Everybody is aware that divorce rates are rising and there is supposedly a crisis with the nuclear family in Britain. We look back to some mythical time in the 1950s with its low divorce rates and seemingly perfect happy families, to a time that we may want to emulate. However, there were very real social and economic pressures which prevented people from divorcing. Women had very little economic freedom and a divorce often meant social shame and economic hardship. Only the rich could divorce, and even then the fear of scandal would often prevent it. Surely it’s better that we now have the freedom to leave unhappy relationships and hopefully form better ones.
I was listening to a talk by Henrietta Moore, a Professor of social anthropology at Cambridge, which gave the following fascinating facts. Women nowadays spend three times longer with their children than they did during the 1970’s, even though more women are now working. Fathers obviously spend more time with their children, in the 1950s the average time that a father spent with his children was 5 minutes a day.
In the 1950s only 2% of the British population lived together before marriage, now it’s over 77%.
We increasingly have the pattern of older children, even married children moving back to or remaining in the family home. Children rarely leave home when they go to University, they retain a base and lack of employment or low wages mean that many young people are forced to remain living with their parents for economic reasons.
The big change is the fact that fathers’ time with their children has increased by 200 times since the 1950s. It’s a given that the fathers spend quality time with their children, and if parents separate, that both parents have a continuing role in those children’s lives. Why is it though, that with both parents spending more and more time with their children, this seems to have coincided with a huge increase in divorce rates?
It’s obviously socially much more acceptable for couples to separate, and although financially difficult, it is generally possible to share the assets so that both parties can survive economically.
In many ways, we seem to have a much better family life than during the 1950s, perhaps it’s just a reflection of the fact that we don’t often get it right the first time. It must be an advantage that we have more freedom to choose the type of family arrangement that best suits us and our children, provided that we can remember that everyone in the family has needs.
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