The Continued Importance of Marriage in the Family Life Course

Wednesday, 18 July 2018: 09:15
Oral Presentation
Julia CARTER, Canterbury Christ Church University, United Kingdom
Recent sociological research in the UK has increasingly emphasised de-centring the couple relationship, with authors insisting on the importance of friends and significant others, children, being alone, and even pets. Indeed, the turn towards ‘personal life’ was a response to a perceived over-reliance on notions of ‘family’ and ‘couples’ that have problematic associations in politics and policy, which view ‘family life’ as static and homogenous. Alongside this critique of ‘family’, sociological research has also pointed towards significant changes in family life, heralded by individualism and the ‘transformation of intimacy’ and evidenced by growing cohabitation rates, increasing numbers of births outside marriage, and the identification of living apart together (LAT) relationships. There remains, however, somewhat of a mismatch between these trends which suggest the breakdown of secure life pathways, and attitudes reported in British national surveys which continue to show attitudinal support for marriage, co-residence and monogamy. Thus, despite both the sociological turn in family studies, and the perception of change in family life, there appears not to have been a simultaneous shift in public discourse; ‘family’ and coupling still hold significant meaning for individuals, both discursively and materially. This paper will, therefore, aim to answer the following questions: why is marriage still important to people, despite the changes and perceived insecurities in family life? And in what ways has the decision to marry changed in the life course? These questions will be addressed using a qualitative interview study with young women. These accounts demonstrate that despite, or perhaps because of, the changing social landscape in which their relationships played out, marriage re-emerged as a stable anchor in an unstable context. Thus marriage now represents a choice to commit to a sense of stability rather than the required entry to adulthood and independence marriage represented for preceding generations.