Explaining the increase in family diversity (part 1/3 )

Covering marriage, divorce, postmodernisation and economic factors

Last Updated on June 6, 2023 by Karl Thompson

Declining marriage and increasing divorce, the shift to a postmodern society and changing distributions of wealth can all help to explain why families and households in the UK have become more diverse in the 2000s.

Explaining the long term increase in family diversity

Changing patterns of marriage and divorce

The long term decline in marriage and increase in cohabitation and divorce can explain the increase in many types of family diversity.

The fact that people are getting married later explains why there are more Kidult and single person households: those who can afford it move into their own houses on their own, young people who can’t afford to move out stay living with their parents into their 30s, which has become increasingly common in recent years.

Any divorce which involves children is very likely to create one single parent household and one single person household for a period of time, and then many of these people will go on to form reconstituted families.

Relationship breakdown is more common amongst cohabiting rather than married families, and the cohabiting family household is the fastest growing family type in the UK.

Higher rates of divorce might also explain the increase in multigenerational households – as single mothers move back in with their parents, thus forming a multigenerational household.

Postmodernism and Postmodernisation

Postmodernists argue that the increase in the diversity of family household structures reflects the fact that we live in a diverse, tolerant society in which people are free to choose any type of family.

More people choose to stay single and hence there is an increase in Single Person Households Kidult households and because people are more tolerant it is easier than it was to be a single parent today because there is less stigma associated with being a single parent.

Another related factor here is that people are freer to choose non-nuclear families because of the decline of tradition and religion – there is much less social pressure to get married, have kids and stay married, so all other options become more viable.

Evaluation: Other perspectives argue that people do not simply choose to go into ‘alternative family structures’ – For example, Burghes and Browne’s 1995 research with 31 single parents found that not one of them had planned to become single parents, and all of them attributed their single parent status to the fact that their male partners had been either violent or too immature for parenthood

Economic Factors

The long term increase in wealth and overall rising standards of living explains the long-term increase in single person households. Generally wealthier countries have a higher proportion of single person households, and it is only wealthy countries where significant numbers of people can afford to live alone because it is expensive compared to two adults sharing the cost of a mortgage, bills, and food. It seems that when people can afford to do so, they are more likely to choose to live alone.

However, not everyone has benefitted from increasing wealth in the UK because at the same time as increasing wealth, the cost of living, and especially the cost of housing has increased. This explains the recent increase in multigenerational households and Kidult Households: at the lower end of the social class scale there are millions of people who cannot afford to buy or even rent their own houses, and so they stay living with their parents.

Read next:

Explaining the increase in family diversity part 2 of 3


This material forms part of the families and households options within A-level sociology.

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