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A sociological investigation into cohabitation in Britain today Essay

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In my coursework I shall conduct a sociological investigation into cohabitation in Britain today. This is expanded from my previous coursework, which updated past research into the stigmas attached to cohabitation. It interests me to investigate whether facts and opinions of cohabitation have changed over time. To achieve this aim I shall look at the following questions throughout my research: 1. Why has cohabitation increased? 2. Does cohabitation have an effect on children? 3. What advantages and disadvantages are there to cohabitation? 4. Is there still a stigma attached to cohabitation?

5. Do cohabiting couples ever wish to marry or is it a permanent status? I believe that cohabitation is increasingly replacing marriage. I intend to research cohabitation using a questionnaire, which will be given to both cohabiting and married couples to complete. 133 Words Context Cohabitation has doubled since 1981 to around 25% and is greatly increasing. It is defined as when two people live together in a relationship without being married. This can be either a short-term arrangement or a permanent status in which the couple do not see the need to be legally married.

Sociologists have researched into many areas of cohabitation and the family. However, more recently the main focus has been on the increase in cohabitation. It is argued that marriage is becoming less popular and so people are developing alternatives to conventional married life. Also, there are increasing numbers of marital breakdown, which are reflected in rises in the divorce rates. The General Household Survey from Social Trends (2000) found that in Great Britain between 1998 and 1999, 26% of males and 25% of females, between the ages of 16 and 59, were in a cohabiting relationship.

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This is relevant as it show evidence of the large numbers of cohabiting couples in society today. Chester (1980) has argued that cohabitation is only a temporary situation that often leads to marriage. Chester said that in many cases it is not possible for a couple to marry, due to one or both partners being married. Also, many couples see cohabitation as a trial period, which often determines whether they choose to marry. Chester concluded that around 2% of single women aged 18-49 are living and bearing children in “constitutional unions” which may be permanent.

However, Chandler argues against this theory, seeing the increase in cohabitation as more significant. Chandler says that couples appear to be spending lengthening amounts of time cohabiting and seem to be choosing cohabitation as a permanent replacement for marriage. Chandler (1993) supports this by noting that 28% of children were born to unmarried mothers, 70% of which were registered by both parents. These arguments show the conflicting opinions, between sociologists, regarding the status that cohabitation appears to now have.

Approximately 15% of one-parent families are created through the break-up of cohabiting unions, showing that cohabitation’s with children are even more likely to break-up than childless ones. Today, more than 20% of children are born to cohabiting couples, although around only a third of these children will remain with both parents throughout their childhood. This means that children born to cohabiting parents are more likely to experience a series of disruptions in their family life, which can have negative consequences for their emotional and educational development.

Berthoud and Gershuny found, in ‘seven years in the lives of British families’, that 70% of children born to married parents are likely to live their entire childhood with both parents whereas only 36% of children born to cohabiting parents remain with both parents. It has also been shown that children living in cohabiting stepfamilies are at a significantly higher risk of child abuse, showing that these informal cohabiting families are the most unsafe environments for children. This is interesting as it shows an insight into the effects that cohabitation can have on children.

There have been many theories as to why cohabitation has increased, alongside the simple and more obvious explanations. Marriage is seen as a more risky choice in a relationship due to the divorce rates and expense of marriage, along with the decline in religious influence and growing economic and employment insecurity worries. Single parenthood has been a partial explanation as to why cohabitation has increased as many women choose to cohabit in a relationship, rather than having the irresponsibility of raising a child outside of a stable relationship.

Cohabitation has greatly occurred from the great rise in divorce rates, which may also have the effect if children, from divorced parents, being wary of marriage. However, the decline in childbirth and the conscious decision to not have children may have made it less necessary for couples to marry. Past research conducted into sociology appears to indicate that the once prominent stigma attached to cohabitation has greatly declined in society. Th decline in the negative view to cohabitation, in society, has been shown in the Social Trends Survey (1996).

