Trends within the Family – Divorce and reconstituted families

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WHAT ARE THE PATTERNS IN DIVORCE?

  •   The divorce rate is currently 11.1. It is one of the highest divorce rates in the world. This means approximately 40% of marriages now end in divorce.

  •   There was a steady rise in divorce rates in modern industrial societies throughout the twentieth century.

  •   Marriage numbers have declined thus there are less people married who can then divorce.

  •   The average age at divorce in England and Wales is 43 years for men and 40 years for women.

  •   The average length of marriage for divorces granted is 11 years.


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WHO DIVORCES?

  • There are differences between social groups in rates of divorce :-
    • Young spouses, and those who marry younger are most at risk.
  • A person’s age at marriage is strongly associated with the likelihood of divorce:-
    • The older people are when they marry, the less chance they have of divorcing.
    • Couples who marry in their teens are almost twice as likely to divorce as those who marry between the ages of 20 and 24
  • The divorce rate also varies by the amount of time the marriage has lasted.
  • They may underestimate the volume of marital breakdown in the earlier years of marriage - couples may split up, on average, five years before they actually divorce.
  • Social class is also closely related to the incidence of divorce.  The divorce rate for unskilled husbands is more than four times that for professionals and for the unemployed, almost five times that for the professionals.
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REASONS FOR THE RISE IN HIGH DIVORCE RATES W.I.L.S

  • Women’s emancipation
    • Emancipation means the freeing of women in terms of political liberation and social change - in the past women were expected to marry and stay married in order to conform to society’s expectations regarding their role – ‘wife’ and ‘mother’ roles were central to femininity – they now have the financial, sexual and social freedom which allows them to stay unmarried or get divorced.
  • Sharpe - 
    • Young women’s ambitions altered from 1970 to 1990 - reflecting changes in their values.
    • In the 1970’s they prioritised marriage, relationships and children.
    • In the 1990’s they highlighted career, money, friendship and relationships more equally.
  • Thornes and Collard -
    • Most divorce petitions are instigated by women.
    • Women expect much more from marriage than men - they expect friendship and emotional gratification which they may nbot find - 2/3rds of women were disappointed in their husbands.
  • Hart - 
    • Women still take on a disproportionate amount of domestic work and child care.
    • Women seek divorce in response to being treated as domestic slaves.
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REASONS FOR THE RISE IN HIGH DIVORCE RATES W.I.L.S

  • Talcott Parsons and Ronald Fletcher -

  • The rise in marital breakdown stems largely from the fact that marriage is increasingly valued, but they argue it is not just women who have high expectations.

  • Men and women expect and demand more from marriage and consequently are more likely to end a relationship, which may have been acceptable in the past.  

  • Thus Fletcher argues that 'a relatively high divorce rate may be indicative not of lower but of higher standards of marriage in society’.

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REASONS FOR THE RISE IN HIGH DIVORCE RATES W.I.L.S

  • Gibson -
    • The development of modernity has increased the likelihood of conflict between spouses.
    • Society puts an increasing emphasis upon the desirability of individual achievement.
    • People now live in an ‘enterprise and free-market culture of individualism in which the license of choice dominates.'
    • A higher divorce rate may thus be indicative of modern couples generally anticipating ‘a superior standard of personal satisfaction than was expected by their grandparents.’
    • People exercise their freedom by leaving marriages that fail to live up to what they expect.
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REASONS FOR THE RISE IN HIGH DIVORCE RATES W.I.L.S

  • Legal Changes
    • Changes in legislation have made divorce easier.
    • As marriage is a legal contract, divorce requires legal approval; if this approval becomes easier to obtain, then there will be more divorces.
  • Divorce Reform Act
    • No longer emphasized the idea of matrimonial offence and so avoided the need for ‘guilty parties.'
    • It defined the grounds for divorce as ‘the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage’.
    • This made divorce considerably easier and accounts in part for the dramatic rise in the number of divorces in the 1970’s.
  • Family Law Act of 1996
    • Partners had to assert the marriage had broken down and undergo a ‘period of reflection’ to consider whether a reconciliation was possible.
    • Encouraged greater use of mediation, rather than relying on solicitors.
  • Child Support, Pensions and Social Security Act of 2000
    • Provided for absent parents to contribute a fixed proportion of their take-home pay towards maintenance costs.
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REASONS FOR THE RISE IN HIGH DIVORCE RATES W.I.L.S

  • Evaluation:
    • We should be sceptical about suggesting that changes to the law create changes to divorce rates directly as clearly people do not all rush off to get divorced simply because it becomes easier.
    • The law, rather, reflects social changes in that it permits marriages that have in practice effectively ended to be legally dissolved.
    • The underlying cause of marriages breaking down would be more personal and the law changes to accommodate this.
    • Sex Discrimination Act and the Equal Pay Act - 
    • These pieces of legislation made it possible for women to get jobs paid at an equal level to men which made them more financially independent.
    • Before such legislation existed women may not have been able to leave unhappy marriages due their financial dependence on their husband.
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REASONS FOR THE RISE IN HIGH DIVORCE RATES W.I.L.S

  • Secularisation
    • Secularisation refers to the declining influence of religious beliefs and institutions.
  • Goode (1971) and Gibson (1994) -
    • This has resulted in marriage becoming less of a sacred, spiritual union.
    • More than 60% of marriages today no longer involve a religious ceremony.
    • The church now takes a much less rigid view of divorce.
  • Divorce has become more socially acceptable and there is less social disapproval and condemnation (stigmatising) of divorcees.
  • Divorce no longer hinders careers through a public sense of scandal and outrage.
  • People are less afraid of the consequences of divorce and are more likely to seek a legal end to an unhappy marriage rather than simply separating or carrying on in an ‘empty-shell’ marriage.
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THE EFFECTS OF A HIGH DIVORCE RATE

  • There are three main effects:
    • The rise in numbers of reconstituted families
    • The rise in numbers of single parent families
    • The rise in numbers of divorced men living alone

 

 

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RECONSTITUTED FAMILIES

  • The reconstituted or step-family is made up of divorced or widowed people who have remarried (step families), and their children from the previous marriage (or cohabitation).
  •  Such families are on the increase because of the rise in divorce.
  • In 2012, it was estimated that 900,000 children were living in this type of family.
  • They make up 7% of all families. 88% of children live with their mother and a step-father, although increasing numbers of children live with their father and a step mother (12%).
  • Reconstituted families are unique because children also are likely to have close ties with their other natural parent.
  • An increasing number of children experience co-parenting where they spend half their week with their mother and step-father and spend the other half with their father.
  • Some family experts see co-parenting as a characteristic of binuclear families – two separate post-divorce or separation households are really one family system as far as children are concerned.
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EFFECTS OF A RISE IN RECONSTITUTED FAMILIES

  • De’Ath and Slater - 
    • Study of step-parenting identified a number of challenges facing reconstituted families.   Children may find themselves pulled in two directions, especially if the relationship between their natural parents continues to be strained. 
    • They may have tense relationships with their step-parents, and conflict may arise around the extent to which the step-parent and step-child accept each other, especially in regard to whether the child accepts the newcomer as a ‘mother’ or ‘father’. 
    • Strained relations between step-parents and children may test the loyalty of the natural parent and strain the new marriage.
    • These families may be further complicated if the new couple decide to have children of their own which may create the potential for envy and conflict among existing children.
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