What Are The Explanations For The Increasing

Divorce Rates Essay, Research Paper

A wide range

of data and developments are cited to demonstrate that the family is under

stress and is even in danger of breaking up. However, it is important to note

that many sociologists wholly or largely reject this thesis that the family is

breaking up, and favor instead a different model of analysis and

interpretation. The crux of the debate is, is the family disappearing as a

social institution or is it merely transforming into a social institution,

which is characterized by diversity and choice. That is, is the family dying or

is it responding to the changing circumstances of what may be termed postmodern

society. Postmodernism is a condition in which society is composed of many

heterogeneous ideas, values and practices that coexist within a general

framework. It is possible to view the recent developments in family life as

part of this general trend. There are many factors to be considered when we

look at the ?changing family?; one of the key issues related to family change

and adaptation is divorce. The number of divorces granted in Britain has jumped

from 27,000 in 1961 to 191, in 1985; this should be compared with 3000 in 1921

and only 700 in 1911. However this information could be misleading on it?s own,

factors such as the increasing population and popularity of marriage need to be

considered. With the population increasing more people will be getting married,

so therefore there will be more divorce these statistics do not give an

accurate account in the divorce rate. To find an accurate rate of divorce we

need to find out how many divorces there are per thousand marriages. In 1961

just over 2 persons divorced per thousand, in 1987 this figure rose to almost

12 per thousand.?????????????????? ????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????? ?Sociology

new directions??When we look

at divorce rates in these statistics we still see an increased rate in divorce.

Recent studies show that one third of all marriages are likely to end in

divorce. As well as divorce, marital breakdown can also be

?separation?, which refers to the physical separation of the spouses; they no

longer share the same dwelling, and ?empty shell marriages?, where the spouses

live together, remain legally married, but their marriage exists in name only. Personal considerations need to be taken into

account when we look at why people divorce, and it is clearly significant that

people today live much longer than their ancestors. Since 1851 average life

expectancy in Britain for men has risen from 40 to 70 years and for women from

42 to 76 years. Marriages therefore can last much longer, and a significant

number break up when children leave home and partners realise that they have

nothing left in common. It is often forgotten that in earlier times many

marriages were terminated by the early death of either of the partners.

Economic independence and grater equality at work, improved birth control and

smaller families, higher expectations of marital relationships, and the

isolation of the nuclear family are all seen as factors, which have contributed

to the rise in women seeking a divorce. There is also a strong significant relationship

between divorce and social class divorce rates are four times higher among working

class couples than among professionals and highest of all among the unemployed. ? Despite minor fluctuations, there was a steady rise

in divorce rates in modern industrial societies throughout the twentieth

century. Liberalisation of the laws concerning divorce can be seen as integral

to the changing social and sexual mores of the time. This is demonstrated by a

marked increase in the number of divorces, which has followed each

liberalisation of the law. Before 1857, divorce was rare; it was expensive and

only obtainable by private Act of Parliament. The 1857 Matrimonial Causes Act

simplified the procedure and set up courts, which dealt specifically with

matrimonial cases. Men could petition for divorce on the grounds of adultery, a

?matrimonial offence?, but women had to prove other offences such as cruelty or

desertion. In 1937, grounds for divorce were extended to include insanity. Then

again in 1949 another change was seen, the Legal Aid and Advice Act provided

financial help, removing the obstacle to those who could not afford divorce.

During the 1960?s, it seems that public opinion was beginning to favour a

relaxation of the divorce law, there were less social pressures to remain

married and the stigma surrounding divorce began to slowly disappear. ??There was a dramatic increase in petitions

for divorce in 1971 and this was due in part to the new divorce legislation.

