This is one way of teaching/ revising this sub-topic within the marriage and divorce topic of the Families and Households Module. You might need to click on it to enlarge it!
Sociological explanations for the long term decline in marriage include changing gender roles, the impact of feminism and female empowerment, economic factors such as the increasing cost of living and the individualisation associated with postmodernism.
Overview of the trends in marriage in the UK
The above graph only shows the long term overall decline in marriage. Other trends include:
- People are more likely to cohabit (although in most cases this is a step before marriage)
- People are marrying later
- The number of remarriages has increased.
- Couples are less likely to marry in church
- There is a greater diversity of marriages (greater ethnic diversity and civil partnerships)
- There has been a very recent increase in the marriage rate.
Evaluation Point – Even though it’s declining, marriage is still an important institution because….
- Most households are still headed by a married couple
- Couples may cohabit, but this is normally before getting married – they just get married later
- Most people still think marriage is the ideal type of relationship
- The fact that remarriages have increased show that people still value the institution of marriage.
Explaining the long term decrease in marriage
You may need to click on the image below to see it properly
1. Economic Factors – The increasing cost of living and the increasing cost of weddings.
Increasing property prices in recent years may be one of the factors why couples choose to get married later in life. The average deposit on a first time home is now over £30 000, with the average cost of a wedding being around £18 000. So for most couples it is literally a choice between getting married in their 20s and then renting/ living with parents, or buying a house first and then getting married in their 30s. The second option is obviously the more financially rational.
2. Changing gender roles
Liberal Feminists point to changing gender roles as one of the main reasons why couples get married later. More than half of the workforce is now female which means that most women do not have to get married in order to be financially secure. In fact, according to the theory of the genderquake, the opposite is happening – now that most jobs are in the service sector, economic power is shifting to women meaning that marriage seems like a poor option for women in a female economy.
3. The New Right
Blame the decline of marriage on moral decline – part of the broader breakdown of social institutions and due to too much acceptance of diversity. This results in the inability of people to commit to each other, and they see this as bad for society and the socialisation of the next generation.
Postmodernists explain the decline in marriage as a result of the move to postmodern consumer society characterised by greater individual choice and freedom. We are used to being consumers and picking and choosing, and so marriage is now a matter of individual choice.
Another process associated with Postmodernisation is the decline of tradition and religion (secularisation) – as a result there is less social stigma attached to cohabiting or remarrying after a divorce.
5. Late Modernism
Associated with the ideas of Anthony Giddens and Ulrich Beck – argues that the decline in marriage is not as simple as people simply having more freedom – People are less likely to get married because of structural changes making life more uncertain. People may want to get married, but living in a late-modern world means marriage doesn’t seem like a sensible option.
Ulrich Beck argues that fewer people getting married is because of an increase in ‘risk consciousness’ – people see that nearly half of all marriages end in divorce and so they are less willing to take the risk and get married.
Beck also talks about indivdualisation – a new social norm is that our individual desires are more important than social commitments, and this makes marriage less likely.
Giddens builds on this and says that the typical relationship today is the Pure Relationship – one which lasts only as long as both partners are happy with it, not because of tradition or a sense of commitment. This makes cohabitation and serial monogamy rather than the long term commitment of a marriage more likely.
6. Evaluation Points
- The decline of marriage is not as simple as it just being about individual choice
- There are general social changes which lie behind its decline
- We should not exaggerate the decline of marriage (see details above)
For a more ‘human explanation’ check out this video – sociological perspectives on the decline in marriage
Explaining the Long Term Increase in Divorce – Essay Plan
This graph is useful for contrasting the changes in both marriage and divorce…
This post examines the effects of declining in marriage and increasing divorce. Have women benefitted from these changes like some Feminists suggests. Are these trends signs of moral decline like the The New Right suggest, or are these trends just part of the broader process of individualisation and increasing reflexivity and nothing to worry about?
What replaces married couples?
