Sociology - Families and Households



-View society as an organism

-Each part is unique

-Dependant on other organs for smooth running of whole body

-Based on consensus (genernal agreement)

-Values and Equilibrium (balance) between various social structures

-The family is the 'social glue' that binds society together

-Family is where we learn norms and values

-Universal and Functional role of the family and how it benefits both individuals and society as a whole

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  • A social anthropolgist 
  • Studied 250 societies
  • Concluded that the nuclear family was the basis for all family types
  • Definied the family as: 

- A social goup characterised by common residence, economic cooperation, and reproduction

- It contains adults of both sexes, who are in a sexually approved realtionship and one or more children, own or adopted

  • For Murdock the nuclear family is UNIVERSAL and emphasies four essential functions:

    - ECONOMIC: meets family memebers needs such as food and clothing

    - STABALE SATISFACTION OF THE SEX DRIVE: prevents the social disruption of a sexual 'free for all'

    -REPRODUCTIVE: whithout it society would not continue 

    -SOCIALISATION OF THE YOUNG: education into societies norms and values

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  • In the modern industrial age:

    - Society was becoming more specialised 

    -Other institutions were perfoming functions of the family, eg. the economic, educational and reproductive functions are now carried out by the state

  • Two main functions in the family:


  • Every individual must internalise norms and values of society
  • They become part of the individuals personality and way of thinking
    -Emphasis shown on consenus - shared norms and values


  • 'The warm bath theory'
  • Adults need emotional security and a source of release from stresses and strains of wider society
  • Adults can rely upon partners for emotional support
  • Relax and relive stress by indulging in childship behaviour with their children
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  • Functions of the family depend on the type of society it is found in
  • It will 'fit' the needs of society

  • In pre-industrial societies the extended family was the best fit
  • In industrial societies the nuclear family is the best fit -the family has adapted to the new type of society 

  • This is because there are changes in the workforce:

  • A GEOGRAPHICALLY MOBILE WORKFORCE: - people no longer spending their whole working life in one location. It is easier to move for a nuclear family

