• Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month

Critically discuss the importance of the institution of marriage in contemporary Britain.

Extracts from this document...


Critically discuss the importance of the institution of marriage in contemporary Britain We are continually informed that marriage is in decline and divorce on the rise. Are these trotted out statistics a sign of a major shift in the institution of marriage, or are we simply experiencing a moral panic? Is marriage still a significant part of our lives? This essay will set out to answer these questions. The essay will also evaluate what sway marriage brings to those legally recognised by the state to be married in modern Britain. It will examine the way in which marriage normalises certain forms of sexuality by excluding others. The importance of marriage to certain agencies in Britain will be assessed also. Firstly, in order to discuss contemporary marriage, the history of marriage will be looked at. This will allow for a more informed view of modern marriages. At the beginning of the modern era (16th century) the function of marriage was to unite two families rather than two individuals. The parents and elders of the community were largely responsible for the choice of spouse. There was little chance for the individuals concerned to refuse their family and there was even greater pressure for the bride to-be to comply with her family (Dominian, 1981). Historian G. M Trevelayan wrote of the consequences of a bride disagreeing with her parents wanting to marry their daughter off to the highest bidder: 'If the victim destined for the altar resisted, rebellion was crushed - at least in the case of a female ward - with physical brutality almost incredible. Elizabeth Paston, when she hesitated to marry a battered and ugly widower of fifty, was for nearly three months on end ...read more.


Another reason for couples to decide to be recognised legally is the simple fact that marriage benefits those who enter it, while cohabitation does not. While most marrying would not cite this as the reason for their decision: love, security and stability more likely to given as reasons - 62% of respondents gave love as the reason (Morrison, 2002). This is said to be due to widespread ignorance among unmarried couples: 'a recent social attitudes survey found that 56% of people - rising to 59% for cohabitees - thought "common-law marriage" conferred the same rights as a marriage ceremony. In reality, there has been no such thing in England since 1753, and legal protection for cohabitees is minimal' (Dyer, 2003). The English law could be said to be punitive towards unmarried consensual unions and does not give cohabitees the same rights and responsibilities towards one another as spouses. When unmarried couples separate, property disputes cannot be settles through the same channels as those used for married couples that divorce. The rights of cohabitees have to be established on the basis of property law principles that depend on how the property was acquired and if it was jointly owned. As a result, cohabitants are in a more vulnerable situation than married couples if the relationship were to break down (Hantrais & Letablier, 1996). This reflects the part the state plays in the private lives of couples: marriage is seen as a relationship between two individuals and the state, the famous words of Princess Diana come to mind - 'there were three of us in this marriage'. ...read more.


Celebrity weddings are also big news for capitalism as has been mentioned previously. The appearance of a celebrity couple on the cover of OK! can push up the sales as well as benefiting bridal shops etc as individuals rush to copy their favourite star. Capitalism hides the real side of the wedding industry by romancing the heterosexuality involved in marriage. Ingraham draws attention to the way this ideal masks the ways in which it protects the racial, class and sexual hierarchies in place: 'practices reinforcing a heterogendered and racial division of labour, white supremacy, the private sphere as woman's work, and women as property are reinforced' (Ingraham, 1999) within the wedding industry. In conclusion, whilst it cannot be argued that marriage is on the wane, this does not necessarily mean that it is any less important than it once was. What we have witnessed is a change in attitudes towards marriage. It is no longer a familial process in which individuals have little or no say but a union in which both parties enter willingly and for personal reasons - love and support for example. The individualisation of the society in which we inhabit means a lessening influence of the state on personal lives whilst, the way in which personal relationships are conducted have also changed, cohabitation is now a stage many people enter before marriage. The statistics show that marriage is decreasing but this does not measure the perceived importance of marriage to individuals in contemporary Britain. What is obvious though is the critical importance of this institution to the state and capitalism, in particular, the wedding industry. Marriage is still important in contemporary Britain although to whom and why, raises different answers. Sexual Cultures 0205866 CS230 1 ...read more.

The above preview is unformatted text

This student written piece of work is one of many that can be found in our GCSE Sociology section.

Found what you're looking for?

  • Start learning 29% faster today
  • 150,000+ documents available
  • Just £6.99 a month

Not the one? Search for your essay title...
  • Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month

See related essaysSee related essays

Related GCSE Sociology essays

  1. Changing attitudes to marriage

    "Marriage today is more likely to be based on love and companionship rather than the custom and financial necessity of the past." At the same time feminists argue that women being more aware that they are exploited in the nuclear family, and their role in the house is still to

  2. The Family As A Social Institution

    However where a culture draws this line is highly variable. (Broom and Selznick 1975) It really is pointless to argue over the value that we place on Family in our society. The fact that the divorce rate is higher than ever at 43% of all first marriages (Australian Bureau Statistics 2000)

  1. The Importance of Language.

    Because of this, one can presume that her perspective on her existence is undefined, always vague and depressing, which contributes to her situation within the plot. The fact that all of the other people in the same, low social class feel similarly insignificant shows that the escapist perspective is essential for a decent psychological well-being[JIS11].

  2. A Review of the Article "How Have Families Changed" by Diane Gittins.

    Young and Wilmott therefore conclude that the nuclear family only became the universal norm in Britain in the late twentieth century.7 Many sociologists have argued that industrialisation has encouraged the development of the privatised nuclear family, which is isolated from both its extended families and neighbours.

  1. Sociology: Arranged Marriage Coursework

    suitable spouse, who they'll love and would be able to spend the rest of their lives with. They also wish that their son or daughter can get married so they can help carry on the next generation and at the same time, be supported by the in-laws.

  2. Arranged Marriages in the Sikh Diaspora

    The strong influence that Western society can have on Sikhs is demonstrated by one girl's quest to find her "soul-mate." The idea that there is someone out there that was "made" for every individual is probably a purely Western phenomenon.

  1. Assess the argument that decline in marriage and the increase in both cohabitation and ...

    is seen as indicative of potential - if not actual - family breakdown. This is mainly because of the absence of a legal contract to reinforce (or strengthen) the moral / normative contract people enter into when they decide to live together (and have children).

  2. Free essay

    Chinese-A Fashionable Trend

    Even though many say President Bush is to blame by failing to provide enough money for research, the charge has been denied, stating that research budgets during the Bush administrations have been higher than ever before. The numbers of doctorates and scientists have been falling drastically these previous years according to Dr.

  • Over 160,000 pieces
    of student written work
  • Annotated by
    experienced teachers
  • Ideas and feedback to
    improve your own work