The family structure over the last 100 years has changed dramatically in the UK. Societies’ more relaxed attitudes towards marriage mean it is no longer seen as unusual to be involved in a complicated family structure. For example, a Reconstituted family, is when one or both parents have been married before and had children and have remarried to form a new family structure also known as a stepfamily. Families are no longer just nuclear families, this is a family made up of married parents living with their children. Families now have more complicated structures compared to the debatable desired structure; the nuclear family.
Other family structures include cohabiting parents, single-parent families, same-sex parent families and extended families etc. The last 100 years have seen changes in legislation, technology, attitudes and expectations these are all factors that have led to many new trends, three beings; the growing number of new types of family structures, more females in highly respected and paid jobs and an increase in divorce rates. It is known that 40% of all marriages now end in divorce. There are many possible causes for this trend, one being the (1949) legal aid act and the (1969) divorce law reform act which made divorce proceedings easier.
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Another cause could be secularisation and the declining stigma and changing of societies’ attitudes towards divorce as more people had more flexible views towards divorcees as attitudes towards traditional values have changed. For example the idea of the woman having to fulfil a triple shift every day, this is when the women go out to work to provide financial support for their family then come home and cook and clean and complete their tasks as a housewife and then also provide emotional support for their family so therefore seen as a theorist too. This idea was brought about by a sociologist called Benson, increasingly more women are rejecting this stereotype and are expecting more equality from their marriage, this also shows that the impact of feminism has had an effect on divorce rates as women are becoming more financially stable and don’t need a husband to support them.
Evidently more women are going out to work and more relationships are consisting of duel-earners which is when both males and females work. This is a form of equality but in many cases, women are still expected to run the home and cook and clean even though they have been at work all day too, this is known as the dual burden which shows that inequality still exists and this can cause more conflict in marriage as women are fighting for equality within their households still and this can cause marital breakdowns which then leads to divorce and less nuclear families. Oppose to the decline in the importance of who is the breadwinner, the availability of welfare benefits to single parents gives the opportunity for women to file for divorce knowing that they are going to have some financial help.
This encourages women to get out of unhappy or unsafe marriages which therefore causes a rise in single-parent families and reconstituted families as single parents then have the chance to find compatibility later on in life. Changes in the law and attitudes have clearly made it easier to be able to get a divorce and Britain now has one of the highest divorce rates in Europe and the largest percentage of people in any European nation who have been divorced. Data indicates that the number of couples getting a divorce dropped to the lowest rate for 26 years in 2007. The changes in marriage and cohabitation (which is when couples are living together without being married) have contributed to the growing number of new types of family.
Two in five of all marriages are now remarriages, this leads to the rise in reconstituted families. Overall Marriage rates have declined as fewer people are getting married and in fact, Britain now has the lowest marriage rates since 1920. Just like divorce rates increasing because of secularisation, marriage rates could be decreasing because of the decline of the importance of religion too. Society now attaches less stigma to cohabitating couples and therefore there is less social pressure to marry so people just don’t or they leave it to a goal for later on in life. in 2004 only 32% of marriages involved a religious ceremony compared with 51% in 1991. this could indicate that secularisation is a cause of the decline in nuclear families. Also, the ethnic variations in marriage suggest a correlation with religion for example Berthoud (2000) found that three-quarters of Pakistani and Bangladeshi women are married by the age of 25 compared with just over half of white women.
Berthoud also found that only 39% of Caribbean adults under the age of 60 were informal marriages compared to 60% of white adults. These could be reasons for the decrease in nuclear families and the increase in other family structures like cohabiting couples and lone-parent families. However the average age for first-time brides in 2003 was 29 years and for all grooms was 31 years, compared with 22 for women and 24 for men in 1971. This could show that marriage is not being written off by couples completely and that it is just being delayed for reasons such as fear of divorce as the statistics show that you are more likely to get divorced if you marry at a young age. However, it could also just be a general fear of divorce and the idea of having a series of long-lasting relationships leading to cohabitation or marriage otherwise known as serial monogamy. Divorce trends suggest that monogamy (one partner for life) will soon be replaced by serial monogamy which will increase the number of lone-parent families and reconstituted families as more people will leave old partners and join with new partners to form a new family structure.