  • A SOCIALLY MOBILE WORKFORCE: - industrial society means changing technology and science and needs a skilled workforce with talented people. Status is achieved by peoples own efforts
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  • The pre-industrial extended family fulfilled many functions, eg. a unit of production, looking after young and old etc
  • Many of these functions are now carried out by other agencies:
    -Controlled via contraception, less pressure to have children, welfare state supports lone parents
    -Welfare benefit, social services, nurses, child-minders
    -NHS, social services, residential homes, pensions, JSA
    -Still a major role of the family but there are now nurseries, playgroups, educational TV programmes
    -Taken over by the state in most cases, compulsory school 5-16 (although family has an influence on educational achievement)
    -families don't produce goods, they buy them. Don't learn skills from parents-schools, uni's
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  • Parsons says that the roles of husband and wife are distinct
    -there is a division of labour
  • The husband:
    -instrumental role, the 'breadwinner'
    -provides for the family financially
    -doing this by achieving at work
  • The wife:
    -expressive role, the 'homemaker'
    -focused on primary socialisation of children
    -meeting the familys emotional needs
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  • Young and Willmott in the 1960's and 1970's
  • -demonstrates the dominance of the nuclear family
  • -suggests that from 1900 social changes make extended family less important, e.g higher standards of living, welfare state, improved housing
  • -althought the extended family is still important, e.g financial help, childcare, emotional support
  • -agrees with need for geographically and socially mobile workforce
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  • Historical analysis suggests that 'functional fit thesis' is bases on a false view of the change from extended to nuclear families
  • Parsons can be accused of having an 'over-romantic and idealised' view of the way families are
  • The focus on value consensus misses the reality of conflict in society 
  • Postmodernism suggests that there is a veriety of family life, some have more functions, some have fewer 
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  • Historical analysis of social trends suggests that Parsons is mistaken when he suggested a move from pre-industrial extended families to modern nuclear families
  • Extended families were NOT dominant in pre-industrial society
    -Evidence from:
  • Peter Laslett - English households from 1564-1821 were nuclear
  • Young and Willmott - despite being functionalists also came to this conclusion
  • The family did NOT become nuclear in early industrial society 
    -Evidence from:
  • Anderson - Study of 19th Century Preston, extended families more economically viable
  • Haraven - French Canadian migrants to US 1880-1930, extended families important for security and mutal aid
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  • There is general support for the loss of functions thesis that argues family has been stripped of many of its functions
  • There is general agreement that the needs of society today in terms of a geographically mobile and socially mobile workforce have contributed to this
  • There is recognition of the importance of primary socialisation and SOAP 
  • The role that socialisation plays in the family is vital to the arguements of Feminists and Marxists
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  • Functionalism is built on a faulty view of a family history in industrialised socities
  • Functionalists concentrate on positive aspects and consensus, therefore ignoring patriarchy and dysfunction
  • Functionalism sees the 'family' and division of labour as natural and universal, rather than socially constructed in interests of men (feminists) or capitalism (marxism)
  • Assumes that the family is of equal benefit to everyone (Marxists say family benefits capitalists and Feminists say it benefits men)
  • Fails to consider alternatives to the nuclear family
  • Do not consider diversity by social division 
  • Views socialisation as a positive one-way processs 
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  • Closely linked to functionalism 
    -share a belief in the importance of a meritocracy and their emphasis on the role of values in society 
  • Wish for a return to what they consider the traditional values of a past golden age
  • A set of capitalist (economic based) ideas which has influenced the politics in the UK and USA since the end of the 1970's
  • Political parties such as the Conservatives (UK) and Republicans (USA) have been elected based on New Right policies
  • Labour and Democrats have had to adapt to this way of thinking
  • Most well known New Right politician was Margaret Thatcher 
    -took a hard line on welfare benefits, declaring them as part of a 'nanny state', where people were becoming less and less independent
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  • believe that excessive state intervention, such as publically owned utilities and the welfare state should be avoided
      -interferes with the workings a free capitalist economy and the nuclear family
  • Publically owned organisations such as the Post Office should be sold to private companies
  • The welfare system should be there for the very small number of people in society who truly need it
    -should be limited to encourage people to look after their own needs
  • People should have choice as to how to spend their money and which services they choose to use
    -choice of electricty and gas suppliers, choice of postal service, choice of train company, choice of school, choice of hospital
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  • family is central to transmitting the values and norms of society, hard work, and self dependency
    -a set of ideas about what constitutes as an ideal family
    -their preferred model is the traditional nuclear family, with a clear sexual division of labour
  • The ideology is transmitted in the mass media, religion, and pressure groups such as 'family and youth concern'
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  • Against the welfare state - believe that it encourages people to dependent on benefits
  • Culture of dependency theory:
  • assumes that poor need to take responsibility for their situation
  • dependency creates more poverty and unemployment 
  • places individuals in a poverty trap 
  • see one way of helping people out of poverty trap and into work is to cut or remove benefits 
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  • 'Underclass' used to decribe those dependent on welfare benefits 
  • beneath the working class 
  • is characterised by:long term unemployment, high levels of crime and unstable families (Murray 1984)

