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Social Trends . Revision Focus: Divorce/Marriage . Case study: Text 3.

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social trends

Social Trends

Revision Focus: Divorce/Marriage

case study text 3
Case study: Text 3
  • Couples marrying now face a 45% risk of divorce, official figures reveal. The threat hits a peak in the fourth year and almost one in eight marriages is over before the fifth anniversary. Beyond that, couples enjoy a steadily increasing chance of staying together into old age.
  • The figures chart the growing impact of divorce. In 1980 around a third of marriages finished with divorce. By 1994 the figure had risen to 41%. The latest figures show a newly-married couple have a 45% chance of divorce.
  • Divorce rates have been influenced over recent decades by legal reforms, in particular by the introduction of ‘quickie’ divorce laws in the early 1970s which led to a sharp and enduring rise.

Adapted from Daily Mail, 27 March 2008, ONS

Other relevant article - The Guardian

  • Divorce (or the dissolution of marriage) is the final termination of a marital union, cancelling the legal duties and responsibilities of marriage and dissolving the bonds of matrimony between the parties (unlike annulment which declares the marriage null and void).
key resources for this topic
Key Resources for this topic
  • A- Mail Online Transcript
  • B - Mail Online Rising Divorce Rate
  • C- Divorce Definition
  • D- Divorce Law Reform Act
  • E – Quickie Divorce
group discussion
Group discussion
  • Possible exam questions from this text.
key issues to consider when considering statitics
Key issues to consider when considering statitics

Divorce statistics may not represent an accurate picture of relationship


Figures may not include:

  • Separations - some of which may not lead to divorce but represent relationship breakdown.
  • Empty shell marriages - or marriages where the relationship is no longer close or intimate – difficult to measure.
  • Breakdown of cohabiting couples – increasingly important due to the rise in the number of people cohabitating
  • Only represents official numbers - unofficial numbers just as significant Doesn’t take into consideration quality of marriage
  • Less people are now getting married.
some possible reasons for the increasing divorce rate
Some Possible reasons for the increasing divorce rate...

Changes in the law

Several laws have been passed to make divorce easier to obtain. Eg: Divorce

Law Reform Act, 1985 Matrimonial and Family Proceedings Act

Ease of divorce

The stigma of divorce is greatly reduced in society today, so people no longer

feel ashamed to be divorced.

Change in attitudes

Some sociologists argue that marriage is highly valued in society, partly due to

the image the media present of marriage as based on romance and happiness.

People now demand more from marriage and if it does not live up to the ideal

they hold then they will get divorced and try again - this explains the growing

number of remarriages.

social acceptance
Social acceptance
  • There is now considerably less social stigma and blame attached to divorce.
  • Wilson (1966) argues that this reduction in stigma is a result of secularisation, the decreasing influence of religion in contemporary society.
  • Less than 50% of marriages now involve a religious ceremony, and even those that do might not be based on a religious institution for religious reasons. The idea of a lifelong marriage blessed by God is clearly less significant now than previously.

Attitudes towards the effect of divorce on children may have shifted. It had been considered in the past that couples should remain together for the sake of the children. Now it is more commonly thought that children are better off if parents split up so that they are not exposed to constant parental conflict.

the changing role of women
The changing role of women

Approx. 70% of divorces are initiated by women. Women today

are more likely to be independent - with a good education,

fewer children and a job. If they are unhappy in a marriage it is

easier for them to leave and start again.

Better rights under divorce law, increased job opportunities and the

provision of state financial support can all be seen as contributing to

enhancing the bargaining position of women in conjugal relationships.

Women have, in the past 100 years, achieved many new rights in terms

of property, the vote, employment and education, and the rise in

divorce may reflect this shift in the position of women within society

and make them less willing to accept an unsatisfactory marriage.

Indeed it may have changed altogether the boundaries of the

"acceptable" within marriage. In 1946, 45% of petitions were by wives.

In 1986-1990, 73% of petitions were by wives.


Changes in the economics status of women

  • Changes in expectations of marriage/less willing to be unhappy
  • Longer life expectancy – couples grow apart – “Silver Separations”
  • Rise in individualism
  • Decline in extended families leads to isolation and less emotional and practical support.
  • Welfare support
  • Decline in religious beliefs - secularisation
  • Less tolerant of abusive relationships
  • Economic recovery - Mail-online March 2008
consequences of divorce
Consequences of divorce
  • More single parent families
  • More one person households
  • More remarriages
  • May be more poverty if the person who has the children gets no financial support from their ex partner.
  • Children may lack a male role model (as most often the female gets custody of the children) and therefore not be socialised properly.
  • Feminists might say that divorce is a positive thing for women and children as only men benefit from family life. They believe that female single parent families are better than nuclear families for women.

Is the family in decline?

  • It would appear from the evidence that the media image of the ‘cereal packet family’ as the typical family seems in doubt. It seems that ‘the family’ generally is not in decline, it is simply that there is now more diversity of family types in Britain today (i.e. many different types).
the divorce law reform act 1969
The Divorce Law Reform Act 1969
  • Simplified divorce – irretrievable breakdown of marriage, no fault divorce, made easier

BBC News 10th February 2011

It's 40 years since the 1969 Divorce Reform Act came

into effect in January 1971.

As a result it became much easier for couples to escape

an unhappy marriage. Neither partner had to prove

fault lay with their husband or wife any longer, and as a

result the divorce rate shot up.


Removal of legal and financial barriers: Prior to 1857, divorce could only be obtained by Act of Parliament.

  • In 1971, The Divorce Reform Act of 1969 replaced blame with irretrievable breakdown.
  • The 1985 Matrimonial and Family Proceedings Act reduced the time limit on divorce from a minimum of three years of marriage to one.
  • However, legislation cannot be seen as a cause of higher divorce rates, it has simply made divorce easier to obtain if couples want it. Clearly, some couples are simply taking advantage of more liberal divorce laws, although it should be noted that changes in the law often reflect prior changes in public opinion, for example, steadily rising levels of divorce in the 1960s, prior to the Divorce Reform Act.
relevant past paper questions
Relevant Past Paper Questions
  • June 2008 Q 1
  • February 2011 Q1 – marked scripts on shared documents.
  • June 2007 Q4