- Probably the most fundamental thing is that people’s attitudes towards marriage have change. The idea that marriage is a necessary tradition or a sacred duty have declined drastically, marriage is now seen as a choice.
- There is greater family and household diversity as a result.
- Despite the decline of marriage, most people still ‘couple up’ – cohabitation has increased.
- Cohabiting couples are more likely to break up, so relationships have become more unstable. A related factor here is that serial monogamy, rather than out and out promiscuity throughout one’s life appears to be the new norm.
- High levels of divorce create more single parent households and more single person households, as well as more reconstituted families
- Finally, it is important not to exaggerate the decline of marriage – most households are still headed by a married couple.
Feminists would generally see the decline of marriage as a tradition as a good thing, because traditional marriage is a patriarchal institution. Most divorces proceedings are initiated by women which suggests that marriage works less well for women than for men.
However, Radical Feminists would point out that the increase in divorce has not necessarily benefited women – as children go to live with the mother in 90% cases following a divorce, and single parent families (mostly female) suffer higher levels of poverty and stigma.
The New Right/ Functionalists
Would interpret these trends in a negative way, as indicating a decline in morality, and a breakdown of social structure and order – the family is supposed to be the fundamental building block of society, and it is difficult to see what will replace it. Without the family we risk less effective primary socialisation and more problem children as well as more anomie for adults.
The decline of marriage and increase in divorce reflect the fact that we are part of a consumer society where individual choice is central to life. The end of the ideology of the nuclear family is seen as good, and Postmodernists tend to reject the idea that the traditional married nuclear family is better than other family forms, so these trends are not a significant problem for either the individual or society.
People still value marriage but changes in the social structure make it harder to start and to maintain stable relationships – greater gender equality means it’s harder to please both partners, and the fact that both people have to do paid work doesn’t help with the communication required to keep a relationship going, or help with people getting together in the first place.
People now delay getting married not only because of needing to establish a career first, but also because of the increased cost of mortgages and weddings, and because of the increased fear of getting divorced – with cohabiting the new norm before marriage.
New institutions also emerge to help us cope with the insecurities of modern relationships – marriage guidance and pre-nuptial agreements are two of the most obvious.
In short, marriage is not about to disappear as an institution, but it’s not an easy path to pursue either.
1. Teacher pupil relationships
Cecile Wright (1992) Found that teachers perceived ethnic minority children differently from white children. Asian children were seen as a problem that could be ignored, receiving the least attention and often being excluded from classroom discussion and rarely asked to answer questions. Teachers assumed their command of the English language was poor but they were highly disciplined and well motivated. African Caribbean children were expected to behave badly and received considerable attention, nearly always negative. They were seen as aggressive and disruptive. They were often singled out for criticism even in action ignored in other children.
David Gilborn (1990) Found that while vast majority of teachers tried to treat all students fairly, they tended to see African-Caribbean children as a threat when no threat was intended and reacted accordingly with measures of control. Despite the fact that teachers rejected racism their ethnocentric perceptions meant that their actions were racist in consequence. African-Caribbean children experienced more conflict in relationships with pupils, were more subjected to the schools detention system and were denied any legitimate voice of complaint.
Tony Sewell (1996)– Black Masculinities and schooling He was primarily interested in the experiences of black boys in education and he found that some black students were disciplined excessively by teachers who felt threatened by these students’ masculinity, sexuality and physical prowess because they had been socialized into racist attitudes. He also found that the boys in the study found that their culture received little or no positive recognition in the school.
2. Pupil subcultures
A culture of anti-school black masculinity – Tony Sewell (1997) observes that Black Caribbean boys may experience considerable pressure by their peers to adopt the norms of an ‘urban’ or ‘street’ subculture. More importance is given to unruly behaviour with teachers and antagonistic behaviour with other students than to high achievement or effort to succeed, particularly at secondary school.
Fordham and Ogbu (1986) further argue that notions of ‘acting White’ or ‘acting Black’ become identified in opposition to one another. Hence because acting White includes doing well at school, acting Black necessarily implies not doing well in school.