The results from ‘people who feel cohabitation is wrong: by gender, 1994’ show that between 1960 and 1978, 7% of males and 6% of females felt that cohabitation is wrong. This has greatly decreased from 40% of males and 37% of females in 1930. These statistics could also imply that these numbers are still decreasing in society today. Ronald Fletcher’s (1988) theory shows an inclination as to why this social stigma has decreased. He suggests that cohabitation is a form of marriage, which is similar to that of a nuclear family, rather than a different relationship form altogether.

He argued that cohabiting couples are concealed nuclear families that are not legalised through marriage. This theory not only suggests reasons for cohabitation but also indicates that it could continue to increase in society. 810 Words Methodology feelings towards discussing such information. Using a questionnaire will allow me to get results in a short period of time, which will be easy for both me and my participants as it will take into account any individual variables, such as the participant being in a rush etc.

Questionnaires will be the best method of data collection for my study as I can then easily quantify and analyse the results in relation to my rationale. I shall conduct my study by In sociology, structionalists and interactionists have each used different methods of attempting to research areas of sociology. Structuralists are positivists and so use scientific, quantitative methods if collecting data. Common methods used by structuralists are laboratory experiments, which isolate the variables to find a relationship between them and field experiments, which, attempt to control variables in a natural situation.

Also used by structuralists are questionnaires, structural interviews and the analysis of official statistics. Interactionists, however, are anti-positivists and reject scientific research methods, using qualitative methods of collecting data. Common methods used by interactionists are informal/unstructured interviews, where the subject directs the interview, and participant observation, where the participants are observed during their daily activities. For my research I shall be using the quantitative research methods of questionnaires.

I considered using formal interviews to collect my data as I would have been able to get more in-depth and personal results, but decided that this would be more difficult to conduct and a suitable sized sample may be harder to find for reasons such as time difficulties and personal handling out questionnaires to randomly aged cohabiting, married and non-cohabiting couples. I shall use 25 questionnaires to complete my study as I feel that this is a relatively suitable sized sample to gain reliable results with.

I have chosen this sample in the hope that I will gain a wide variety of couples and ages, without attempting to manipulate who participates. The gender of my participants shall also be randomly selected, rather than pre-determined. I shall also distribute my questionnaires in a variety of places sixth form college, workplace, public areas) to aid my aim of getting a varied sample and ensure that my results are representative. I shall ensure that I am ethical in my approach of this by gaining their consent before handing them the questionnaire.

The questionnaires shall also have details of the nature of the study written above the questions and they shall be verbally informed that it is not required of them to answer any questions that they do not wish to. The questionnaires shall also be confidential and so will not require a name or contact details from the participant, which may increase the validity of my results as they may be less likely to lie or refuse to disclose information. When constructing my questionnaire I ensured that I considered all of my aims, stated in my rationale.

I included questions which required both written answers and a choice of pre-selected answers, depending on the nature of the question. For two of my questions, the answer choices were given in ranges, rather than individual answers (e. g. are you, 26-35 etc). I did this with ages to male the question less personal as the participant may be uncomfortable disclosing their exact age. It has also been done when asking how many cohabiting couples they know of, as it is unlikely that they would consider the exact amount accurately.

I constructed the questionnaire in a form that is suitable for both married and cohabiting/non cohabiting couples to complete, and based all of my questions on a more personal form of my aims, which will hopefully result in valid results. Before conducting my final study, I completed a pilot study of four questionnaires to find any area of improvement which could better my final study. I conducted and distributed these questionnaires in exactly the same way as planned for the final study.

I feel that my pilot study was successful and without any major problems. I shall, however, change some minor aspects of the questionnaire. I found that the question regarding ‘benefits of cohabiting couples’ may have been misinterpreted as financial benefits only, and so I shall change the structure of that question. I also found that people were writing more, for their answers, than the allocated space and so I shall add more lines per question on my final questionnaires. The remainder of my questionnaire shall stay the same. 741 Words Evidence

To present the results of my questionnaire I shall display and discuss each question individually, in the order which they appear in on the questionnaire itself. 1. Are you: Male Female I decided to first gain some knowledge of the participant so that any relations could be made between the results and their personal details, if necessary. For my research, however, I am looking at the overall current opinions of the public and so am not looking for any direct relationships related to gender. Due to my random sample it was not expected that an equal number of males and females would be used, and this is shown in the above table.

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