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Changes in Marriage, Cohabitation and Childbearing: A Sociological View

Examining the reasons for the changing patterns of marriage, cohabitation and childbearing in the last 40 years.

Examining the reasons for the changing patterns of marriage, cohabitation and childbearing in the last 40 years

Over the last 40 years marriage and divorce rates have decreased and increased respectively. Attitudes to childbearing have also changed due to the changing role of women in society.

Over the past years the marriage rate has gone into decline. In 1972, the highest ever number of couples (480000) since the Second World War got married. Since then it has decreased. An all time low in the marriage rate was in 2005 where only 244,710 couples tied the knot. Morgan argues that marriage involves unique “attachments” and so men are more likely to work harder to please their partner. Many people often avoid marriage and cohabit instead because marriage is now very expensive (the average wedding is now up to £18,000) and there has been secularisation, where there is a decline in religious beliefs. So many people are also choosing not to marry because they don’t have to. Although the marriage rate has fallen over the last 40 years people are not rejecting it, but instead delaying it until later in life. The average age for marriage has risen from 22 in brides to 29 but it is said that most people will marry at some point in their life. The British social attitudes surveys indicate that most people, whether single, divorced or cohabiting, still see marriage as a desirable goal. Also despite the decrease in the overall number of people marrying, married couples are still the main type of partnership in the UK.

Cohabitation has been rising rapidly over the last few years from 11% in 1986 to 24% in 2006. Cohabiting couples are said to be the largest growing family type in the UK. It has grown by 65% since 1997, and could be even higher as this does not include same sex couples who for the time being do not have a choice about cohabiting. Cohabitation has increased due to the fact that women are now financially independent and do not need to be married to have money and stability. It is also mainly only a temporary phase as at least 60% will eventually marry showing that for many, cohabitation, is a test of compatibility and a prelude to marriage. Due to the dramatic rise in this it is predicted that one third of current teenagers will cohabit compared to one tenth of their grandparents.

In the last 40 years, childbearing has also changed. One third of babies are born outside marriage and this has quadrupled within one generation. Only 716000 babies were born in 2004, a 21% decrease from 1971. This can be because of a major decline in the infant mortality rate, couples no longer need to have lots of children to cover them in case some die and too look after them when they are old. The attitudes towards women’s roles have also changed and mothers no longer have to follow the housewife rules. Reliable birth control has been introduced from 1971 and it is now a lot safer than before, meaning that people are choosing to abort unwanted babies. Women are also having children later, the average age has increased 6 years to 30 in 2003 and so women have less time to have children before becoming infertile. There has been a 7%increase in births among 35-39 year olds and the number born to women over 40 has doubled in the last 20 years. This is due to the high proportion choosing to stay in full time education for longer and having careers before children. They may not want to take the time off work to have a baby when they only just started their careers because most the women who go back to work after children go back to a worst job.

Across the years marriage rates have declined but many people still plan to marry at some point. Cohabitation has increased dramatically due to the rising costs of marriage and childbearing ages have risen with women wanting careers to start with.

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