Trends in Marriage, Divorce and Cohabitation in the UK

This post explores the long and short term trends in marriage, divorce and cohabitation in the United Kingdom.

It has been written as an introduction to the ‘marriage and divorce’ topic which is usually taught as the second topic within the AQA’s families and households A-level sociology specification.

Marriage and Divorce Trends: An Overview

There was a long term decrease in the number of marriages per year since the late 1960s when there were just over 400 000 marriages every year, until around 2008, when the number hit around 230 000.

There has been a slight increase since then and there are now around 240 000 marriages every year in the UK, and this number has been relatively stable since 2008.

The number of Divorces per year increased rapidly following the Divorce Reform Act of 1969, and then increased steadily until the early 1980s. In the late 1950s, there were only around 20 000 Divorces per year, by the early 1980s this figure had risen to 160 000 per year (quite an increase!)

It then stabilised for about 10 years and then started to decline in 2003, the number of divorces per year is still decline. There are currently just under 90 000 divorces per year in England and Wales.

Marriage Statistics

There has been a long term decline in the number of marriages in England and Wales.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s there were over 400 00 marriages a year, by 2017 there were just under 250 000 marriages a year.

Although the decline seems to have slowed recently, since 2008.

Marriage Rates

The marriage rates (unsurprisingly) mirror the above – but you see a more obvious slowing down of the decline since the 2000s here.

What is the average age of Marriage?

The average age of marriage has increased from 25 for women in the 1960s to 36 for women in 2017, the average age for men is slightly higher.

The 36 average figure might be a bit misleading, the median age is slightly younger as shown by the chart below – late 20s and early 30s are when most women get married!

The Decline of Church Weddings

The above chart shows the drastic decrease in religious marriages, down to only 22% of all marriage ceremonies by 2017.

90% of couples cohabited before marrying in 2017, up from 70% in the late 1990s.

Divorce Statistics

The Divorce Rate was extremely low in the late 1950s, at only 2.5 per 100 000 married couples.

The Divorce Reform Act of 1969 led to this increasing rapidly to 10 per thousand in just a few years, by the early 1970s.

The Divorce Rate continued to increase until the early 1990s, when it hit almost 15 per thousand married couples. Since then it has been falling and currently stands at 7.5

NB – The Divorce Rate shows a slightly different trend to the ‘number of divorces’ – this is relative to the number of married couples!

What percent of marriages end in divorce?

It depends on the year of marriage! If we look at the ‘peak year’, 43.9% of people who got married in 1987 were divorced by 2017, the latest figures available. NB this rate might well be going down, as marriage has been declining since 1987.

How long does the average marriage last?

The length of marriage is increasing. For marriages which end in divorce, the median length of a marriage stands at around 12.5 years.

Main sources used to write this post

Office for National Statistics: Divorces in England and Wales 2018

ONS: Marriages in England and Wales 2017

ONS: Marriage and Divorce on the Rise, Over 65 and Over.

Statistics on Family Life in the United Kingdom

This post outlines some of the ‘key facts’ students should know for the A-level sociology families and households topics.

The statistics below are taken from range of different topics covered as part of the families and households specification (AQA focus), and I find it useful to introduce students to them as part of the ‘introduction to families’ lesson.

The activity I use is to give students a series of cut up cards, some with the ‘fact’ and some with the ‘number’, students can then match them as a pair work activity, or you could do it as a stand up walk around whole class activity (one card per student).

The list of facts for students to puzzle out is as follows:

Insert image of card matching (cut up)

Once students have tried their best to puzzle out the correct answers, I give them a gapped answer sheet and get them to research the different sources of the data and comment on how valid they think each piece of data is, by thinking about HOW the data was collected, or how the figures were calculated.

Insert image of gapped answer sheet (link to teaching resources eventually!)

This blog post is effectively the extended answers to the above gapped hand-out.

What percentage of marriages end in divorce?

Almost 44% of marriages in 1987 had ended in divorce by the year 2018.

Source: The Office for National Statistics – Marriages and Divorces in England and Wales.

How valid is this divorce data?

That 43.9% figure may sound alarming, but this is only true for marriages which took place in 1987, which is the ‘peak year’ (so far) for marriages ending in divorce.

