Family Changes 5: The Rising Divorce Rate

In a startling revelation, it has been proven that the rate of divorce has rocketed. This is most evident in Western Industrialized cultures. In 1961 the number of divorces was 27,000, whereas in the year 2006 the number was around 153,000, the number had doubled from the 60's and doubled again in the next decade.The U.K has one of the highest divorce rates in the EU. It is likely that 40% of new marriages end in divorce and if current patterns continue, then more than one child in four would have experienced paretal divorce by the time that they are 16.

Divorce Statistics

the main three ways that divorce stats are presented are :

- The number of people applying for a divorce, but not necessarily getting divorced

- The number of divorces granted

- The number of divorces each year per thousand married people in the population

Although these may be reliable, you have to treat these statistics with caution and when assessing them, you have to consider the changes in legal, financial and social circumstances, to avoid the misconclusion that marriage has been de-valued as has family.

Divorce Statistics only show the legal termination of marriages, they do not however show:

- The number of people that are separated yet not divorced

- The number of people who live in 'empty shell marriages'

- how many 'unstable' or 'unhappy' marriages existed before divorce was made easier.

These points can be interpreted in two different ways, either that the figures of divorce are not an exact representation of breakdowns in family and marriage, or that rising divorce rates really only reflect the changes in law, and not an increase in marital instability.

Changes in the law as a reason for the rising divorce rate

Laws have been changed concerning divorce, which have given men and women equal rights when filing for a legal termination. This could be responsible for a sharp increase of divorce, over the past fifty years, especially in the 70s and 80s

The changing role of women

Roughly three quarters of divorce petitions are filed by women, and about seven out of ten women are granted divorce. This means that either women are unhappier in relationships, or that they are most likely to end the relationship by taking the first step. Women may also be less inclined to conform to the traditional view of a woman, with a lesser tendency to be a housewife/mother role in the household. An increase in employment rates for married women may also be a cause for the increase. in 1931, 10% of married women were in paid employment. At the turn of this century however, 75% of married women had employment. Also there is a lot of benefits to a divorced woman, from the state and from the ex-husband, especially if the woman has children.

Rising expectations of marriage

Functionalist writers such as Parsons and Fletcher have argued that couples (in particular women) have a heightened expectancy of what a relationship should be, compared to their parents or grandparents, this could be a cause for an increase in the rate of divorce.Likely factors for a successful marriage today are; love, companionship, understanding and sexual compatibility. These higher expectations show that couples may be likely to end a relationship over circumstances that previous generations would have been likely to tolerate.

Growing secularization

Secularization is a reference to the decline of religious beliefs and institutions. Goode and Gibson have argued that marriage is becoming less sacred becuase of this, and if it doesn't work can easily be abandoned. 65% of marriages today do not involve a religious ceremony, which could prove that many people have a lesser value of religion in their relationship

Changing social attitudes

Society's attitude to divorce has lessened, meaning that it is now perhaps socially acceptable to be a divorcee. Less people take notice of it, and judge or criticise people for divorcing. This also means that people are not afraid of social action concerning divorce, this means that they are more likely to find a legal solution to end the marriage, if it is an unhappy one, other than continuing an 'empty shell marriage'.

The greater availabilty of, and more effective, contraception.

With a market aimed at people having sex, the methods of safer sex have been increased. With this, there could be a higher rise in partners 'sleeping around', as there could be a less chance of being found out via STI's. Although if the partner does find out, it usually would result in a separation.

The growth of the privatized nuclear family

A rise in family isolation and social mobility means thats partners cannot ask for help from extended kin and close friends. Isolation of a family may increase the chance of a rash decision by a partner, that they would not have possibly made with close contact from family. Also though, there is less pressure from extended kin to keep marriage ties strong. This could prove that the choice of divorce may not be solely with the married couple.

The reduced functions of the family

Due to industrialization, family functions have been lessened or de-valued. This could mean that marriage is a less essential practice for the partners, and a reduced need of reliance on some one else.This also could mean that there are lesser bonds between married couples. If the bonds stated in "Rising expectations of marriage" are broken or missing, the marriage may not then continue.

Increasing life expectancy

In this day and age, there is a greater life expectancy which could mean a lesser inclination to stay with a partner for a "lifetime". Also, due to longer lives, this could mean that there is a longer period of time for the marriage to break down and divorce to occur. Even though it is all potential a younger generation which has been accustomed to divorce may cherish the marital values less than (more than likey) their grandparents for instance.

Family changes 6: remarriage and the growth of the reconstituted family

Even though marriage is still the usual form of partnership between men and women, marriages where it is the first time for both partners in the relationship is deteriorating substantly. Since 1970 the number of these marriages have more than halves. Just over two fifths of marriages now involve a remarriage for one or even both the partners, which mainly reflects on the increase in divorce rates. Divorced men are more likely to remarry then women, reflecting the women's greater dissartisfaction or disillusionment with marriage. Although this is not particularly surprising seeing as women often have to balance the triple shift of domestic labour, childcare, and emotional 'management' of the family as well as competing demands of paid employment.

This movement has meant that there have become more reconstituted families also commonly known as stepfamilies where one partner has remarried making the child have step-parents, stepchildren, and stepbrothers and stepsisters. This type of family is the fastest growing type where stepfathers are more common than stepmothers since most of the children remain with the mother after the divorce and that around nine out of ten stepfamilies consist of a couple with atleast one child from the previous relationship of the woman. This then refects the fact that is it seen that it is nearly always the women that gain custody of the children in the event of the relationship breakdown.

Statistics say that 'one in six men in their thirties are now stepfathers, raising other men's children - nearly double the proportion in the mid-1990s. Official estimates suggest there are around three-quarters of a million stepfamilies with dependent stepchildren in the UK - 10 per cent of all families with dependent children.'

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