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Changing patterns in marriage Essay

Using information from the items and elsewhere, examine the reasons for changing patterns of marriage, cohabitation and childbearing in the last 40 years (24 marks) According to the Office for National Statistics, the highest number of couples in 1972 was 480,000 and was due to the baby boom generation of the 1950’s reaching marriageable age and the fact that people chose to marry at a younger age compared to pervious generations. However the annual number of marriages in England and Wales then went into decline and reached an all-time low in 2005 when only 244,710 couples got married. This decline in the total number of marriages has been paralleled by a decline in marriage rates. In 1994, the marriage rate was 11.4 but has decline to 10.3 by 2004. The male rate declined from 36.3 in 1994 to 27.8 in 2004 whilst the female rate declined from 30.6 to 24.6. Fears about what marriage statistics reveal are exaggerated for four reasons: People are delaying marriage rather than rejecting it. Most people will marry at some point in their lives, but people are now marrying later in life, probably after a period of cohabitation.

Women may delay marriage because they want to develop their careers and enjoy a period of independence. The BSAS indicates that most people, whether single, divorced or cohabiting, still see marriage as a desirable life-goal. People also generally believe that having children is best done in the context of marriage and few people believe that the freedom associate with living alone is better than being married to someone. Two fifths of all marriages are remarriages. Evidently these people are committed to the institution of marriage despite their previous negative experience of it. Despite the decrease in the overall number of people marrying, married couples are still the main types of partnership for men and women in the UK. Wilkinson notes that female attitudes towards marriage and family life have undergone a radical change or ‘genderquake’. She argues that young females no longer prioritize marriage and children.

Educational opportunities and the feminization of the economy have resulted in young women weighing up the costs of marriage and having children against the benefits of a career and economic independence. Therefore the result of this is that many females, particularly middle-class, are postponing marriage and family life until their careers are established. Other feminist sociologists are sceptical about the value of marriage. Smith argues that marriage creates unrealistic expectation about monogamy and faithfulness in a world characterized by sexual freedom. She argues that at different points in people’s life cycles, people need different things that often can only be gained from a new partner. Campbell, however, suggests that marriage benefits men more than it does women. A constant source of concern to the New Right has been the significant rise in the number of couples cohabiting.

The proportion of non-married people cohabiting has risen sharply in the last 20 years from 11% of men and 13% of women in 1986 to 24% and 25% respectively. In 2007, the ONS suggested that cohabiting couples are the fastest growing family type in the UK. Around 2.2 million families are cohabiting couples with or without children. This family type has grown by 65% since 1997. However, New Right commentators claim that cohabitation is less stable than marriage. A report by the Institute for the Study of Civil Society claimed that cohabiting couples were less happy and less fulfilled than married couples, and more likely to be abusive, unfaithful, stressed and depressed.

Although surveys indicate that few people see cohabitation as an alternative to marriage, the fact that cohabiting couples are much younger than married couples suggests cohabitation is seen my many participants as a test of compatibility and an introduction to marriage. Other research suggests that cohabitation is a temporary phase lasting on average for about 5 years. Approximately 60% of cohabiting couples eventually marry. Although cohabitation marks a dramatic change in adult living arrangements – as recently as the 1960’s, it was regarded immoral – cohabiting couples with and without children only accounted for 10% of households in 2006.

Reasons for increase in divorce rates:

Thornes and Collard: women value friendship and emotional gratification more than men do. If the husband fails to live up to these expectations, women may feel the need to look elsewhere. Hart: divorce may be reaction to the frustration that many working wives may feel if they are responsible for the bulk of housework and childcare. Beck and Beck-Gernsheim (1995): rising divorce rates are the product of a rapidly changing world in which traditional rules, rituals and traditions of love, romance and relationships no longer apply. In 1938, 6,000 divorces were granted in the UK. This figure had increased tenfold by 1970, and in 1993, numbers packed at 180,000. By 2000, this figure had fallen to 154,600 although the years 2001-2004 have seen a gradual rise to 167,100.

Flouri and Buchanan’s (2002) study of 17,000 children from families that had experienced separation and divorce found that in families, their fathers were still involved in their children so the children were more successful in gaining educational qualifications and continued to seek out educational opportunities in adult life. In conclusion, the reasons for changing patterns of marriage, cohabitation and childbearing in the last 40 years are due to the fact that conjugal roles within marriages have differed and the ability to change marriage beliefs in an instant. Men and women, especially the middle-class, may fear the need to put their careers before starting a family, which therefore causes problems within marriage.

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