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Applying Sociological Perspectives to the Decline of Marriage – Revision Notes

Summary revision notes (in diagram form) on sociological perspectives applied to the decline of marriage in society, written to help students revise for the families and households section of the AQA’s A-level sociology paper 2: topics in sociology.

You will probably need to click to enlarge/ save the picture below!

sociological perspectives decline marriage.png

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Outline and explain two social changes which may explain the decline of marriage in recent decades (10)

A model answer to a possible 10 mark ‘outline and explain’ question, written for the A-level sociology AQA A-level paper 7192/2: topics within sociology: families and households section).

Question

Outline and explain two social changes which may explain the decline of marriage in recent decades (10) 

outline explain decline marriage.png

Model Answer

The first social factor is in more depth than the second. 

Economic changes such as the increasing cost of housing and the increasing cost of weddings may explain the decline of marriage:

Young adults stay living with their parents longer to save up for a mortgage, often into their 30s. Men especially might feel embarrassed to marry if they still live with their parents, because it’s not very ‘masculine’. This also reflects the importance changing gender roles: now women are taking on the ‘breadwinner role’, there’s no obvious need to marry a man. This applies especially to low income earning, working class men.

Furthermore, it’s often a choice between ‘marriage’ or ‘house deposit’: most people just co-habit because they can’t afford to get married. People would rather by a house because ‘material security’ is more important than the ‘security of marriage’. People also fail to save for weddings because of the pressure to consume in postmodern society. However, this only applies to those who want a big ‘traditional’ wedding, which costs £15K.

The significance of economic factors criticise the postmodernist view that marriage declining is simply a matter of ‘free-choice’.

A Second reason for the decline of marriage is secularisation, or the decline of religion in society.

Christianity, for example emphasises that marriage is a sacred union for life before God, and that sex should only take place within marriage. With the decline of religion, social values have shifted so that it is now acceptable to have sex before marriage, and with more than one partner, meaning that dating, serial monogamy and cohabitation have all replaced marriage to a large extent.

The decline of religion also reflects the fact that marriage today is not about ‘pleasing society’, it is simply about pleasing the two individuals within the relationship, the ‘pure relationship’ is now the norm, and people no longer feel like they need God’s approval of their relationshp, so there is less social pressure to get married.

However, this trend does vary by ethnicity, and Muslims, Hindus and Jews within Britain are all much more likely to get married in a religious ceremony.

Visual Version for social change one:

AQA Sociology exam practice questions 10 marks

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Marriage, Divorce and Cohabitation

An Overview of Families and Households Topic Two – Marriage, Divorce and Cohabitation, covering key sub-topics, key concepts and some exam style questions (short answer and essay questions).

You need to be able to identify key trends in marriage, divorce and cohabitation and outline the social factors which explain why the trends are happening (ideally using sociological perspectives), and analyse the importance of each factor. You also need to be able to outline different perspectives views on the consequences of the changing patterns of each of the above.

Sub topics

2.1: Explaining the trends in marriage

2.2: Explaining the trends in divorce

2.3: Perspectives on the consequences of declining marriage and increasing divorce

2.4: Examining how marriage, divorce and cohabitation vary by social class, ethnicity, sexuality and across generations

Key concepts, research studies and case studies you should be able to apply

  • Civil Partnerships
  • Divorce
  • Legal separation
  • Empty shell marriage
  • Secularisation
  • Cohabitation
  • The pure relationship (Anthony Giddens)
  • The negotiated family (Ulrich Beck)
  • Consumer culture
  • Postmodernisation
  • Gender roles (changing)
  • Genderquake
  • Individualisation
  • Monogamy
  • Serial Monogamy

Possible exam style short answer questions

Outline three reasons for the overall rise in the divorce rate since 1969 (6)

Using one example briefly explain one reason for the recent decrease in divorce rates (4)

Outline three social changes which explain why there has been a decline in the marriage rate (6)

Outline and explain two consequences of an increasing divorce rate (10) hint – use the perspectives.

Define the following terms – the matrifocal family, polygamy, polygyny and polyandry (4*2 marks for each term).

Possible Essay Questions – You should plan these!

