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Text 1

Nicky Hart argues that the increasing divorce rate can be seen as a 'product of conflict between the changing economic system and its social and ideological superstructure (notably the family)'. In advanced capitalist industrial societies, there is an increasing demand for cheap female wage labour. Wives are encouraged to take up paid employment not only because of the demand for their services, but also because the capitalist controlled media has raised 'material aspirations' - the demand for goods that families desire. These material aspirations can only be satisfied by both spouses working as wage earners. However, conflict results from the contradiction between female wage labour and the normative expectations which surround married life. 'Working wives' are still expected to be primarily responsible for housework and raising children. In addition, they are still expected, to some degree, to play a subservient role to the male head of the household. These normative expectations contradict the wife's role as a wage earner, since she is now sharing the economic burden with her husband. Conflict between the spouses can result from this contradiction, and conflict can lead to marital breakdown.

Haralambos, M. (1995) Sociology, Themes and Perspectives, 3rd edition. London: Bell and Hyman pp. 364-5.

Text 2

If a couple decides to divorce, a number of major transitions of lifestyle and outlook have to be made. A series of interviews which Robert Weiss carried out with divorced men and women in the US showed a definite 'trajectory of divorce' (Weiss, 1976). Women suffer from a divorce far more than men on an economic level, but the process of psychological and social adjustment seems similar for both sexes. In the majority of instances Weiss studied, the respect and liking a couple may have felt for one another disappears some while before they separate. At the same time, a sense of being bound emotionally to the other person persists. Thus even though a couple may row bitterly just before parting, they tend to experience what Weiss calls separation distress. The sudden absence of the spouse creates feelings of anxiety and panic. A minority of individuals however have an opposite experience - a feeling of euphoria in response to being free and able to deal with their lives on their own.

Giddens, A. (1989) Sociology. Oxford : Basil Blackwell, pp. 364-5

Text 3

As laws and procedures regulating divorce have altered, the divorce rate has tended to increase by leaps and bounds; with each new piece of legislation making divorce more readily available, the rate has risen rapidly for a time before levelling off. Today there is one divorce in Britain for every three marriages. (In the USA the rate is one in two.) Many people have suggested that the higher divorce rates reflect an underlying increase in marital instability; the problem with this argument is that we have no way of knowing how many 'unstable' or 'unhappy' marriages existed before legislation made it possible to dissolve them in a public (and recordable) form. Some commentators have gone further, and argued that more permissive divorce laws in themselves cause marital breakdown. But we can certainly be sceptical of such a view, suggesting as it does that happily married couples can suddenly be persuaded to abandon their relationship, propelled by the attraction of a new divorce law. A more plausible explanation for rises in the divorce rate after the passage of a law is that unhappily married couples were for the first time given access to a legal solution to pre-existent marital problems; in other words, changes in divorce laws are less likely to cause martial breakdown than to provide new types of solution where breakdown has already occurred.

Bilton, T., K. Bonnett and P. Jones (1987) Introductory Sociology, 2nd edition. London: Macmillan, p. 301.

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