What is Family Life Like in Britain?
Changing Values and Norms of the British Family
The family in Britain is changing. The once typical British family headed by two parents has undergone substantial changes during the twentieth century. In particular there has been a rise in the number of single-person households, which increased from 18 to 29 per cent of all households between 1971 and 2002. This is mainly due to more marriages ending in divorce, but some women are also choosing to have children as lone parents without being married.By the year 2020, it is estimated that there will be more single people than married people. Fifty years ago this would have been socially unacceptable in Britain.
In the past, people got married and stayed married. Divorce was very difficult, expensive and took a long time. Today, people's views on marriage are changing.The biggest change has been caused by divorce. As many as 2 out of 3 marriages now end in divorce, leading to a situation where many children live with one parent and only see the other at weekends or holidays.
Many couples, mostly in their twenties or thirties, live together (cohabit) without getting married. Only about 60% of these couples will eventually get married.
In the past, people married before they had children, but now about 40% of children in Britain are born to unmarried (cohabiting) parents. In 2000, around a quarter of unmarried people between the ages of 16 and 59 were cohabiting in Great Britain. Cohabiting couples are also starting families without first being married. Before 1960 this was very unusual, but in 2001 around 23 per cent of births in the UK were to cohabiting couples.
People are generally getting married at a later age now and many women do not want to have children immediately. They prefer to concentrate on their jobs and put off having a baby until late thirties.
There has also been a huge rise in the number of mothers who work. The large rise in divorces has meant many women need to work to support themselves and their children. Even when there is no divorce, many families need both parents to work in order to survive. This has caused an increase in childcare facilities, though they are very expensive and can be difficult to find in many areas. In addition, women are no longer happy to stay at home raising children, and many have careers earning as much as or even more than men, the traditional breadwinners.
There has also been a sharp increase in the number of single mothers, particularly among teenagers. Many of their children grow up never knowing their fathers, and some people feel the lack of a male role model has a damaging effect on their lives.
However, these changes have not had a totally negative effect. For women, it is now much easier to have a career and good salary. Although it is difficult to be a working mother, it has become normal and it's no longer seen as a bad thing for the children. As for children themselves, some argue that modern children grow up to be more independent and mature than in the past. From an early age they have to go to child-minders or nurseries, and so they are used to dealing with strangers and mixing with other children.
So while the traditional model of a family may no longer be true in modern Britain, the modern family continues to raise happy, successful children.