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During this century, divorce in Britain has increased by more than 200%. Clearly, divorce is a good example of a public issue.
There is a discrepancy between the ideals of what marriage brings us as individuals and the reality of what marriage actually entails for many couples.
There are problems with the meaning of statistics. For example:
It is an answer, but not the only one to coping with marital discord: In other societies other options are pursued, so what factors persuade unhappily married couples in our society to opt for divorce? Divorce is only one indicator of marital breakdown. The others are:
Legal separation: The partners separate, but the marriage continues to exist. There are no reliable statistics available, as not all separations are formal, and recorded.
Desertion: One partner leaves the family. Again, reliable figures unobtainable, but Chester (1975) argues both separation and desertion are increasing.
Empty shell marriage: The couple live together but there is no love or affection.
There has been a large increase in divorce and these increases have been accompanied by, but not necessarily caused by, changes in the law, which have made divorce easier. Thus divorce in England and Wales more than doubled in There has been a large increase in divorce and these increases have been accompanied by, but not necessarily caused by, changes in the law, which have made divorce easier. Thus divorce in England and Wales more than doubled in 1971-1985 following the Divorce Reform Act of 1971. If present trends continue, it is estimated that four in every ten marriages will end in divorce (Gibson, 1994). However, the increases in divorce have not occurred at a steady rate. For example, there was a marked peak around 1945. This was an effect of the ending of World War II.
The 1950s were relatively stable. In the 60s, divorce began to increase although there were no changes in the law. Since 1980, the number of divorces has only increased slowly.
The remarriage rate presents one of the most striking trends in family patterns in the last 30 years. In 1961, remarriages constituted 14% of all marriages in the UK. By 1991, the proportion was 30% (Social Trends 1994). Divorce is also associated with single parenthood. A quarter of all children will witness their parents divorce before reaching the age of 16 (Gibson, 1994).
Cohabitation: By 1992 it was estimated that some 18% of unmarried men and women, aged 16-59 were living together (Social Trends, 1994). If these trends continue then the meanings of both marriage and divorce will have undergone important shifts.
In all these areas it is primarily the effects on women and children that have been the major focus of concern.