If you look at marriages from slightly earlier years, then you get slightly lower figures. If you look at the divorce rate for the years after 1987, then the figures are also lower, and they could well stay that way because of the marriage rate declining since the late 1980s. Over time, as marriage has become more of a choice, this should lower the long-term divorce rate.

It follows that if we took an average divorce rate for several years surrounding 1987, we’d see a percentage lower than 43.9%.

So the data is valid, but only for two static years – 1987 to 2018. Any other selection of years will give you a different rate. Having said that, if you look at the lines in the graph above, they do seem to follow a predictable trend, so it’s unlikely that this figure is outright misleading! Just keep in mind it’s probably the very peak!

What percentage of households in the UK are cohabiting?

In 2018, almost 18% of family households were cohabiting compared to 67% married and 15% lone-parent.

The cohabiting family household has been one of the fastest growing household types in recent years

Source: ONS – Families and Households in the UK 2018

What is the average age a woman has her first child in the UK?

The average age of first-time mothers in the UK was 28.8 years in 2017.

Source: ONS.

How many babies does the average woman have?

The Total Fertility Rate in the United Kingdom in 2018 was 1.8 – an average of 1.8 babies per woman.

Source: ONS – Births in England and Wales, 2018.

How much does it cost to raise a child to the age of 18?  

The overall cost of a child up to age 18 (including rent and childcare) is £151,000 for couples.

Source: Child Poverty Action Group: The Cost of a Child 2019.

How valid is this data?

If you work it out per year, that’s about £8300 per year that parents are spending on their children on average, which sounds suspicious.

This might be an invalid figure because it includes housing costs, and it’s a bit dubious whether this is the actual cost, given that parents need a home to live in anyway. You can’t necessarily attribute the cost of an extra bedroom in a house to having a child as many childless couples live in houses with spare bedrooms.

It follows that a figure without housing costs might be more valid as that would be closer the money that’s spent exclusively on the child.

The report also makes it clear that the figure does not represent all families – it is more expensive for lone parent families to raise a child to age 18 – it costs them £185 000.

On average, how much more money a year does it cost to live a year if you are a single person living alone?

Single person households spend 92% of their disposable income, compared to only 83% for couples, meaning there is a 9% difference between the two.

Source: ONS – cost of living alone.

In 2018 the Life Expectancy for females in the UK was almost 83 years.

Source: ONS – National Life Tables

What was total net migration to the UK in the last year?

Net migration to the UK in 2018 (latest figures) was approximately 300 000

Source: ONS – Migration Statistics Quarterly

What percentage of long-term immigrants to the UK are from the EU?

About 50 000 net migrants are from the EU, so approximately 15%

Source: ONS – Migration Statistics Quarterly

Questions for Reflection:

Do any of the above sources lack validity?

Explain your answer in the comments below!

Coronavirus has made the rich richer and the poor poorer

30% of those with savings of more than £12000 before Coronavirus have seen their savings increase since the pandemic, compared to only 10% of those with no savings.

This is because the closing of so many shops and restaurants has meant high income households have had reduced opportunities to spend their money and so have been forced to save.

It’s also because those able to work from home are more likely to have higher savings rates and home-workers have been the least impacted in terms of income by Coronavirus.

Coronavirus has increased the debt levels of the poorest

21% of those in lowest income households have had to increase debt in the last few months compared to only 13% of those in the highest income households:

Relevance to A-level sociology

This is a good example of statistical research which suggests broad support for the Marxist view of society.

Sources

The above statistics are taken from a recent ‘Rainy Days’ report by the Resolution Foundation.

The report examines the long term trend in inequality in the UK and then the impact Coronavirus has had on inequality.

Please click here to return to the main ReviseSociology home page!

Explaining The Long Term Increase in Divorce

There are four main factors which can explain for the long term increase in divorce:

  • Social policy changes
  • Economic factor
  • Changing gender roles
  • Postmodernsisation.

This post examines these factors and others.

  

Social Policy Changes

Social Policy changes are the first factor that explains rapidly increasing divorce in the early 1970s – the 1969 the Divorce Act extended the grounds of divorce to ‘irretrievable breakdown’, making divorce possible even if only one partner wanted a divorce.