The Divorce Reform Act of 1969 (introduced in 1971), allowed couples to divorce

after only two years of separation. Finally in 1985 the 1984 Matrimonial and

Family Proceedings Act became effective, this allowed couples to divorce after

only one year of marriage. This increase did not simply represent a backlog of

couples waiting to legally end an unsatisfactory marriage, since the number of

petitions continued to rise during the subsequent years. Then again in 1984 the

law changed again, allowing couples to get divorced after just one year of

marriage, previously this had been three years. There are now many key areas where it is possible

for a growing proportion of women to have the same opportunities and to behave

in the same way as men do, in education, employment and in marriage. Women are

now better educated and are able to enter relatively well-paid occupations thus

achieving a greater level of? ?financial

independence?. Working class women may not achieve the same degree of economic

security, but the Social security system will at least provide a minimum of

subsistence in this respect. Thus women are no longer constrained by the need

to remain in an unhappy marriage because of the need to provide for herself and

children. These steps towards equality have been accompanied by the granting of

increased legal rights, in marriages as in other spheres. This argument, often

referred to as the independence hypothesis, (Becker, Landes and Michael 1975),

provides a plausible explanation for the rise in marital breakdown. It can be argued that there has been a change in our

explanations of what a marriage ought to provide. This can be summarized as a

move from what can be called an ?institutional? marriage to a ?companionate?

marriage. If the essence of marriage is seen as a personal relationship, and if

it is no longer necessary to preserve the bond for economic reasons, fulfilment

may be hard and therefore sought in a second union. It has been suggested that

it was much easier to fulfil the demands of institutional marriage, these being

largely economic, or entailing the provision of basic domestic services, than

it is to meet the expectations of a companionate marriage based on intimacy,

shared interests and friendship.In all these more subtle

aspects of marriage we need more, we expect more, and we are more easily

disappointed?. ? ???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????? ??????????????????????????????RheinsteinFunctionalists such as Talcott Parsons and Ronald

Fletcher argue that the rise in marital breakdown stems largely from the fact

that marriage is increasingly valued. People expect and demand more from

marriage and consequently are more likely to end a relationship, which may have

been acceptable in the past. Thus, Ronald Fletcher argues that ?a relatively

high divorce rate may be indicative not of a lower but of higher standards of

marriage in society? (Fletcher). The high rate of remarriage apparently lends support

to Parsons and Fletchers arguments. Paradoxically, the higher value placed on

marriage may result in the increased marital breakdown. Hart argues that the second sets of factors that

must be considered when looking at marital breakdown are those, which affect

the degree of conflict between the spouses. It is arguable from a functionalist

perspective that the adaptation of the family to the requirements of the

economic system has placed a strain on the marital relationship. It has led to

the relative isolation of the nuclear family from the wider kinship network.

William J. Goode argues that, as a result, the family ?carries a heavier

emotional burden when it exists independently than when it is a small unit

within a larger kin fabric. As a consequence this unit is relatively fragile?.

(Goode 1971). Edmund Leach (1969) makes a similar point. He

suggests that the nuclear family suffers from an emotional overload, which

increases the level of conflict between its members. In industrial society the family specializes in

fewer functions. It can be argued, that as a result, there are fewer bonds to

unite its members. N. Dennis suggests that the specialization of function that

characterizes the modern family will lead to increased marital breakdown.

Dennis argues that this can place a strain on the strength of the bond between

husband and wife. Put simply, when the love goes, there is nothing much left to

hold the couple together. Colin Gibson (1994) combines elements of the

previous two arguments in claiming that the development of modernity has

increased the likelihood of conflict between spouses.? The way in which the society in which we live has developed has

put an increasing emphasis on individual achievement. Having looked at the increasing rates of divorce

there are many arguments as to whether or not this is a good or bad thing for

society, and those who are personally involved. The effects on children of a

?broken home? are greater where remarriage occurs than if the children remain

with a single parent. This is the rather surprising conclusion to be drawn from

research by the Family Policy Studies Centre. Those whose parents divorced and subsequently

