Families in Britain are continually changing over time, but over the last 50 years there have been major changes. There has been a huge increase in the numbers of divorce, and a decrease in the number of marriages. The divorce rate has especially increased, as now one-half of new marriages today are likely to end in divorce. New forms of the family are rising, such as lone parents, same sex marriages and cohabitation. These changes mean that families and households today bear little resemblance to those of fifty years ago, and the "typical family" no longer seems to exists.
One of the reasons for the changing pattern of marriage and divorce is the changing role of women. Feminists might argue that women's expectations of life and the quality of their relationship have risen during the last century, and so are less likely to accept a traditional housewife role. Around three quarters of divorce petitions are initiated by women, which would imply that more women are unhappy with they're marriages than men are. On top of this; the employment of married women has dramatically increased, and now it is the norm for married women with children to also be in employment. This change is reflected in TV shows and films, as the mother role is no longer portrayed as only being a housewife, but also as a working mother with her own career. Being employed increases women's financial independence, therefore reduces the dependency on their husband, and so they could escape from unhappy marriages.
I think this is an important reason in the increased divorce rate, especially the increase in employment. This is because by earning they're own money and not being dependant on their husband, they don't need to tolerate an unhappy marriage on the basis of not having anywhere else to go. However this mostly applies to married couples with pre-nubs, as without one women could get divorced and also get half of the money. But furthermore this has caused a change in the patterns of marriage and divorce, because it has increased the divorce rate with more women wanting one.
Another reason for the changing patterns of marriage and divorce is the greater availability of, and more effective, contraception. This has made it easier to have sex outside the marital relationship, and couples can have sex without the fear of pregnancy. This has decreased the number of marriages, due to the fact that the traditional "waiting to have sex after marriage" belief has decreased. Contraception has also made it easier to have sex with more than one person during marriage, which potentially exposes relationships to great instability and can lead to divorce. This shows that that the greater availability and of contraception had changed the patterns of marriage and divorce, because cheating can be easier as its without the fear of the partner getting pregnant, and therefore leading into more unstable relationships and higher divorce rates. Although I agree with this, I would also disagree because teen pregnancy rates and lone parents are increasing.
Changing social attitudes are also a reason for the changing patterns of marriage and divorce. Beck and Beck-Gernstein (1995) see rising divorce rates as a product of the growing individualization and uncertainty of post-modern societies. People's lives now have more choice, such as in the household individuals now choose and negotiate more about things like who does the chores and where to live, rather than the gender stereotypical roles there were before. Giddens (1993) suggested the idea of romantic love and personal fulfilment is now more important than it was before, and people are less likely to 'settle'. The rise in divorce rate is explained by this, as people keep switching partners to find fulfilling relationships. This weakens commitment.
These changes show the changing social attitudes to divorce, which is