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Marital Breakdown


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Causes of Marital Breakdown


Equations are omitted for technical reasons - download the original pdf

However, the causes of marital breakdown need to be examined. Talcott Parsons and Ronald Fletcher argue that marital breakdown is on the increase because people want more from their marriage, and so are more likely to end a relationship that they do not find acceptable. This argument is supported by the fact that the rate of remarriage is increasing. According to William J. Goode there is more pressure on marital relationships since the family is more isolated and more nuclear. Wider kinship networks help to distribute the emotional load generated inside and outside the relationship. Since families are more nuclear, according to Dennis, "In so far as companionship, a close, durable, intimate and unique relationship with one member of the opposite sex becomes the prime necessity in marriage, a failure in this respect becomes sufficient to lead to its abandonment." Divorce is also easier in the sense that the stigma attaching to divorce has been reduced. Prior to 1857 divorce was only possible in Britain as a private act of parliament, an expensive option open only to the very rich. The Martrimonial Causes Act of 1857 made divorce possible, but limited the grounds for divorce to adultery. This attached the notion of blame to divorce. The 1950 divorce act extended the reasons for divorce to include cruelty and desertion. The Divorce Reform Act (1971) defined the grounds for divorce as 'the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage', which made divorce easier and removed the blame concept. Divorce legislation of 1984 reduced the period that a couple has to be married before they can file for divorce from three to one year. There has been a change in the nature of divorce petitions. In 1989 73% of divorce petitions were filed by wives; but in 1946 only 37% of divorce petitions were filed by wives. Another possible cause of increasing divorce rates is marital conflict over roles. If a woman is working she may still be expected to perform all the normal functions of the household, in accordance with her traditional gender role. There may be a contradiction between the normative expectations of the wife's role and her role as a wage earner. Income and class also affect the likelihood of divorce. In the USA an inverse relationship between income and marital breakdown has been established - that is, the lower the family income, the higher the rate of separation and divorce. Studies in Britain show a relationship between occupational class and divorce. The lower the class, the higher the divorce rate. These are the results from a 1987 study by Burgoyne, Ormrod and Richard. [Table goes here - download the original pdf to see it.] There is also an inverse relationship between the age at which a couple marries and divorce. The lower the age at marriage, the higher the rate of divorce. This factor is also linked to class, since working-class couples are more likely to marry at an earlier age. Also marriage is more likely to end in separation or divorce if one or both partners' parents were divorced. Marital breakdown is also more likely if the spouses have different social backgrounds. Marital breakdown occurs more frequently when one or both partners have certain occupations - divorce is more common among long-distance lorry drivers, sales representatives, engineers, technicians whose jobs involve frequent separations from their spouses and more opportunities for contacts with the opposite sex. Also actors, authors, artists, company directors and hotelkeepers have higher divorce rates owing to their high involvement with their work and low involvement with their marriage.
Contents of
Marital Breakdown

1 Marriage rates and marital breakdown
2 Causes of Marital Breakdown
3 The family, politics and social policy

Related articles: (1) The Relationship of the Family to Social Structure, (2)