However, this cannot explain all of the increase, since the divorce rate was rising before the act, and continued to rise for many years afterwards.

Economic Factors

We also need to look at economic factors – Increasing inequality in the UK has meant that the lower social classes now get paid less compared to rising living costs (mortgages/ bills). This means that both partners in a marriage now need to do paid work to get by, which puts a strain on the marriage which leads to higher numbers getting divorced.

A positive evaluation of this is that divorce rates are higher amongst poorer families.

Functionalism

There are a number of reasons linked to the Functional Fit Theory which could explain the increase in divorce:

•           Functionalists such as Goode (1971) believe that conflict has increased because the family has become more isolated from other kin, placing an increased burden on husbands and wives who have little support from other relatives.

•           Dennis (1975) believes that because the family performs fewer functions the bonds between husband and wife are weaker.

•           Allan and Crowe (2001) point out that because the family is no longer an economic unit, this makes it easier for families to break up.

The New Right

Would claim that increasingly generous welfare benefits for single mothers is a crucial factor which allows women to divorce if they deem it necessary – because if divorce occurs within a family, in 9/10 cases, the child will go with the mother – making it difficult to find full time work – and hence benefits may be a necessary link in the chain of explaining the increase in divorce. The New Right would also see the increasing divorce rate as a sign of wider moral decline, a point of view which is not shared by the next three perspectives.

Feminism/ changing gender roles

The changing position of women in society. Is crucial to understanding the increase in divorce rates.

Women today are much more likely to be in employment today and this means they are less financially dependent on their husbands and thus freer to end an unsatisfactory marriage. The proportion of women in some kind of paid work is now 70%, whereas in the 1950s it was less than 50%

Giddens himself argues that two trends are the most important – the impact of the Feminist movement, which arguably lies behind all of the above changes, and also the advances in contraception – which allows women to avoid unwanted pregnancies – and women in marriages without children will be freer to leave those marriages. Feminists however, point out that the advances of women can be exaggerated – women still earn less than men, and traditional gender norms remain in many families.

Postmodernism

Both religion and traditional values have declined in Britain. As a result there is no longer a set of social values which force people into staying married, there is less social stigma attached to getting a divorce and so people are freer to choose to get divorced. This change reflects the declining importance of social structure and the rise of consumer culture – the idea that individuals can choose their own lifestyles.

Giddens (1992) believes that the nature of marriage has changed because the nature of intimate relationships more generally have changed:

•           In the early period of modernity in the late 18th century, marriage became more than an economic arrangement as the idea of romantic love developed. The marriage partner was idealised as someone who would perfect a person’s life. Women kept their virginity waiting for the perfect partner.

•           In the era of what Gidden’s calls ‘late modernity’, plastic sexuality has developed. This means that sex can be for pleasure rather than conceiving children with your perfect marriage partner. Relationships and marriages are no longer seen as necessarily being permanent.

•           Marriage is now based on confluent love – Love that is dependent upon partners benefitting from the relationship. If they are not fulfilled in their relationship, couples no longer stay together out of a sense of duty, so divorce and relationship breakdown become more common.

Ulrich Beck points out that divorce has increased because individualisation. This involves:

  • More opportunities for individuals, especially women, and the opportunity for individuals to take more decisions about every aspect of their lives.
  • Increased conflict emerging from increased choice and uncertainty which leads to chaotic relationships and helps explain the higher divorce rate.

Shulamith Firestone – And the Artificial Womb

Shulamith Firestone argues that that the main cause of gender inequality is the biological fact of childbirth – which puts women at a physical disadvantage to men.

She suggests that we need to develop an artificial womb so that women have the choice to be free from the biological necessity of childbirth.

Shulamith Firestone

Her best known work is the Dialectic of Sex, published in 1970.

Firestone argues that the ‘sexual class system’ was the first form of stratification – such systems existed before class based systems and capitalism.