Assess sociological explanations for the changes in the patterns of marriage and cohabitation over the last 40 years or so (20)

Assess sociological explanations for changes in the divorce rate since 1969 (20)

Assess different perspectives on declining marriage, increasing divorce and increasing co-habitation (20)

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Examining how family life varies by ethnicity in the UK

I’ll repopulate what’s below with links when I get a chance!

Data from the latest (2011) census shows that 86% of the UK population are classified as ‘white’, 7.5% as ‘Asian’ or ‘Asian-British’, 3.3% as’ Black’, 2.2% as ‘Mixed’ and 1% as ‘other’.

(NB – This represents a signficant increase in ethnic minorities compared to the 2001 census. In 2011, 14% of the population were non-white, compared to 9% in 2001.)

This brief update explores the extent to which family life and attitudes to family-life vary across these different ethnic groups, looking at the following aspects of family life…

Item 1 – A brief history of South-Asian Family Life in the UK

Ballard (1982) noted that most South-Asian families had a much broader network of familial-relations than a typical white-British family and one individual household might be only one small part of a complex global network of kin-relations.

Ballard argued that in order to understand South-Asian family life in the UK in the 1980s, you had to look at the ideal model of family life in Asia which is Patriarchal, being based on tight control of women, collectivist (the group is more important than the individual) and obsessed with mainting family honour (primarily through not getting divorced/ committing adultury or having children outside of wedlock) because maintaining honour was crucial to your being able to do business in the wider community.

Ballard also stressed the importance of Honour and its Patriarchal nature….. The complexity of the question of the asymmetry of the sexes is nowhere better illustrated than in the concepts of honour, izzat and shame, sharm. In its narrower sense izzat is a matter of male pride. Honourable men are expected to present an image of fearlessness and independence to the outside world, and at the same time to keep close control over the female members of their families. For a woman to challenge her husband’s or her father’s authority in public shamefully punctures his honour. To sustain male izzat wives, sisters and daughters must be seen to behave with seemly modesty, secluding themselves from the world of men.

Item 2 – Arranged marriages are still extremely popular today amongst British Asians

Traditional values are still very important to Asian family life…. ‘The Asian family is not a nuclear unit of parents and 2.4 children. It is an extended social unit that includes grandparents, in-laws, aunts and uncles and a long list of relatives, each with a specific title in relation to everyone else in the family. And Asian family values are focused on keeping the unit together – in one physical place if possible – and providing mutual support.
Item 3 – Marriage is still seen as a key milestone in Brit-Asian life

A UK National Statistics report says the highest proportions of married couples under pension age, with or without children, are in Asian households. Over half of Bangladeshi (54%), Indian (53%) and Pakistani (51%) households contained a married couple, compared with 37% of those headed by a White British person. Demonstrating the importance of marriage for the Brit-Asian communities.
Item 4 – Divorce today is now much more common among Asian couples

Divorce has traditionally been seen as something shameful in Asian culture, with children under pressure to stay in loveless marriages in order to uphold the family’s honour and prevent shame falling on the family.

However, for today’s third and fourth generation Asians, things are much different.. According to this article (http://www.desiblitz.com/content/soaring-rate-of-british-asian-divorce) there is a soaring British Asian divorce rate now that young Asian men and especially women are better educated and increasingly going into professional careers.
Item 5 – Forced Marriages are more common amongst Asian Families

There is also a dark-side to Asian family life, and that comes in the number of Forced Marriages associated with Asian communities.

On report from 2008 suggests that there are up to 3000 third and fourth generation Asian women who are subjected to forced marriages.

Item 6 – Single Parent Families are much more common amongst African-Caribbean Families…

In 2007 Almost half the black children in Britain were being raised by single parents. Forty-eight per cent of black Caribbean families had one parent, as did 36 per cent of black African households.
Single-parent families were less common among Indians (ten per cent), Bangladeshis (12 per cent), Pakistanis (13 per cent), Chinese (15 per cent) and whites (22 per cent).
African Caribbean fathers are twice as likely as white fathers to live apart from their children. However by the time their children are 5 years old more than 40 per cent are still living with them despite the categorising of many of their partners as ‘lone parent’ at the time of their baby’s birth

Rates of teenage motherhood are significantly higher among young black women and despite constituting only 3 per cent of the population aged 15 – 17, they accounted for 9 per cent of all abortions given to women under the age of 18
Item 7 – There has been a rapid increase in the number of babies born to non-UK born mothers.