Another new trend which affects the changing of family structures is the increase in singletons, this is when people live alone. The British government is very unsupportive of people living like this however 3 out of every 10 households are singletons. an increase in divorce could be a cause of the increase of singletons as females usually win custody of the children in court so therefore the many singletons are middle-aged males. Also, the trend of marriage rates decreasing could indicate the rise of singletons as fewer people are settling down at a young age and also people choosing not to marry or to marry later on in life have shown an increase in singletons. Also, the changes in attitudes and social stigma could be a cause as it is now more socially acceptable for a woman to remain childless. Also, women may choose to stay single because of the experience of the dark side of the family, this is the idea that there are bad aspects of the family that are not openly expressed.
Also, lone-parent families are more likely to live in poverty so therefore single people are choosing not to get pregnant as a society may see this as a selfish act. many singletons are elderly widows, usually female as they have higher life expectancies. This trend will cause all traditional family types to decrease for example the nuclear family as increasing amounts of people are choosing not to have children or partners. Singletons could be a result of the impact of feminism however so could single-parent families as women are frequently told that they don’t need men and therefore choose to bring up their children fatherless or with hardly any input from the male side. There are now approximately 1.75 million lone-parent families in Britain. Consequently, more and more children are now growing up in single-parent families despite the stigma associated with this.
Single-parent families make up 24% of all family types. There could be many reasons for this growing trend. one being the increase in divorce and the impact of feminism as 90% of single-parent families are headed by women, this could be because women are becoming more financially independent and stable and are finding that they don’t need men in their lives for support. the trend could also be because women now have more opportunities to become highly respected and paid more in careers and therefore are choosing to dedicate their lives to a career instead of a marriage and then later on in life have a baby on their own. Another cause could be the decline in the stigma attached to births outside of marriage because this will enable women to give birth to a baby creating a single-parent family without being rejected by society. 4 in every 10 children are born outside of marriage.
Some sociologists suggest that the welfare state encourages ‘irresponsible behaviour’ like this as the system funds single parents however 4 in every 10 children being born outside of marriage could just be because people are finding a marriage certificate less important and are just having children before they get married because these people will be a big part of these statistics. On the other hand just because some women are choosing to have children alone does not mean that this is all single parents’ intention. Unfortunately, in some cases, one parent dies, and although overall life expectancy has increased over the last 100 years, this idea that there is an increase of diseases of consumption could be a factor creating more lone-parent families as we have more heart disease, cancers, kidney and liver failures which are due to chosen lifestyles like eating habits, drinking, smoking and no exercise.
These are all factors that are creating more children with only one parent, due to death. Also, the idea of equality is questioned as mothers are usually given custody in courts as they are seen as providing the nurturing role in the household because men are unwilling to give up work to look after children which are normally because they are in highly paid jobs, and this nurturing role is needed to socialize children. Further, Haskey estimated that lone-parent families to be 26% of all single mothers in 2002. however contrary to popular opinion teenagers make up only 3% of lone parents and the average age of a lone parent is in fact actually 34. This causes more single-parent families usually by choice despite the negative labelling of lone-parent families by teachers, social workers, housing departments, police and the courts. single parents are also often scapegoated for inner-city crime and educational underachievement.
Also, this trend could be the cause of the increase in reconstituted families as both parents seperate to find a more compatible partner, especially the male as he will hardly have access to his own children so he will try to reproduce more children or play a father role to stepchildren. Ann Oakley is a powerful and respected feminist sociologist who suggests that the family leaves women powerless and oppressed because the family favours the male more as we live in a patriarchal society. And although laws like the equal pay act and the sex discrimination act made things more equal some sociologists suggest that women and no worse off in a single-parent family. Contrastly, some women may remain childless because of this. feminists highly support the idea of women getting out of unhappy or unsatisfied relationships and some radical feminists suggest that men and women would benefit more from living apart.
