown of marriage waas regarded as sufficient grounds. Neither partner needed to be found at fault. Seperation for two years was sufficient grounds if both prents agreed, or seperation for five years if one contested the divorce.
The divorce rate has increased since the 1969 Act. In 1971 there were 6 divorces per 1,000 married population, increasing to 11 in 2010. For about the fifth, these are second or third divorces. The New Right argue that divorce has become too easy, so that couples give up easily instead of persevering with their relationships when the romantic gloss wears off. People may marry recklessly, knowing a divorce can easily be obtained. Others, such as feminists and liberals, approve of easy divorce, as it enables people to leave exploitative or abusive relationships. Divorce enables people to legalise seperations that have already occurred, with a chance of forming better relationships if they wish. Soem people may divorce and remarry several times in their lifetime, a situation known as serial monogamy.
Divorce has increased for many of the same reasons that marriage has become less popular. People prioritise personal happiness and few view divorce as a sin. Women, influenced by feminism, are less likely to accept male exploitation. Since equal pay and anti- discrimination, they may be able to support children without a man's wage.
Evaluation The above patterns of behaviour relate to Britans as a whole, but it must be remembered that there are ethnic and religious groups such as Roman Catholics and South Asians for whom cohabitation and divorce are generally unacceptable.
Effects of Family Breakdown
Disruption to children's lives Over a quarter of British children are likely to experience the disruption of divorce by the age of sixteen. Others experience the breakdown of a cohabiting relationship. For many this means seeing less of one parent, loss of family income and sometimes moving house and school, losing friends' support. Alternatively, some stay with each parent on different days or weeks, benefiting from the contact but demanding very good personal organisation.
Growth of single- parent families Women are far more likely than men to have custody of the children after a break- up. Both parents have reduced living standards as their property is split and they have to pay for seperate housing, but te economic situation of women usually worsens dramatically as they have to support the children, even if fathrs make a contribution.
Growth of reconstituted families Divorced people may marry or cohabit with new partners, sometimes bringing up children from either both previous relationships. These are also known as re-formed or step-families. Some children find it difficult to relate to step-parents and vice- versa. Others enjoy having step-relatives as well as blood relatives, appreciating the additional bonds. The Exeter study of family breakdown and the effects of children found that children health, happiness and educational progress are affected when a parent leaves home.