Over the past 50 years there has been a considerable decrease in the rate of marriage in Great Britain, for example a graph shows that in 1971 around 475000 marriages took place all together, and where as in 2008 around only 180000 marriages took place. There are a large number of reasons which could have lead to this such as secularisation, changes in the role of women and education and careers. The first reason which explains why marriage has decreased so much is secularisation.
This is the decline in religion, meaning that Britain over the years has generally become a far less religious country, this could be taken into two lights, as this could either mean there is less people following their religion, or there is far less people who have a religion, who are atheists. The effect on the marriage rates this has is that religion created the path for many people to follow, hence it influenced the vast majority of peoples lives, and anyone who went against the norms that Christianity created would often have their lives made like hell by those around them.
This meant that cohabitation was a rare occurrence as it was considered to be ‘living in sin’, ‘living in sin’ would also apply to those who decided to have sex before they where married to the person. Often highlighted by those who fell pregnant before they were married, and were forced to marry before any signs showed by their parent due to fear of what the rest of the community would think, or due to there own consciousness due to fear of what there parents and rest of their community would think. So many people were forced to marry so they could live with their partner and have sex simply so they didn’t go against any ‘norm’.
But as religion has showed signs of declining fewer people are seeing cohabitation and sex before marriage as a sin, so people are far less concerned about the reaction of other so no longer feel any strong need to marry any more. Evidence that supports that secularisation caused a decrease in marriage is that during the time of marriage rates declining statistics show that the number of people who attend church is also declining, as nowadays statistics also show that only about 6% – 7% of people attend church.
However this could just be a coincidence because the 2001 census showed that 71. 8% of people claimed to be Christian which would argue against such a strong decline in secularisation. Another reason which explains why marriage has declined is changes in the roles of women. This is the gradual process to which women slowly gained equality to men. From a time when women could do nothing and relied on men, to where they could be completely independent. Women of previous generations often relied on marriage for financial support and often didn’t work; those who did were paid next to nothing.
Before marriage women would tend to stay at home with their parents due to the difficulty there was for women to obtain a flat or loan, as a result of there inequality. However over the past 60 years women have moved toward equality with men, and can even be the main earners in a family. Because of certain laws such as the sex discrimination act 1975, women are far less dependant on men due to the fact they can support them selves far easier with better educations and careers. So women no longer feel the pressure to marry to survive, and can stay single and still support them selves and many cases any children they have.
The link is that the higher the level of qualifications the woman has the less likely they are to marry at first, because they will have spent far longer in education so either can’t afford a marriage or don’t want a marriage for fear that it will impede on her university degrees. Evidence which supports this theory is that the cohabitation rate increased and the marriage rate decreased in the 1970, at the same time that women’s roles were changing, such as when ‘The equal pay act 1970’ and the ‘The sex discrimination act 1975’
A final reason that explains why marriage has decreased is education and careers. This has caused marriage to decrease because of the fact that many more people than ever before are staying on into post-compulsory education. In the early 20th century people left education around the age of 15 to find jobs until 1973 when the leaving age was raised to 16, even thought many people did not stay on to carry out post-compulsory education, instead choosing to opt out of education at 16.
Where as nowadays a large number of people stay on in education until they are 18, and a large number of those even go on to university for 3 years or more depending on the complexity of what they are doing at university. The effect the lengthening of education has is a generic lengthening of childhood. People who are 20 used to be in work and thinking about marriage if they where not already, but now many 20 year olds are still in full time education, and reliant on their parents, so marriage has not even crossed their minds.
This leads to a generation of kidults which is where adults fit the characteristics of a child, for example education. Evidence that supports this theory is the work of Sue Sharpe’s research ‘Just like a girl’ where she interviewed teenage girls in the 1970s and then again in the 1990s. Those interviewed in the 70’s “felt that educational success was unfeminine” and when asked to prioritise a list of aspects, love was on average listed top where as careers on average was listed last.
However those interviewed in the 90’s prioritised them in practically the opposite way, with careers coming out top and love coming last, showing that many of them saw their own career and the ability to support them selves as being more important than a wedding or a husband. These three reasons all explain why marriage has decreased since the 1960’s. Even though all three reasons are likely to have impacted on how many people marry, the most important explanation is ‘changes in the roles of women’.
This is due to the fact that the evidence for ‘changes in the roles of women’ having a large impact on marriage in more convincing because with out laws changing to allow the equality of women, it is clear that those who refused to marry from a working class (a manual labour) or even a middle class ( a non manual labour career background) background would struggle to survive long with out support from those around them, so marriage was the only solution until ‘The sex discrimination act 1975’ and the ‘Equal pay act 1970’ were passed, meaning women no longer required marriage to survive.