This would completely change family structures to single-parent families and same-sex families. being unhappy in a relationship and getting a divorce does not necessarily mean you have thrown the idea of traditional family life out of the window it just means that you need to find it somewhere else this could be the reconstituted family structure that would satisfy your needs as single parents may not want to remain in that family structure as people within The New Right suggest that single-parent families can not socialize children adequately leading to delinquency, drug abuse, educational failure and therefore overall becoming a reconstituted family may get rid of any social stigma of a lone parent family structure.
The last 100 years have shown an increase in the number of reconstituted families, causes for this change of family structure could be divorce rates increasing just like many of the increases of other family structures, divorce seems to be the cause as there is a rising expectation for marriage and equality which creates conflict and then leads to divorce and then a single parent family and then perhaps a reconstituted family structure. This shows a decline of nuclear families however many people reform the married parents with children structure just with other people to indicate that they think the nuclear family is the most suitable which goes along with The New Rights perspective as they say that women should play the expressive role whilst the male plays the instrumental role as this brings up children best educationally, physically, psychologically and socially. However, reconstituted families are one of the fastest-growing family forms in Britain, currently making up one in ten of all families.
Worryingly step-parents are more likely to be in poverty as there are more children and the stepfather may be supporting other children from another family. in 2003 it was estimated that 726,000 children were living in this family but it does not mean that all these children are living in poverty because of this as class and ethnicity is a factor in this case as well. Some family experts see co-parenting as a characteristic of binuclear families this is when although the children move from one family to the other, in which both households are only one family system as far as the children are concerned. However, if your parents have gone to court and you’re old enough to understand, conflict is usually present as you are pulled in two directions, you also may dislike your step-family causing more conflict and envy until the age that you move out or even throughout the rest of your life. De’Ath and Slaters (1992) did a study identifying this and a number of other challenges facing reconstituted families.
More international migration is taking place, bring more cultures and ethnic minorities into Britain. which therefore means an influence of other traditions. this new modern multicultural society is creating more mixed cultures and more mixed-raced children which further shows a mix of culture and tradition. In short Afro-Caribbean families are more likely to be lone-parent families than white families and Asians are more likely to live in extended families compare to white families because of higher life expectancies and lower birth rates. Also, their culture usually influences families to look after their elderly and sick, creating more vertically and horizontally extended families in the UK. This has an effect on society because as a whole we are influenced by other cultures which therefore changes our traditions.
In Britain the family life has traditionally been regarded as people’s personal business and not an area that the state should interfere in however with the increase of child protection laws and the welfare state, the state is having an increasing role within the family. Also, government policies concerning health, education, tax and welfare will all impact the family. Government policies usually favour the family structures they prefer and create a stigma to the structures that they dislike for example Thatcher created the idea that women working leads to ‘latch key’ children which is clearly ridiculous but people’s judgements were influenced by this. Murphy (2006) showed that households in 1971 consisted of 11,249 married couples and only 9,409 in 2006 and estimated that there would be 8,834 in 2026. compared to 341 lone parent households in 1971, 1642 in 2006 and predicted that there will be 1876 in 2016.
This shows the intense difference over the period of 35 years and the prediction for the next 20 years and considering its 2012, Murphys statistics seem to be going in the right direction but until 2026 nobody will know how accurate his predictions were. There are many factors affecting the change of family structure over the last 100 years but none single-handedly created all the new family structures that there are today. For example, same-sex families are negatively frowned upon by many corners of society. The New Right shows great concern about same-sex civil partnerships, adoption, IVF, Surrogacy.
And some commentators go so far as to say that it is unnatural and will have a negative effect on children. So why is there an increase? What are the causes of the increase? Dunne found that children brought up in same-sex families had less narrow views and found equality important in any relationship, and also found that these families produced more tolerant children. So why is it negatively labelled? This shows that every structure has negatives and positives and that no sociologist can single-handedly prove which family structure is best in all specific cases, all specific countries and cultures. family is an individual’s choice.