Mac an Ghail (1998) Young, Gifted and Black – Mac an Ghail was a teacher in two inner city colleges. He looked at three subcultures – the Asian Warriors, the African- Caribbean Rasta Heads and the Black Sisters. He used mainly participant observation both in the school and through befriending the students and socializing with them outside of the school. What he found was that the African Caribbean community experienced the world in very different ways to white people – namely because of institutional racism in the college and he argued that any anti-school attitudes were reactions against this racism. He mainly blamed the school rather than the students for this. See Stephen Moore page 172 for more details
3. The organisation of teacher learning
Banding and Streaming disadvantages the working classes and some minority groups -Gilborn and Youdell point out that Black Caribbean children are overrepresented in the lower sets and talk of how those in the lower sets get ‘written off’ because they have not hope of achieving A-Cs.
4. School can be seen as Institutionally Racist- The Hidden Curriculum
The Ethnocentric Curriculum – In education this refers to the ways in which what happens in schools can seem irrelevant to ethnic minority pupils. The curriculum is described as Ethnocentric – for example students having to study British history from the European point of view, out of date textbooks that racially stereotype and some subjects having a narrow, white British focus.
Crozier (2004) – experiences of Racism amongst Pakistani and Bangladeshi pupils
Bangladeshi and Pakistani pupils are often seen as ‘keeping to themselves’ in school, this research found that if they do so it is because they feel excluded by their white peers and marginalized by the school practices. The researchers discovered that Pakistani and Bangladeshi pupils had experienced the following – Anxieties about their safety; Racist abuse was a lived experience of their schooling; Careers advisors at school believed South Asian girls were bound by tradition and it was a waste of time advising them; Not being allowed off during Ramadan; Not feeling that assemblies were relevant.
Tariq Modood (2005) says – If we look at the best universities Whites are more likely to get an offer than other identical candidates. For example, while a White student has a 75% chance of receiving an invitation to study, a Pakistani candidate, identical in every way, has only a 57% chance of an offer.
Assess the reasons for the long term increase in the divorce rate (20)
This essay looks at social policies such as the 1969 divorce act, changes to gender roles, economic factors, secularisation and postmodernisation.
Introduction – The divorce rate has generally increased since the 1960s. The number almost trebled in the years following the 1969 divorce act and from the mid-1970s, the divorce rate has risen steadily, although it has been declining since 2005.
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.
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. Many commentators argue that 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.
A further set of reasons are those associated with 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. However, one exception to this might that among some Muslim communities the concept of Izaat still prevents people from getting divorced.
Late Modern Sociologists argue against Postmodernists – getting a divorce is not simply a matter of individual choice, rather the increasing divorce rate is because of the changing nature of the typical relationship.
Anthony Giddens, for example argues that the typical type of relationship is the ‘pure relationship’… it exists solely to meet the partners’ needs and is likely to continue only so long as it succeeds. Couples stay together because of love, happiness of sexual attraction rather than for tradition or for the sake of the children. In short, we have increased expectations of marriage, and if it doesn’t work for us, then we get a divorce.
Ulrich Beck points out that divorce has increased because the typical late-modern family is characterised by more gender equality and negotiation – pleasing both partners takes a lot of time and effort, which is simply not sustainable when both partners are in paid work, which in turn explains the high levels of divorce.
By way of a conclusion, there are many different historical trends that go into explaining the increase in divorce rates – it is important to remember that social structural forces are at work – such as changes in the law, the impact of Feminism and the changing role of women, which have had the effect of making our society more gender equal and providing people with greater choice, all of which work together to explain the increasing rate of divorce.
As a final word, it is also worth noting that the divorce rate is now decreasing – which could be due to the fact that the age at which people get married is increasing – people get married after a lengthy period of co-habitation – and so are more likely to marry the right person for the right reasons!
For more essays, please see my main post on exam advice, short answer questions and essays.
To what extent do home background and cultural factors explain ethnic differences in educational achievement?