She argues that biological differences between men and women formed the basis for a differentiated division of labour , organised into what she calls the ‘biological family’, which has four key characteristics:

Characteristics of the Biological Family

  1. Women are disadvantaged by the biology – especially pregnancy and childbirth. When they are weakened and caring for their young children they are dependent on men (husbands, brothers, fathers) for their physical survival.)
  2. Women’s dependency on men is severe because of the long period of time it takes human infants to mature.
  3. The interdependence between mother and child, and both of them on men is found in every human society, and this dependency relationship produces unequal relationships.
  4. The sexual class system forms the basis of all other class systems. Men enjoy their power over women in the biological family and seek to extend this into other realms of social and economic life.

Hence Firestone argues that the sexual class system gives rise to the economic class system (not the other way around as Engels suggested.

Women need control over reproduction for gender equality

Firestone argued that contraception was a step towards greater gender equality, because it gave women more control over when they got pregnant.

However, she argues that for full equality women needed even more control over pregnancy – that we need to develop artificial wombs so that reproduction can take place without women being physically ‘disabled’ for several months compared to men. This would be necessary to break women’s dependency on men.

Firestone didn’t argue that artificial wombs were a ‘one stop shop’ for bringing about gender equality – she argued that we would have to fight economic inequalities, power psychology and other aspects of gender inequality to, in order to achieve genuine sexual equality.

Evaluations of Firestone

The biological fact that women give birth may well go some way to explaining the widespread fact of gender equality, however, even in traditional societies, ther eare wide differences in the level of gender power inequalities, and her theory doesn’t explain these variations.

Moreover, whether we need artificial wombs for gender equality is debatable – huge steps have been made recently towards greater equality without artificial wombs.

The article below is worth a read for some further evaluations:

Is artificial womb technology a tool for women’s liberation?

Artificial wombs aren’t science fiction

This is an interesting video outlining how artificial wombs are being developed for premature babies – it’s not quite what Firestone imagine, but it’s a step towards them maybe…

Sources

Some of this post was adapted from Haralambos and Holborn, edition 8!

Relevance to A-level sociology – This post is relevant to the Families and Households module, it is an example of a radical feminist perspective on the family.

The Dialectic of Sex (wiki link).

Pets as Part of the Family

One of the key ideas associated with The Personal Life Perspective on the family is that are lots of differences of opinion over who counts as family. Many people regard friends, dead relatives and pets as part of their family, for example.

This post examines the extent to which people in the UK think Pets are part of the family.

More than 90% of dog and cat owners regard pets as part of the family

According to a 2017 survey of 2000 dog and cat owners conducted by Lily’s Kitchen Pet Food:

  • 96% said they regard pets as part of the family
  • 60% admitted to being closer to their pet than to some members of their family
  • of cat owners get up at 4.00 a.m. to feed their cat
  • 30% Sign their pet’s name on birthday and Christmas cards
  • 20% say they refer to themselves as their pet’s ‘mummy’ or ‘daddy’.
  • 15% admit to having taken time off work because their pet was ill.
  • 33% let pets into the bathroom when they go to the loo…

Valentine’s Day Pet-Expenditure…

According to 2020 survey research by Pets At Home:

  • 58.6% – of pet owners reported spending between £11 and £100 on their pet on Valentine’s Day 2020,
  • 26% of respondents said they are more likely to buy their pet a gift than their partner.
  • Nearly a quarter of respondents reported they would prefer to spend Valentine’s day with their pet, rather than a love interest

This certainly seems to suggest that, for around 25% of the pet-owning population, pets are more important than their human partners.

Of course this might be because some (most?) of those respondents don’t actually have human partners! Also, the above stats have been collected by a Pet store for marketing purposes – the point being to make it seem like it’s normal to buy your pet a Valentines Day gift, so the reporting here might be selective to give the misleading impression that pets are more important than human partners, rather than pets being a kind of surrogate for a human partner.

Pet posts on social media

The Facebook Group: Our Pets are Family is certainly supporting evidence for the Personal Life perspective. Most of the posts are about pets that have been lost or stolen (yes, dog theft is a ‘thing’!), but with only 2.1K members, this doesn’t seem to be that representative of all pet-owners.

And I’m sure you’ve seen plenty of other pet related social media posts!

What do you think?

If you can think of any other pieces of evidence that either support or criticise the view that ‘pets are part of the family’ then drop links in the comments!

Signposting…

This post has been written to help students evaluate the Personal Life Perspective, which is part of the families and households module for A-level Sociology.