remarried other partners became part of what is termed a ?stepfamily?. Dr

Kathleen Kiernan, research director at the FPSC, found from her research that

those from stepfamilies were, less likely to continue in education after age

16, less likely to do well in terms of work and careers and step-daughters were

twice as likely to become teenage mothers and also likely to marry under the

age of 20. ?Functionalists say that the family is a biological necessity. In

theory it fulfils four main functions: sexual, reproductive, socialisation and

economic. It enables sexual drives to be satisfied within the framework of a

stable relationship. It provides for the birth and rearing of children. Even

though extensive provision is made for education outside the home, it plays a

key part in fitting children for existence in a complex society, and, in doing

so establishes it?s members in a certain status or position in society. Marxists share the view with functionalists that the

modern family has developed in response to broader social change. The Marxist

view asserts the primacy of the economic function of the family to the

exclusion of all other functions. Engel?s (1972) argued that the family was the

result of acquisition of private property, it was a social construct created by

the growth of male dominance and the desire of men to ensure they could leave

?their? property to their heirs. For modern Marxists the most important thing

about the family is the way in which it acts as the prime vehicle for the

production of the forms of capitalist society. It is central to the transmission

of class as well as of gender differences. ?So, without

the ?family?, would social order be maintained? Feminist perspectives on the family take up Engel?s?

theme of subjection, and explore the wide-ranging consequences of the

fundamental inequality between husband and wife. This inequality stems from

traditional differences in what men and women are expected to do, or conjugal

role separation. Feminists say that the family is an instrument for the

exploitation of women. Feminists argue that women have more to gain from

divorce than staying in oppressive marriages. Many government policies today do not support the

traditional family and favour instead a new form of family, one, which, has

adapted to fit into today?s society. Like functionalist sociologists, New Right thinkers

see the family as a cornerstone of society.?

A strong society is built upon a strong family.? They see the ?normal family?, as that of the

traditional family.? The New Right

argues for a return to traditional family values as a remedy for many of the

problems of modern society, such as juvenile delinquency, educational

underachievement and child poverty. But are these really problems that have

come about through the changing family. Change and diversity can be interpreted

as the family being in decline or the family adapting to changing social

conditions. The New Right tend to be critical of any variation

in what they perceive as traditional family values and blame all sorts of

social problems on single parent families which are seen as dysfunctional and

probably welfare dependent. Many critics have suggested that New Right thinkers

tend to lay blame on victims for problems, which are not of their own

making.? For example, single parent

families are criticized by the government for their inadequacy in raising

children, and their dependency on the welfare state. However many of the

problems faced by single parent families are the result of an inadequate

welfare system. It?s not right to say that a child brought up by a single

parent will fail in many ways, or is that what society expects to happen Margaret Thatcher, who supported many aspects of New

Right thinkers, regarding the family said that she agreed that the family was a

vital institution for maintaining social stability. In May 1988 she made a

speech, part of which was, The family is the building

block of society. It?s a nursery, a school, a hospital, a leisure place, a

place of refuge and a place of rest. It encompasses the whole of

society. It fashions beliefs. It?s the preparation for the rest of our life and

women run it. ???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

Quoted in Abbott and Wallace, 1992?In order to

get back the so-called normal family, ?the one which maintains social order?,

many things would need to change. It would not just be a case of new government

policies that would be needed; attitudes and beliefs of society would have to

change. ??. There must be a change

of values in our country too?? Tony Blair, 1997Bibliography.Abercrombie, N.???????????????????????????????????????

Contemporary British SocietyBryson, B.???????????????????????????????????????? ????? Feminist Political TheoryCalvert,P & S.??????????????????????????????????? ????? Sociology TodayGubbay, J. Middleton, C .?????????????????????????? ?????????????????Students Companion to

SociologyGiddons, A.???????????????????????????????????????????????

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Sociology Themes and PerspectivesMoore, S.??????????????????????????????????? ????????????????Sociology AliveO?Donnel, M.????????????????????????????????????????????

Sociology New DirectionsTaylor, P. Richardson, J. Pilkington, A .???????????????????????????????????????????

Sociology in Focus Marsh, I. Trobe, K.???? Townroe, C. Yates, G.????????????????????????????????????????????????????



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