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FAMILIES

Conjugal Roles & Changing Divorce Patterns

Conjugal Roles & Changing Divorce Patterns

Conjugal refers to marriage, so conjugal roles are the roles and responsibilities taken on by the man and woman in a long term relationship.

Sociologists disagree about the extent to which gender roles have become more balanced since the 1960s. Those who argue a healthy balance has been achieved claim that:

      • The symmetrical family is now quite typical and financial decisions are shared more equally – Young and Willmott (1973)
      • Fathers with a working partner play a larger role in their children’s lives  – Gattrell (2008)
      • Feminism, contraception and work opportunities for women have helped close the power balance between men and women.

Those who believe the change has not been significant believe that:

      • Whilst men’s attitudes to housework has changed, their actual involvement in housework has not altered much – Crompton and Lyonette (2008)
      • If there is a greater balance between the time spent on housework between men and women, it is because women are working longer hours and therefore unable to do as much housework as before – Crompton and Lyonette (2008)

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Changing divorce patterns

Divorce, on average, has been on the increase since the 1970s. In 1970 there were 63 000 divorces within the UK. In 2007 there were 144 000. There are a number of reasons for this increase.

The decline of religion: As religion becomes less important, so does the importance of the marriage vow.

The legal system has responded to more relaxed social attitudes towards divorce and made it easier and quicker to do. The Divorce Reform Act (1969) allowed an ‘irretrievable breakdown of marriage’ as a reason for divorce and in 1984 it became possible to petition for divorce after just one year of marriage.

Female independence: Fewer women are financially dependent on their husband and so are in a better position to make the split.

The romantic ideal: Marriage used to be a far more practical transaction in which money and convenience were very serious considerations. Now marriage is far more concerned with romance and love. Disappointment in this regard is more likely to lead to divorce.