Family diversity by Social Class

How does family life vary by social class?

How do aspects of family life such as marriage, divorce, cohabitation, birth and death rates vary by social class?

This post has been written to fit the A-level sociology specification, families and households topic.

While social class and income levels are not the same thing, I’ve had to use Income as a ‘proxy’ for social class given that the research tends to look at family variation by income rather than class more generally.

Middle class couples are more likely to get married than working class couples

According to The Spectator there is a social class ‘marriage gap’ – those in the top class (professional/ managerial) are 48% more likely to get married than those in the bottom social class (cleaners).

Poor teens are much more likely to get pregnant and have babies than rich teens

According to The Poverty Site, teenage motherhood is eight times as common amongst those from manual social background as for those from managerial and professional backgrounds.

Also, the underage conception rate is highest in the North East of England.  Its rate of 11 per 1,000 girls aged 13 to 15 compares to 6 per 1,000 in the region with the lowest rate.

Professional women have babies later than ‘working class’ women’

According to ONS research from 2014 (yes, even in 2020 you have to go back this far to find it), professional women tend to have babies later than ‘working class’ women.

Only 3% of births to women under 30s are to women in higher managerial or professional classifications, but this figure rises to 14% for women over 40.

NB – the above doesn’t factor in how many women are in each category of social class, I include that table below…

So it’s difficult to tell from the above! But it does seem that the higher up the social class scale you go, the later in life women have babies!


Previous research from the Uni of Southampton found that half of women born in 1958 who obtained no educational qualifications had a child by the age of 22, while for those with degrees the age was 32.

This means that the term ‘generation’ could actually mean different things to different classes.

Source: Daily Mail Article from 2012.

Variations in ‘Life Paths’ by Social Class (American focus)

Research published in 2017 by Opportunity America shows considerable variation in marriage and divorce rates, and ‘life paths’ by social class.

The research divides ‘social classes’ by ‘poor’ ‘working class’ and ‘middle class’ and shows that:

  • 56% of people aged between 18-55% in the Middle and Upper classes were currently married, compared to only 26% of those who were ‘poor’.
  • Despite having lower marriage rates, the ‘poor’ also had higher divorce rates: 46% of ‘poor’ 18-55 year olds had ‘ever been divorced’ compared to only 30% of middle-upper classes.
  • The fertility rates also vary, being 2.4 and 1.7 respectively for the above two groups.
  • The Life Paths also vary, as below:

NB I quite like the above chart, it’s go a hint of the personal life perspective, life-course analysis about it!

Questions to consider

  • The final piece of research is from America, to what extent would you expect to find similar variations in family life by social class in the UK?
  • Give the lack of contemporary data, how might you track the relationship between social class and family life more accurately?

Thoughts and comments

There is only limited data available on the relationship between social class and family life – so much so that you often have to go back almost a decade to find the latest research. It’s very much a gap in official statistics!

Using ‘Income’ data rather than class data is a limitation of the research, the same limitation as when using Free School Meal data as a proxy for social class in the differential educational achievement debate.

Sometimes it is even impossible to find data on the relationship between income and family life – for example, there are no official statistics collected on the relationship between income and divorce, according to this response to a question from the ONS.

Angry Wimmin – A great Documentary on Feminism

Angry Wimmin, part two of the BBC’s series ‘Lefties’ is a good resource to use for teaching Radical Feminist Theory. Part 1 below is especially good for the families and households module for A-level sociology.

It involves interviews with real women who were involved with Radical Feminism in the 1970s, and you get to hear in their own words how they thought ‘men were the enemy’, although their views may have changed now as the documentary consists of women looking back 20 years later!

We get to hear about what it was like living in Feminists separatist households – women households, where men weren’t allowed – one woman goes into how she left a heterosexual marriage, taking their child with them to go live in a woman only household; another talks about how her brother wasn’t allowed in the house when he came to visit her – they had to have conversations in his car instead.

We also get to hear about some of the bizarre experiences of political lesbianism – where women became lesbians for ‘political reasons’, even if they weren’t gay. Once actual gay woman talks about odd this was for her – when one non-gay woman decided she wanted to sleep with her to become a ‘proper Feminist’.