1. Indian and Chinese families have higher levels of Parental control and expectation
Strand’s (2007)’s analysis of data from the 2004 Longitudinal Study of Young People found that Indian students are the ethnic group most likely to complete homework five evenings a week and the group where parents are most likely to say they always know where their child is when they are out. Francis and Archer (2005) – High value is placed on education by parents, coupled with a strong cultural tradition of respect for one’s elders – high educational aspiration transmits from parents to children, and students derive positive self-esteem from constructing themselves as good students.
2. African Caribbean families have a higher proportion of single parent households
The New Right argues that the high proportion of lone parents fail to ‘provide a home environment conducive to learning’. There have also been concerns about the development of ‘gangsta’ culture with the absence of positive Black male role models at home as well as in schools (Abbott, 2002)
3. The culture of anti-school black masculinity
Tony Sewell (1997) observes that Black Caribbean boys may experience considerable pressure by their peers to adopt the norms of an ‘urban’ or ‘street’ subculture. More importance is given to unruly behaviour with teachers and antagonistic behaviour with other students than to high achievement or effort to succeed,
4. Acting white and acting black
Fordham and Ogbu (1986) further argue that notions of ‘acting White’ or ‘acting Black’ become identified in opposition to one another. Hence because acting White includes doing well at school, acting Black necessarily implies not doing well in school.
5. Trust in the system and Language barriers
Crozier (2004) found that Pakistani and Bangladeshi parents ‘kept their distance’ from their children’s schools because they trusted the professionals to do their jobs; they lacked confidence in use of English and there were no translators.
6. White children have lower educational aspirations than most ethnic minorities.
Professor Simon Burgess and Dr Deborah Wilson (2008) found that among Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Black Caribbean and Black African families, over 90 per cent of parents want their child to stay on at school at age 16, compared with 77 per cent of white families – which correlates with lower numbers at uni.
7. South Asian women go to university despite cultural pressures
Bagguley and Hussain (2007) found that aspirations to higher education for Pakistani and Bangladeshi women were often complicated by cultural pressures. Many had to negotiate decisions around marriage and the expectations of their parents. Many Muslim students consequently studied at a local university in order to placate their parents’ concerns about morality, being in the company of men and their family honour or ‘izzat’. In contrast, Indian students currently at university appeared to have had the option of leaving home. Indian women often spoke of a natural progression into higher education that was assumed by both their parents and their schools
Evaluation of the role of cultural factors in explaining differences in achievement by ethnicity
- Family background helps explain Indian performance in education because this makes up for the greater level of poverty experienced compared to whites.
- Parental aspiration seems to be especially important
- Cultural barriers to SE Asian women are greater than for boys
- Cultural barriers for AC boys are greater than for AC girls.
- Strand argues that it is relative poverty of Bangladeshi and Pakistanis that explains their underachievement at GCSE rather than cultural factors
- Cultural barriers can’t explain everything as all groups except Bangladeshi women are more likely to go to university than whites.
- Strand argues that even if we take into account material and cultural barriers institutional racism leads to lack of opportunity for young black students and holds them back.
Material Deprivation can prevent a child gaining a good education because parents are less able to meet the Hidden costs of education such as finding money for school trips and home resources such as computers. Material Deprivation also means a family is more likely to live in a deprived area with worse schools. Lack of money impacts negatively on family dynamics, especially parental involvement in education, and have the effect of lowering educational aspirations.
Most ethnic minority groups experience higher levels of material deprivation than the national average. According to the Labour Force Survey 2004/05 20% of White British households are in income poverty compared to 25% of Indian, 30% of Black Caribbean, 45% of Black African, 55% of Pakistani and 65% of Bangladeshi households.
42% of White British students are from homes in the top two social classes, compared to 37% of Black Caribbean, 36% of Black African, 29% of Indian, 19% of Pakistani and only 9% of Bangladeshi students.
At the other end of the scale, the proportion of students from homes where the head of the household has never worked or is long term unemployed is 3% for White British but 7% for Indian, 8% for Black Caribbean, 23% for Pakistani, 26% for Black African and 40% for Bangladeshi households.
