Social Trends indicate more variety of Families and Households
Official Social Trends statistics clearly show that the variety of family types has increased in Britain since the mid 20th century.
1. There were 24.4 million households in the UK in 2002 - up by a third since 1971.
2. The average size household is getting smaller. The number of households made up of 5 or more people has fallen from 14% in 1971 to 7% in 2002.
3. You might think that more small households means more nuclear families. However, the percentage of households which are nuclear families has fallen from 33% in 1971 to 25% in 2002.
4. Two of the biggest increases have been in single person households and lone parent family households. This explains why the average size of households has got smaller.
5. There's been an increase in the proportion of families which are reconstituted families. There are more reconstituted families now that there is more divorce. In 2001-2, 8% of all households were reconstituted families.
The two overall patterns are:
1. There's been an increase in the diversity of families in the UK. There are more different kinds of family.
2. Nuclear family is still the most common type of family, even though the proportion of nuclear families is going down. In 2002, 78% of children lived in nuclear families.
Class, Ethnicity and Sexuality Affect Which Types of Family You Experience
Eversley and Bonnerjea (1892) found middle class areas in the UK have a higher than average proportion of nuclear families. Inner-city working class areas are more likely to have higher proportion of lone-parent households.
Lesbian and gay families have been hidden from the statistics. The official definition of a couple has only included same-sex couples siince 1998.
The study of ethnic minorities by Modood et al (1997) found that:
1. Whites and Afro-Caribbeans were most likely to be divorced. Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and African Asians were most likely to be married.
2. Caribbean households were the most likely to be lone-parent families.
3. South Asian families are traditionally extended families, but there are no more nuclear family households than in the past. Extended kinship links stay strong and often reach back to India, Pakistan or Bangladesh.
4. There's diversity within each ethnic group though.
Fewer People Marry and More People Live Together Instead
In 2001 the lowest number of marriages took place in the UK since records began.
1. Over the same period of time there's been an increase in the number of adults cohabitating. In 2001-2 a quater of all non-married adults aged 16-59 were cohabitating.
2. Social trends statistics show that living with a partner doesn't mean you won't get married - it's often just a delay in 'tying the knot'. A third of people who cohabitated with a partner went on to marry them.
3. The majority of people in the UK do marry but the proportion who are married at any one time has fallen.
These trends have developed because...
1. Men tend to die before women. Elderly widows make up a lot of single person households. There are more old people these days, so this helps explain why there are so many single person households.
2. New Right theorists believe that the decline in marriage means a decline in traditional family values. However, evidence suggests cohabiting families actually have similar norms and values to married ones.
3. Postmodern theorists say the role of intimate relationships has changed - the emphasis is less on having kids and more on self-expression and emotional fulfilment. Giddens (1992) says that people are getting more likely to have a series of cohabitations rather than a lifelong marriage, this is known as serial monogomy.
The UK has one of the Highest Divorce Rates in Europe
1. There's been a steady rise in divorce rate in most modern industrial societies.
2. The divorce rate is defined as the number of people per 1000 of the population who are divorced. In 2000, Britain's divorce rate was 2.6 compared to European average of 1.9.
3. Actual divorces in the UK rose from 25,000 in 1961 to 146,000 in 1997.
4. For every two marriages in Britain in 1991, there was one divorce.
5. The proportion of population who were divorces at any time was 1% in 1971 and 9% in 2000.
6. The average length of a marriage before it ends in divorce remained about the same - 12 years in 1963, 11 years in 2000.
7. Although the divorce rate is increasing, divorced people are marrying again. In 2001, 40% of all marriages were re-marriages.
There are several social, cultural and political factors needed to take into account when explaining why divorce is increasing in the UK.
1. Divorce has become easier to obtain.
2. Divorce is more socially acceptable.
3. Women may have higher expectations of marriage, and better employment opportunities may make them less financially dependent on their husbands.
4. Marriages are increasingly focused on individual emotional fulfilment.
5. The New Right believe that marriage is less supported by the state these days.
People are Having Fewer Children and Having them Later In Life
One very clear change in British family life is the decrease in the average number of children people have.
1. People are having fewer children. The average number of children per family was 2.4 in 1971 compared to 1.63 in 2001 (the lowest ever recorded).
2. Women are having children later. The average age of women at the birth of their first child was 24 in 1971 compared to 27 in 2001.
3. More people are not having children at all - 9% of women born in 1945 were childless at age 45 compared to 15% of women born in 1955.
Social changes have influenced these trends. Contraception is more readily available and women's roles are changing. The emphasis on the individual in post-idustrial society is a key factor. Children are expensive and time consuming, and couples may choose to spend their time and money in other ways. The conflict between wanting a successful working life and being a mum has made many women put off having children until later.