Marriage is less valued today than ever before.
Marriage and the way we view it today, differs greatly from the past. We no longer have to be married to be a family. Our views and opinions on marriage and its meaning have changed considerably. Marriage isnt necessarily less valued, its just viewed differently.
The fact that the divorce rate has doubled in the last twenty years could lead us to believe that marriage isnt important to us anymore. Instead of persevering and working at married life, people are more frequently choosing to end their relationships. However, these divorced couples seem to be merely opting out of poor quality relationships to look for something better. In the past divorce was frowned upon, we were expected to carry on regardless of whether we were happy or not. Until 1949, there was no financial help available for divorce cases. Making the process easier and cheaper has given people the opportunity to leave empty shell marriages behind. For example in 1991, 75% of women and 80% of men divorced before the age of 35 were remarried within 10 years. These figures show that we havent dismissed the idea of marriage. Repeated remarriage doesnt mean we take marriage lightly, just that society has changed and were not expected to put up with being unhappy. People are demanding a better quality of marriage, it might take two or three attempts to get it right.
With the majority of one-parent families being created through divorce, we cant use lone parents as an example of marriage being less valued. Lone parent families are often only temporarily in this situation and like divorcees go on to remarry.
On the surface, the significant decline in marriage can appear to suggest its unimportance. This can simply reflect an increase in cohabitation. Attitudes have changed, its quite acceptable to have a sexual relationship and children outside wedlock. Living with a partner can be as strong and binding as marriage. Many people choose to cohabit and have a family. Theyre married in every sense of the word, only without the certificate. If anything it reinforces the idea that marriage is very important. Ensuring we have chosen the right person to be our partner before committing ourselves. Many cohabiting couples go on to get married later. Again, we have more choices nowadays, were not expected to rush into things were not sure of. The cost of a wedding ceremony must also be taken into consideration. For the average family, finding thousands of pounds for something theyre living quite happily without isnt always easy.
Less than half of todays weddings are a traditional religious ceremony. A civil ceremony is a popular option. This sort of wedding can be held anywhere and involve almost anything. Some will view this as trivialising marriage, rewriting vows and choosing bizarre locations for the ceremony. However the couples involved must be taking things pretty seriously to go to such lengths. After all, its their day and theyre personalising things because it is so special to them. With church membership and attendance down we see an increasing number of couples doing things their own way. This is down to attitudes and beliefs changing and with it the idea of what marriage is about.
Conventional roles within the family are changing. Some women no longer want to be a mother and housewife first. Their expectations of marriage are different from the past. Careers for both sexes can be priority to create a stable environment for relationships and children later on. This confirms the value of marriage. The average age at marriage has increased.
The difference between the past and the present is the choices we have. If were unhappily married we have the option to change things. If we choose to cohabit theres no strain on us to marry if were not ready. When we do marry we can say how and where. Modern life demands a certain quality in relationships. We want to get more out of a relationship outside the home. We want to be friends with our partner and spend free time together. Marriage isnt less valued today, the way we live our lives has changed and so have our reasons for choosing married life.
Sociology in Focus