NB – I don’t think these radical feminist views were every very popular, these are extreme, but this documentary at least shows that were really was a movement of women who practiced such things!

Angry Wimmin Part 2

Angry Wimmin Part 3

Angry Wimmin Part 4

Political Lesbianism

The main idea of Political Lesbianism is that sexuality is a choice. It’s about rejecting heterosexuality and men, not necessarily about having sex with women.

It is one of the key ideas of Radical Feminism, although keep in mind that this is extreme, and not representative of all Radical Feminists!

According to Julie Bindel the debate over whether Feminists should ‘give up heterosexual sex and adopt Political Lesbianism as a practice started with the publication of a pamphlet in 1979 called ‘Love Your Enemy: the debate between heterosexual feminism and political lesbianism’, put together by the Leeds Revolutionary Feminist Group, and the main author being Shiela Jeffries.

You can download a full copy of this radical feminist pamphlet here. It’s commonly known as the ‘LYE’ pamphlet, or ‘Love your Enemy’

Some of the key ideas of ‘Love your Enemy’

  • Women needed to get rid of men from their beds and their heads to be truly free.
  • Male oppression is the only system of oppression in which the oppressor literally invades and colonises the interior of the other.
  • Penetrative sex (between men and women) is more than a symbol of oppression, its function and effect is the punishment and control of women.
  • Sexuality is not determined by genetics, it is not just biological, it is shaped by culture and it is a choice.

The pamphlet caused quite a debate within Feminism in the early 1980s, and it probably enhanced divisions within the movement. The video below explores some of the issues and conflicts surrounding Political Lesbianism

Criticisms of Political Lesbianism

Bea Campbell argued that it was more important to challenge men’s behaviour in heterosexual relationships than to insist that women give up heterosexual desire.

Lynne Segal also thinks we should celebrate heterosexuality.

Political Lesbianism seems to be based on a fear of men, rather than a love of women and/ or diversity!

Further reading on Political Lesbianism

The 2011 Wolfe Report on Vocational Education

The 2011 Review of Vocational Education, also known as the 2011 Wolf Report noted a number of strengths and limitations of Vocational Education in England and Wales in 2011, before going on to make almost 30 recommendations.

This is an important report because it set the scene for a possible major (if very gradual) restructuring of the delivery of vocational education in England and Wales.

The strengths of Vocational Education in 2011

  • Some vocational courses taught important and valuable labour market skills to a very high standard, skills which couldn’t be met through academic courses.
  • Some Vocational courses offered a direct route to higher level study – hundreds of thousands of students had benefited from these.
  • Some prestigious apprenticeships were massively over-subscribed, and thus very popular (in high demand)
  • Good vocational programmes are respected, valuable and an important part of our, and any other country’s, educational provision.

The limitations of Vocational Education in 2011

Too many vocational students were pursuing sub-standard vocational pathways:

  • Many 16 to 17 year olds were moving in and out of education and short-term
    employment.
  • Between a quarter and a third of post-16 vocational students were doing vocational qualifications with little labour market value.
  • At least 350,000 students were getting little to no benefit from the post-16 education system.
  • The report saw English and Maths GCSE (at grades A*-C) as fundamental to young people’s future prospects, yet less than 50% of students had achieved both by the age of 16.
  • The system then steered that 50% of Maths and English failures into ‘inferior’ vocational qualifications.

Recommendations based on the above report

The report made 27 recommendations, including:

  • Schools should have more freedom to offer vocational qualifications for pupils aged 14-16
  • Students who fail their GCSEs in English and Maths at age 16 should be required to redo them as part of their post 16 study.
  • There needs to be a set of general standards for all post 16 vocational programmes
  • Post-16 students shouldn’t be able to pursue a purely occupation based training course, there should be some kind of academic study in there.
  • The bottom quintile of achieving students should pursue post-16 education which focus on employability and ‘core skills’.
  • Employers who provided apprenticeships should be paid.
  • Generally there needs to be better links and standardisation between colleges and employers in the provision of training.
  • If students don’t use up their ‘education allowance by the age of 19’ they should be given a credit to use later on in life.

Some of the recommendations were quite wooly!

The 2015 review of Progress

If you’re interested you can read this here!

Sources

The 2011 Wolfe Report