Examine the Reasons for Changes in the Patterns of Marriage and Cohabitation in the Last 40 Years
They would get married and have children; that was the norm for society. If a woman wanted a divorce it was very frowned upon, someone would even say it bought shame on a family. Often women would instead stay in a marriage but it would become an empty shell marriage, where a husband and wife formally remain together but there is no substance and barely any communication to the relationship. With the help of female liberation, nowadays women have more choices, whether they continue in further education, go to work, get married and have a family, or a combination of the above.
It is more socially accepted that women make these choices themselves. This means more women are choosing not to get married or to get married in later life, which brings the marriage statistics down. Leading on from a change in attitudes, women have begun to choose to peruse a career instead of marriage. Women are choosing to stay in further education and make successful careers instead of leaving school and starting a family. This again is an example of changes in society as previously women married mainly for financial support.
In the late 1980s, early 90’s there was a gender-quake. This is when a gender causes changes to law and society; in this case women caused this gender-quake. Due to the fact that women were and still are perusing their own careers first, meant they no longer needed a husband to gain financially stability, they created it themselves. This meant they began to get married later or chose not to get married at all, which has added to the decline of marriages. Brenda Almond (2006) stated that the family was fragmenting. People are nstead going after their own individual needs. So women choose to get married later or not at all. The New Right argues that this fragmentation and the decline in marriage are harmful to society. It causes maternal deprivation of children, as they do not get the emotional support a female figure is supposed to provide in a family structure. Thus causing the next generation to be socialized unsuccessfully. Another reason marriage is on a decline is because of secularization. Secularization means a decline in religion.
This is affecting marriage rates, as marriage is a religious ceremony, so if religion declines naturally one would expect marriage rates to decline. A reduction in religion means there is less pressure on people to get married, as marriage is a very traditional concept in many world religions as it creates a bond between a couple. It is not only a contract in law, it is a contract to God, so decrease in faith means a decrease in marriage as people are choosing not to create a contract with God as they no longer believe. This creates a decline in marriage rates.
Adding on to the decline in marriage is alternatives. People are loosing faith but do not loose the want to be with someone or commit to someone, so end up looking for other means to be with each other. An example is cohabitation. Many people now cohabit with their partner, before or instead of getting married. Robert Chester (1985) argued that this form of cohabitation is like a ‘trial marriage’. People live together to see how compatible they are but don’t have a legal tie. They believe it is easier to get out of the relationship, as there is no contract.
People may also cohabit for financial reasons. Weddings can be very expensive, so by cohabitating you are still showing you are together and commit but you haven’t had to muddle through a financial struggle to get there. Since 2002 cohabitating couples have the same rights as married couples, so some people may not see the point of marriage if they can have the same relationship just without a legal contract. Because of this marriage is on a decline. Finally due to divorce, marriage rates are on a decline. Allan and Crowe argue that people are only together to meet their wants and needs.
Once these wants and needs are met, you move onto someone else. This creates a decrease in marriage as people may not want to make the commitment of marriage if it isn’t going to last. Also if they do make the commitment of marriage, if the wants and needs of the marriage have been met, there is no longer a point of being together, so the couples get divorced. McRae (1999) stated that the main reason couples live together is because of love. If the couples don’t love each other anymore, there isn’t a point of staying together and/or being married.
Radical feminists believe the increased divorce rates are because, women realize they are being oppressed under the patriarchal led household and because of factors like the gender-quake, women are more confident to reject the male dominated household. Postmodernists argue that divorce is the individual’s freedom to end a relationship when it doesn’t meet the demands/needs of the couple. This creates more diverse family structures. However functionalists argue the increasing divorce rate doesn’t prove marriage is under threat.
It is just the result of peoples’ high expectations of marriage. Also high rates of re-marriages show people still have commitment to the idea of marriage. Another pattern seen in the last 40 years is the increase in lone parent families. This is partly due to alternatives. There is much less social stigma related to sex outside of marriage, so couples may choose the alternative and cohabit and have a family. Rosnell suggests there is a blurring between friendships and sexual relationships. This could mean a child is conceived without a couple being married.
As Allan and Crowe also suggest, if peoples wants and needs are met then they move onto someone else, this could create an increase in lone parent families, as a woman could get pregnant while she is cohabiting, but once the wants and needs of that relationship are met, they may break up and so the child is bought up in a single parent household. Also because of cultural diversity some ethnic minority families have patterns of single parent hood due to their own culture. For example over 50% of Afro-Caribbean families with children are single parent families.
Berthoud (2003) found that attitudes of Afro-Caribbean women were characterized by ‘modern individualism’. Afro-Caribbean women are more likely to be employed than their Afro-Caribbean equivalents, so women rationally weigh up costs and benefits of living with the fathers and concluded the men were an unreliable source of income and potentially a financial burden. These women preferred to be economically independent, so chose not to get married and raised the children in single-parent households. In conclusion, marriage is on the decline, but remarriages have increased.
This does support a functionalist view that people still commit to the idea of marriage. However people also see marriage as a long- term commitment and so often choose to cohabit as a form of trial marriage. As Bernades (1997) points out most people get married at some stage in their life. I don’t think there is a wrong or right relationship or people should or should not get married. I think it is up to the individuals to come to a decision, as it is their relationship. There is not one perfect mold relationship that people can try to be. Instead they can try to get the best out of it for themselves and their partner.