Essay on Divorce Rates in 1950s

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The concept of family has been a topic of considerable discussion for social scientists. In particular, they have analyzed the changes and continuity that are happening within family structures. Family is defined as a group of people related by blood, marriage, or adoption (Richardson,1993). From a sociological aspect, changes in the family are a result of post-industrialization which has led to traditional changes in social life (Gillies,2003). This essay aims to outline the key changes in the family since the 1950s and identify what has stayed the same. Comparisons of differences and similarities between families will be analyzed based on past and contemporary ages. This essay will then continue to outline the changes in women’s roles, the rise in the number of single-parent families, and the emergence of same-sex families. In conclusion, the idea of family remains relevant in the UK’s society despite various changes.

Sociologists referred to the 1950s as the Golden Age. There were two classifications of families in the 1950’s, the nuclear family and the traditional family. The nuclear family consisted of two biological parents and children who were related by ties of partnership and parenthood (Bengtson,2004). People who lived in the 1950s had very idealistic views, meaning that the concept of patriarchy was largely practiced. Men dominated women in the power of structure and women were viewed to hold a subordinate role as compared to the men and were seen as less important. There was also a clear marital division of labor between husband and wife in a household, fathers were seen as family patriarchs as they were expected to be providers of the family, earning money to support the household (Coltrane, 1996). The husband was seen as the head of the household, while women stayed home to do housework and childrearing (Connell,1987).

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The first aspect of change within a family is the change in women’s roles. In the 1950s, the concept of domesticity was largely imposed on women, and family was seen to be the center of women’s lives. Women played a crucial role in a nuclear family, by taking on the household role of caring for their husbands and children, keeping a family strong and united (England & Farkas, 1986). The 1950s was viewed as a period where both men and women conformed to the rules of family structure and expectations of society (Khan Academy, n.d). During this period women were not accepted at a social level, the concept of patriarchy posed challenges for women to progress in society as a patriarchal society gave absolute privilege to men, and women were deprived of their legal rights to express and practice their abilities (Sultana, n.d). Inequality was still prevalent during this period, and women were not employed for jobs that were considered as jobs for men hence many women were isolated from society and were limited to their domestic roles and were left without a voice in the public sphere (Shah,2015). However, during the occurrence of the world war, restrictions on the employment of women in the workforce were removed. British women were encouraged to take on jobs that were limited to men in the past, to make up for the lack of men in industries during the war (Dale & Joshi, 1992). According to (Hatton & Bailey, 1988) during the interwar period, the percentage of females in the labour force rose from 27 percent to 39 percent from 1881-1981.

In contemporary society, feminist theories have given more equality to women, encouraging and enabling them to speak up for their rights, and giving them more voice in decision-making (Dixon,2016). The main aim of feminist theories is to make women equal to men, erasing the differences between genders and creating a gender-neutral society (Bock & James, N.D). Women are said to possess the same capacities of moral reasoning as men and can even perform tasks and take up jobs that were limited to men in the past. Today, more women are entering the workforce and are even taking up highly skilled professional occupations. According to research conducted in 2018, women occupied 22% of high-skilled professions while men only occupied 19% of high-skilled professions (Powell, 2019). Several reasons have caused the change in women’s roles in contemporary society. Firstly, more women are becoming educated and are taking up extra qualifications to be competitive in the employment market. The benefits of women’s education are often linked to faster economic growth and better-educated families (Aikman & Unterhalter, 2005). Women with higher education are usually associated with having higher social class, making them more likely to be employed as compared to uneducated women (HBS, 2017). In the 1950s many young women left school early at the age between fifteen and eighteen (Spencer,2005). Many of them took up household roles to prepare them for the role of married women. Therefore, they were denied the opportunity to pursue an education at a young age, making them less desirable for employment. Secondly, gender equality has made it possible for more women to enter the workforce. This is because, more men are taking up domesticated roles within a family, enabling women to work. Over the years, there has been an increase in the number of stay-at-home dads as more men take on a woman’s role of looking after the home and family (Rudgard, 2017).

The second aspect of change is the rise in the number of single-parent families. In the 1950s divorce was uncommon, divorce was stigmatized by society as failing at marriage. Divorce rates were low in the 1950s, as women largely depended on their husbands financially and thus divorce was not an option for many women (England & Farkas, 1986). Another reason why there were fewer divorces in the 1950s is because married couples understood the importance of a strong family and valued the sanctity of marriage. The young adults of the 1950s witnessed the effects of the great depression and the war as they grew up. Therefore, they viewed a strong family as being fundamental and desirable during hard times, as hard times had weakened so many families (NY, 1981). In contemporary society, the number of single-parent families has almost tripled over the last 40 years (Grady, 2013). Statistics show that Britain has the highest number of single-parent families in the European Union, with more than 1.8 million single-parent households (Martin, 2014). The difference between the 1950s and the contemporary age is the increased number of divorce cases and single-parent families. Sociologists suggest that divorce is caused by psychological problems such as marital disharmony (Stewart & Brentano,2006). According to Sigmund Freud, (2006) “Divorce was the result of conflict that was inherent in the passion of close relationships in any family” (As cited in Stewart & Brentano,2006). Today, divorce proceedings have been made simpler and quicker, and social attitudes have also changed, making divorce more acceptable by society, which has contributed to the rise of divorce rates and the increase of single-parent families (Stewart & Brentano,2006).

The third aspect of change is the emergence of same-sex families. The 1950s was described as a period of intense sexual conservatism (Bauer & Cook, 2012). Society views same-sex relationships as unacceptable and illegal. The criminal justice system in the 1950s imposed harsh punishments on homosexuals, prosecuting those involved in homosexual activity in the UK (Liberty Human Rights, 2013). According to the Home Office of the United Kingdom, approximately 50000 such offences were allegedly reported from the 1950’s until 2000 ( Schraer & D’Urso, 2017). In contemporary society, same-sex relationships have become more socially acceptable by society. According to a BBC survey conducted in 2016, 64 percent of the public agreed that same-sex marriages were not unjust, quadrupling from 17 percent in 1983 (Schraer & D’Urso, 2017). Therefore, the change in society’s perceptions and the prevalence of same-sex relationships has brought about a rise in the number of same-sex adoption couples. In 2002, the Adoption and Children Act enabled gay couples to adopt children (Liberty Human Rights, 2013). This has enabled many same-sex couples to become part of the adopting community and start their own families. According to Barnardo Cymru, a children's charity based in Wales, 13% of children placed with adopters were LGBT couples (Houghton, 2015).

This essay has tried to analyze the changes within family structures. In particular same-sex families, single-parent families, and women’s roles in the family. However, it is important to acknowledge that what has stayed the same since the 1950s is that the nuclear family is still in existence today. In the contemporary age, most dependent children still live together as a family with their two parents. The married nuclear family is still the predominant type of family in the contemporary age. According to (Thompson, 2016) there are more than 4.7 million of Nuclear family households in the UK today.

It can be concluded that the family plays a significant role as a social institution that contributes to the order of society. The concept of family through a sociologist has been considered a phenomenon that represents both continuity and change. This essay has outlined the key changes in the family since the 1950s, highlighting the differences in the change of women's roles within a family, the rise of single-parent families, and the emergence of same-sex families. Family constitutes one of the most important structures of any society. Therefore, any changes in the family would lead to changes in social structure. These transitions have led to changes in society, and therefore we have same-sex families which has led to an open society, free from discrimination and inequality. However, we still see that the nuclear family exists and is still the main structure of the family in the contemporary age.

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