Examine the reasons for the changes in the patterns of marriage, cohabitation and divorce in the last 30 years.

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Examine the reasons for the changes in the patterns of marriage, cohabitation and divorce in the last 30 years.

In the last 30 years, the British society has experienced many changes affecting the family. There have been changes in attitudes to and expectations of family life, as well as official changes such as government legislation. Society has been affected by feminism, which has led to increased awareness of women’s rights and freedoms, as well as postmodernism and secularisation. The changes resulting have affected marriage rates, which are decreasing, and more people are now marrying later in life and more than once. More people are choosing to cohabit, either before or instead of marrying, and this is becoming increasingly common in young couples. Divorce rates have also increased in the last 30 years, following changes in legislation and attitudes.

As society’s view of a ‘conventional family’ has changed over the last 30 years, the acceptable norms have widened.  In the past, an unmarried woman would be looked down on, as it was expected that women would marry and invest their time in raising a family. If they didn’t, it could be presumed that could they couldn’t find a willing partner, or that there was something wrong with them. Although 95.1% of British women still marry before they are 49, it has become more acceptable to choose not to get married, and rather than being looked down on, single women are more likely to be viewed as strong, focussed, and independent. This means there is less pressure on couples to marry quickly, and so has also affected the rise in cohabitation. Society no longer views marriage as the only definition of a serious relationship, and this has given credibility to couples choosing to cohabit instead. 30 years ago, living together outside of marriage was rare, but cohabitation can now be seen as an acceptable alternative to marriage. This is partly because changing attitudes to sexual relationships mean that sex is no longer seen as only legitimate within marriage, and far fewer members of younger generations consider cohabiting morally wrong. Many people now view the legal contract of marriage as far less important than the relationship, so the relationship of a cohabiting couple is regarded as just as valid as a married couple. Divorce rates have also increased as a result of changing social attitudes. While in the past, there was a lot of stigma attached to divorce, it is now considered far more acceptable and ‘normal’. The attitude to marriage has changed from it being a lifelong contract to a serious relationship, and it is far more acceptable for a relationship to end than a contract to be broken, so divorce becomes more acceptable, and more people feel able to end a relationship in which they are not happy.

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Since the second wave of feminism started in the 1960s, feminist views have been increasingly impacting our society’s values, and the patterns of family life. Feminists believe in the independence of women, both socially and financially, and view marriage as oppressive to women due to male domination within marriage. They reject the idea that women should find fulfilment in homemaking and childbearing, and so welcome the decline of marriage, and the increase in cohabitation. They would argue that women should have the freedom to choose whether to and when to marry, cohabit or divorce, raise children alone or with a ...

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