Families and Households: Marriage, Divorce and Cohabitation


Families and Households

Marriage, Divorce and Cohabitation:

Changing Patterns of Marriage

Explaining the Long Term Decrease in Marriage

  • There are four main sociological explanations when explaining the long term decrease in marriage.

1. Economic factors – increasing property prices in recent years may be one factor leading to couples delaying marriage until later life. The average deposit on a first time home is now over £30,000 and with the average cost of a wedding being £18,000, it is more financially viable to buy a house first and then marry in their 30’s opposed to marring earlier and then having to rent or live with parents

2. Changing gender roles – Liberal Feminists point out that now more than half of the workforce is now female and so women no longer have to be married to be financially secure. According to the genderquake theory, economic power is shifting to women with the majority of jobs in the service sector and so marriage is a poor option for women in a female economy.

3. Moral decline – the New Right blame the decline of marriage on moral decline as a result of the breakdown of social institutions and due to too much acceptance of diversity. The result is an inability to commit to each other and they view this as both bad for society and bad for the socialisation of the young generation.

4. Consumer society – Postmodernists see the decline of marriage as a result of the consumer society characterised by greater individual choice and freedom which is part of the process of individualisation. As such, as well as picking out materialistic goods and items, we also can pick out our own lifestyle and life course and as a result, marriage is a matter of individual choice. Additionally they cite secularisation as another cause of a decline in marriage as there is less social stigma attached to cohabiting or remarrying after divorce.

    • Giddens’ work on ‘Pure Relationships’ demonstrates how although people may still value marriage, changes in the social structure may make relationships harder to start or maintain.
  • Evaluations:
    • New institutions such as marriage guidance and relationship counselling have emerged to help us cope with the insecurities of modern relationships which demonstrates marriage is still valued by society today.
    • The decline in marriage is not as simple as it just being about individual choice as there are general social changes which lie behind its decline.
    • It may be that over the last 30 – 40 years we have just witnessed a shift to people marrying later in life and the marriage rate will stabilise in time.
    • We should not exaggerate the decline in marriage as there has been a very recent increase in the marriage rate.

Explaining the Trends in Marriage

  • Morgan sees rising cohabitation as part of a trend in which marriage is going out of fashion.
    • Rather than acting as a prelude to married life, Morgan believes that it represents an increase in the number of sexual partners and…


No comments have yet been made