Limitations of material deprivation explanations
Children from the majority of ethnic minority groups, especially those of Indian and Bangladeshi origin, suffer higher than average levels of poverty yet do better than average in education, suggesting that there must be other factors that explain their achievement.
This post aims to outline some of the factors which might explain why girls outperform boys in education, focusing on factors external to the school such as changes in gender roles, the impact of feminism and women’s empowerment.
Factors explaining the gender gap
1. Changes in women’s employment
According to Social Trends (2008) the number of men and women in paid work is now virtually the same. There is a growing service sector where women are increasingly likely to be employed over men and employers increasingly seek women for higher managerial roles because they generally have better communication skills than men. This means women now have greater opportunity than men in the world of work which makes education more relevant to them than in the 1970s when there was a relative lack of opportunity for women compared to men.
Conversely, there is now less opportunity for men. The decline in manufacturing has lead to a decline in traditional working class men’s factory based jobs. Boys like the lads studied by Paul Willis would have intended to go into these jobs. Now these jobs have gone, many working class boys perceive themselves as having no future.
2. Changes in the family
The Office for National Statistics suggest that changes there have been changes in family structure: Women are more likely to take on the breadwinner role; there is now more divorce, and more lone parent families; women are more likely to remain single. This means that idea of getting a career is seen as normal by girls.
However, the increasing independence of women has lead to a more uncertain role for men in British society, leaving many men feeling vulnerable and unsure of their identity in society – suffering from a crisis of masculinity.
3. Girl’s changing ambitions
Sue Sharpe did a classic piece of research in the 1970s, repeated in the 1990s in which she interviewed young girls about their ambitions. In the 1970s there priorities were to get married and have a family, but by the 1990s their priorities were to get a career and have a family later on in life.
4. The impact of feminism
Feminism has campaigned for equal rights and opportunities for women in education, the workplace and wider society more generally. Feminist sociologists argue that many of the above changes have been brought about by their attempts to highlight gender inequalities in society and their efforts to encourage the government, schools and teachers to actually combat patriarchy and provide genuine equality of opportunity which has lead to raising the expectations and self-esteem of girls.
5. Differential socialisation
Fiona Norman in 1988 Found that most parents think the appropriate socialisation for a girl is to handle her very gently, and to encourage her in relatively passive, quiet activities. Parents are also more likely to read with girls than with boys. Gender stereotypes held by parents also mean that ‘typical boys’ need more time to run around and play and ‘let off steam’, and parents are more likely to be dismissive if their boys are in trouble at school often seeing this as just them being ‘typical boys’. These gender stereotypes and differences in gender socialisation disadvantage boys and advantage girls in education.
The Limitation of external factors in explaining differential educational achievement by gender
- The decline of manufacturing and crisis of masculinity only affects working class boys, possibly explaining their achievement relative to girls, but middle class girls outperform middle class boys too, who are less likely to associate masculinity with factory work.
- McDowell – research on aspirations of white working class youth A sample of males with low educational achievement living in Sheffield and Cambridge aged 15. Followed from school to work. Criticizes the notion of a crisis of masculinity leading to aggressive male identities These lads had traditional laddish identities but were not aggressive or put off by ‘feminized work’ They are best described as reliable workers making the most of limited opportunities available to them.
- Willis in 1977 argued that the Lads formed a counter school culture and rejected education even when they had jobs to go to, meaning there are other causes of male underachievement besides the crisis of masculinity.
- It is difficult to measure the impact of Feminism – changes in the job market that lead to improved opportunities for women may be due to other technological and cultural changes.
- The socialisation girls does not explain why they started to overtake boys in the late 1980s – if anything gender socialisation has become more gender neutral in recent years.
Concepts and research studies to remember
- Crisis of Masculinity
- Gender socialisation
- Gender stereotyping
- Research studies to remember
- Kat Banyard – research into gender stereotyping in the family
- Sue Sharpe – the aspirations of girls.