“Examine the reasons for changes in the patterns of marriage, divorce and cohabitation over the past 40 years.”

The patterns of marriage, divorce and cohabitation over the past 40 years has varied quite significantly. In 1972, the highest ever number of couples (480,000) since the Second World War got married. Now, obviously there is a reason for this. According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), this was due to the baby boom generation of the 1950s reaching marriageable age and these people choosing to marry at a younger age compared with previous generations.

However, after this period, the number of marriages in England and Wales then went into decline. Most recently, marriages reached an all-time low in 2005 when only 244,710 couples got married. Some people would say that it reached so low because people are rejecting marriage and are no longer bothered about it. But in fact, statistics reveal that many people are actually delaying marriage. It is said that most people will marry at some point in their lives, but people are deciding to marry later in life, most likely after a period of cohabitation. A reason for this is probably because couples want to “Test the water” before they make any commitments. Evidence to support the “marrying later in life” view is that the average age for first-time bridges in 2003 was 29 years and for all grooms 31 years, compared with 22 for women and 24 for men in 1971. In particular women may want to delay marriage so they can advance their career prospects.

As well as a decline in the total number of marriages, there is also a decline in marriage rates (the number of people marrying per 1000 of the population aged 16 and over). In 1994, the marriage rate was 11.4 but this had declined to 10.3 by 2004. The male rate declined from 36.3 in 1994 to 27.8 in 2004 whilst the female rate declined from 30.6 to 24.6. Once again, even though there is a decline, British Social Attitude Surveys indicate that most people,...