  • Also referred to as 'scroungers'
  • Scroungers are happy to live off the welfare state and claim benefits at the expense of the economy and an increase in taxes
  • The New Right believe that there is a minority who are deserving of benefits, eg. the 'genuinely disabled' and elderly 
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  • Single parent families are believed to be the key cause of crime
  • Because young children grow up without a male role model
  • Link believed to be particularly strong amongsts blacks
  • Generous welfare provision is believed to create a culture of dependency amongst the underclass
  • They often turn to crime to supplement their welfare benefits 
  • Inadequate social control
  • Lack of crime prevention, police officers on the street and 'soft sentencing' is believed to be the key reason for the growth in crime 
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  • Ideas have been very important politically
  • Developed when governments/politicians wanted to stress the importance of individual responsibility 
  • Thatcher and Reagan political regimes made huge cuts in welfare provisions 
  • Current New Right politicians are in the process of continuing this approach 
  • New Right theories see society consisting of individuals who are free to make choices
  • This is a big difference compared to most strutual approaches in society 
  • New Right ideas have been used to solve real social problems, eg. health campaigns to promote healthy lifestyles
  • Further crime prevention strategies such as CCTV and improved street lighting have reduced crime levels in certain areas 
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  • Criticised for not being a real or coherent social theory
  • It is suggested that it is too closely linked to a political position
  • It cannot possibly be objective as the academic study of society should and will always be biased
  • The idea of the 'golden age' has been criticised
  • Questions about if there ever was a 'golden age' for the family, religion and education
  • It was jus different and these institutions have gone through changes
  • As the New Right believe in going back to traditional values it resists social change in that it wants to go back rather than look ahead
  • Been criticised for having 'no real empirical evidence' to back up its theories
  • Little research has been carried out by this theory and can provide no real evidence that the theory has any legitimate points
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  • A macro, top down, structual theory 
  • believe that in society there is conflict between the ruling class (the bourgeoise) and the working class (the proletariat)
  • the bourgeoise own the means of production, eg. land, factories and corporations, the infrastructure 
  • the bourgeoise also control the superstructure, comprimised of the institutions of society, eg. the education system, religion, the media and even the family
  • these things maintain inequality in a capitalist society by imposing a false class consciousness
  • the false class consciousness convinces the poletariat that the inequalities and injustices in capitalist society are natural and necessary 
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  • Engles terms earliest societies as 'primitive communism', eg. classless, there is no private property and all things are held in common
  • At this stage there is no family
  • humanity is just a 'promiscuous horde' or tribe where there is no restriction on sexual relationships
  • With the growth of prodution society's wealth increases
  • An increase in private property and a new class of men emerges who gain control
  • This bring about the patriarchal family
  • In Engles view, private property needs to be secured by family inheritance so people need to know who their real heirs are
  • The patriarchal family is described by Engles as 'a world historical defeat of the female sex'
  • It brought the woman's sexuality under male control and turned women into a 'mere instrument for the production of children'
  • Marxists argue that only the overthrow of capitalism will be able to liberate women from patriarchy 
  • A classless society means there will be no need for the nuclear family as there will be no need for the inheritance of private property 
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  • Ideology = a set of ideas or beliefs that justify inequality and maintain capitalism 
  • The family acts or capitalism and the bourgeoisie by instilling an ideology 
  • It achieves this by: socialising children into believing that hierarchy and inequality are unavoidable in society 
  • The power over children gives them the idea that it is right to be under authority 
  • Eli Zaretsky (1986):
  • maintains the family acts as a private life from capitalism and therefore this illusion keeps people in their place, even though it is a sham of privacy and is based on the domestic service of women
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  • Family is the main unit of consumption in society
  • Capitalism works by exploiting the workers
  • Profit by selling the products of the working class back to them for more than they paid in the first place
  • Family generate the profits for the owners of the means of production
  • Advertisers urge families to keep up with buying the latest consumer products
  • Media target children via pester power to get parents to buy more
  • Marcuse (1964):
  • Working class families encouraged to pursue false needs
  • Encourages to judge themselves and others on the basis of what they own
  • Serves intrest of capitalism at the expense of workers
  • Distracts th workeres from the need to seek equality and justice 
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  • the importance of private property and inheritance
  • of the system as fair, natural and unchangeable, and the escape of family life
  • of a consumer based world where we are distracted for the need for justice and equality all form part of the false class consciousness that prevents us from changing the world and function to maintain capitalism
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  • Benston (1972):
  • nuclear family is important to capitalism 
  • rears the next generation of compliant workers at little cost to the state
  • womens domestic and sexual services maintain the physical and emotional fitness for work
  • mothers and housewives are a reverse labour that can be hired cheaply in part time work 
  • Ansley (1972):
  • men are alienated in the workplace
  • come home to vent frustrations at wives