Biths to non-UK born mothers accounted for 25.9% of all live births in 2012. This is the highest proportion of births to mothers born outside the UK since the collection of parents’ country of birth was introduced at birth registration in 1969. This proportion has increased every year since 1990, when it was 11.6%.
During these years the number of non-UK born women of childbearing age who are living in England and Wales has increased, causing the increase in the number of births to these women.

Item 8 – Birth rates are significantly higher amongst Muslim parents

9.1% of under-fives in England and Wales were recorded by their parents as Muslim (which probably means they have Muslim parents) which is twice as high as the number of Muslims in the general populattion.

Item 9 – There has been a growth in the number of interracial relationships

The fact that interracial relationships are increasing might make it more difficult to make generalisations beetween ethnic groups in the future…..

Overall almost one in 10 people living in Britain is married to or living with someone from outside their own ethnic group, the analysis from the Office for National Statistics shows.
But the overall figure conceals wide variations. Only one in 25 white people have settled down with someone from outside their own racial background.
By contrast 85 per cent of people from mixed-race families have themselves set up home with someone from another group.
Age is the crucial factor with those in their 20s and 30s more than twice as likely to be living with someone from another background as those over 65, reflecting a less rigid approach to identity over time.

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Families Topic 2 – Marriage, Divorce and Cohabitation – Short Answer Questions

 

Identify two trends (changes) in the pattern of marriage despite the fact that the overall number of marriages have declined (4)

  • Fewer people are marrying

  • There are more remarriages

  • People are marrying later

  • Couples are less likely to marry in church

Suggest three social changes which explain why there has been a decline in the marriage rate (6)

  • There is less pressure to marry – people believe that the relationship is more important than legal status

  • Secularisation

  • Declining shame attached to cohabitation and remaining single and having children outside of marriage

  • Changing position of women – with better job prospects women are no longer financially dependent on men and are thus able to choose not to marry

  • Increasing fear of divorce (linked to risk society/ risk consciousness/ late-modernism)

Suggest three reasons for the overall rise in the divorce rate since 1969 (6)

  • Changes in the divorce law – equalising the grounds of divorce between the sexes; widening the grounds for divorce, making divorce cheaper (Social Policy)

  • Declining stigma and changing attitudes – divorce is becoming more socially acceptable (Postmodernism)

  • Secularisation – the traditional opposition of churches carries less weight (Postmodernism)

  • Individualisation leads to rising expectations of marriage – When the marriage doesn’t live up to expectations, divorce is more likely (Late-Modernism)

  • The changing position of women women are now no longer dependent on men financially so don’t need to stay married for economic reasons (Feminism)

Suggest two reasons for the recent decrease in divorce rates (4)

  • Fewer people are getting married, so there are fewer people who can divorce

  • Because people are getting married later, they are more likely to stay together

  • People can’t afford to get a divorce and set up two new homes

  • Increasing immigration – Immigrants are more likely to hold traditional values and thus less likely to get divroced

Suggest two alternatives to Divorce (4)

  • Desertion

  • Legal separation

  • Empty shell marriages

Identify two consequences of an increasing divorce rate (4)

  • Increase in single parent households after divorce

  • Increase in single person households after divorce

  • Potenital harm to children

  • Increase in reconstituted families

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Explaining the Changing Patterns of Marriage

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

 

Decline marriage 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

Explaining the changing patterns of Marriage in the UK

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.

4. Postmodernisation

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)

Related Posts 

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

Test Yourself 

https://quizlet.com/76813527/test/embed

Supplements

This graph is useful for contrasting the changes in both marriage and divorce…

decline in marriage increase in divorce

decline in marriage increase in divorce
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Sociological Perspectives on Declining Marriage and Increasing Divorce on Society

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?

Sociological Perspective on Declining Marriage and Increasing Divorce

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.

Feminism

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.

Postmodernism

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.

Late modernism

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.

Related Posts 

Explaining the changing patterns of marriage 

Essay Plan – Examine the Reasons for the Long Term Increase in the Divorce Rate

Test Yourself
https://quizlet.com/76813527/flashcards/embed