  • women are 'takers of ****'
  • explains the origins of domestic violence 
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  • Functionalists;
  • consensus in society outweighs conflict in society
  • argue that marxists ignore the real benefits that the family provides to its members of intimacy and mutal support
  • Feminists:
  • conflict between men and women is more important in shaping society
  • the stress on social class in Marxism underestimates the importance of gender inequalities in the family
  • the family primarly serves men rather than capitalism 
  • Interactionsists:
  • say there is a structural, puppet theory
  • marxists fail to recognise the independent free will that human beings have
  • Post-Modernists:
  • marxism is an old theory and out of date
  • in contempary society we have many choices and do not believe the same things
  • there is no false class consciousness 
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  • equality through changing attitudes and the law - March of Progress
  • campaigning against sex discrimination and for equal rights
  • womens opression is being gradually overcome through changing attitudes and the law, eg. sex discrimination act 1975
  • further progress towards greater equality will depend on future reforms and changes in attitudes
  • Jenny Sommerville:
  • progress is being made gradually, although we are not there yet
  • men are doing more domestic labour 
  • socialisation has changed
  • people have similar aspirations for boys and girls
  • other feminists criticises as they fail to address the underlying causes of oppression and believing law and attitude is enough 
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  • LIBERATION - separate devleopment for men and women so that women can fulfil their potential
  • Argue that all societies founded on patriarchy
  • Men are the enemy - they are the sourcce of women's exploitation and oppression
  • The family and marriage are institutions key to the maintencance of patriarchal society
  • Men benefit from women's unpaid work and their sexual services
  • They dominate women through domestic and sexual violence, or the threat of violence
  • The patriarchal system must be otherthrown, the family root of this should be abolished
  • The argue of Separatism - women must organise themselves to live independently of men
  • Germaine Greer (2000):
  • the creation of all female or 'matrilocal' households as an alternative to the family
  • 'political lesbianism' the idea that hetrosexual relationships are inevitably oppressive 'sleeping with the enemy
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  • The overthrow of Capitalism and of the family are co-dependent, to liberate the poor and women
  • Capitalism is the cause of women's oppression
  • All part of exploiting the working class
  • the family must be abolished when the socialist revolution does away with capitalism and brings the classless state
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  • A lose federation of views
  • consider the above more structural views to be outdated in assuming that most women live in conventional nuclear families and therefore have the same experience of family life
  • Whilst women are not fully liberated in today's society they do have choices about their lives
  • can to some extent construct their own identity inside or outside marriage/family
  • as a result there is a diversity of family types and therefore of women's experiences
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  • all the criticisms of structural/conflict theories apply (liberal, radical and marxist feminisms)
  • some say it overemphasises the importance of gender in society
  • some say it ignores the differneces between women and their experience 
  • some women are happy to adopt traditional roles
  • some say it ingores the signifiance of biological differences
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  • postmodernism is about:
  • choice - in life we will make different choices about how we live family life
  • identity - we choose how family expresses our individual identity
  • diversity - there is no longer one acceptable type of family
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  • In post-modern society the family is modifying itself to meet the changed circumstances of contemporary society
  • The postmodern family is not just about fitting into wider society as functionalists claim
  • For most people the purpose of the family is about providing a source of emotional support, constructing our identity and focusing on lesiure
  • Families are seen as functioning to provide:
  • warmth and security
  • emotional support
  • this is much more than SOAP which is one sided
  • post modernsis see all family members benefit from the loving relationships
  • family is important to how we construct and understand our own identity
  • consider the recent evidence of the interest both by individuals and the media in the family
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  • in the past men and women socialised very differently with their own gender
  • now it is the family we look to for leisure opportunities such as:
  • family holidays and special occasions
  • the family has become more and more 'child-centred'
  • the child becoming the focus of family decisions and expenditure
  • costs and focus of attention has led to fewer children in the family
  • there is diversity of most post modernist society
  • people can choose how to be family or to decide not to enter into family life and these alternatives are generally accepted
  • three examples of this diversity are singlehood, childless couples and gay families
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  • Trends:
  • 12% of people in Great Britain now live alone
  • Single people now account for just under a third of households (29%) in Britain
  • Many of these are elderly widowed, but also include professional younge men and women or divorcees
  • Singlehood is much more popular in the white population than ethnic minorities
  • Factors behind singlehood:
  • Creative singlehood (an active choice) reflects the growth of affluent young
  • More fashionable 'singles' accomodation is available
  • Growth of numbers of women with career and educational success
  • Women no longer need to be financially dependent upon a man
  • Increased divorce rate and separations from cohabitation
  • Delay or rejection of marriage/cohabitation
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  • childless couples reflect the fact that there is less pressure on people to have children
  • couples may put lifestyle chooice above starting a family
  • some couples may be put off by the cost of bringing up a child (over (£50,000 from birth to age of 18)
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  • gay and lesbian couples may be childless or have children
  • this non-traditional family form is also slowly becoming less of a rarity
  • greater social acceptance of same sex couples living together and civil partnership/marriage having legal recognition
  • it is now much easier than it was for same-sex couples to adopt children
  • medical technology allows people to conceive children in non-traditional ways
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  • the formal union of a man and a womean, or two women or two men, freely entered into and recognised by law 
  • from 1938 when marriages in the UK were first recorded until the 1970's there was a steady increase in the number of marriages
  • since then there has been a decline from 480,000 in 1972 in 170,800 in 2005 
  • 4 in 10 marriages are now re-marriages 
  • 35% of marriages in church and 65% civil weddings
  • the age at which people choose to get married has increased in the last 30 years:
  • 1971 average age was 24 for men and 22 for women
  • 2000 average age was 32 for men and 30 for women
  • there has been an increase in those who choose never to marry:
  • 7% of women born in the late 1940's remained unmarried by the age of 32
  • 28% of those born in the early 1960's remained unmarried by the age 32
  • in 2006, 3 in 10 households were one person households, 3x the number in 1961
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  • change in attitudes 
  • change in values in society 
  • secularisation 
  • changes in the position of women in society 
  • decline in stigma
  • less fear of divorce 
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  • unmarried couple live in a sexual relationship together 
  • there has been a steady increase in the number of couples choosing to cohabit since the late 1960's
  • the trend is strongest amongst younger people
  • there are mire than 2 million cohabiting couples in the UK
  • 25% of all unmarried adults cohabit
  • the number of cohabiting couples is predicted to double by 2021
  • change in attitudes
  • change in values in society 
  • secularisation 
  • changes in the position of women in society 
  • decline in stigma 
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  • chester says there is a clear relationship, people see cohabitation as a 'trial marriage'
  • coast found that 75% of all research participants who cohabited expected to get married
  • some couples choose to marry after having children or when a divorce from a previous partner is finalised
  • benjin disagrees with chester and coast finding that many cohabitees have no desire to get married
  • there is more negotiation of roles and summetry between cohabiting couples than in patriarchal marriages 
  • macklin warns of the dangers of using blanket concepts such as marriage and cohabitation 
  • what matters is the complex meanings the individuals place on their partnerships (interactionist)
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  • chester says there is a clear relationship, people see cohabitation as a 'trial marriage'
  • coast found that 75% of all research participants who cohabited expected to get married
  • some couples choose to marry after having children or when a divorce from a previous partner is finalised
  • benjin disagrees with chester and coast finding that many cohabitees have no desire to get married
  • there is more negotiation of roles and summetry between cohabiting couples than in patriarchal marriages 
  • macklin warns of the dangers of using blanket concepts such as marriage and cohabitation 
  • what matters is the complex meanings the individuals place on their partnerships (interactionist)
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  • stonewall - 5% to 7% of relationships same sex have chose to cohabit
  • 2004 civil partnership act enables same sex couples to freely enter into a legally recpgnised relationship 
  • duncan and phillips maintain 10% of one person households are people living monogamous relationships bt choose to live apart
  • increase in singlehood
  • in 1961, 10% of people lived alone, by 2006 this had risen to 30%
  • the biggest increase among women, especially in the 25-29 age range
  • creative singlehood
  • change in attitudes and values in society 
  • secularisation 
  • changes in the position of women
  • decline in stigma - negative descriptions for being single in the past
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  • functionalists are very positive about marriage 
  • evidence shows that marriage is suffering
  • some functionalists still find reasons for optmism 
  • fletcher maintains that the rising divorce rate is a sign that people are valuing marriage more
  • fletcher maitains that in the past people married for economic reasons but now marriage is based on romantic love
  • as a result when the love has gone out of the marriage people will divorce ad continue their search for their 'soul mate'
  • fletcher argues that 6 out of 10 marriages succed, and that mst people will marry at some stage in their life
  • the high number of remarriages prove that people are not abandoning the institution of marriage 
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  • divorce is the legal process to dissolve a legally contracted marriage
  • the general trend has been upwards over the past 100 years
  • sine 1994 the numbers of divorces have fallen slightly 
  • in 1911 there were just 859 applications for divorce but by 1961 this had increased to about 27,000 and by 1993 had reached 180,000 per year 
  • divorce rate has started to decrease because fewer people are getting married 
  • in the past 20 years the average of those divorcing has riven from 39.8 to 43.4 for men and 37.3 to 40.9 for women
  • it is common and exists amongst all classes and social divisions 
  • the lower th social class of the husban the more likely the couple is to divorce 
  • unempolyment, benefit dependency and low income can lead to divorce 
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  • macro factors (society influenced)
  • micro factors (regarding the individuals in the relationship)
  • 1. Opportunities to escape marriage:changes in the law
  • 1969 divorce law reform act
  • this came into effect in 1971 and introduced the no-fault divorce 
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