The 'institution' of marriage is just one aspect of society that has undergone considerable change in the past sixty years. These days 'marriage' can not even be assumed as the union between a man and a woman because same sex marriage is now legal in some countries. However, for the purpose of this article I am writing about marriage of a heterosexual couple. Unless otherwise stated comments are in relation to the situation in Australia.
Marriage is a complex topic. The attitudes held by society at a particular time have been influenced by religious beliefs, the economy, women's liberation, contraception, access to safer and legal abortion and no-fault divorce as well as many other factors.
Importance of marriage in the 1950s When I was born, back in the nineteen fifties, a woman was expected to marry and have a number of children.
A young woman feared being 'left on the shelf' and worried what would become of her if she didn't get married. The done thing was for the man who wanted to marry her to ask her father for permission.
In the fifties more people married than ever before and the usual thing was to marry young. My parents married in 1952 and they were considered 'old' to be getting married for the first time. Mum was 27 and Dad was 37.
Living together Living together if not married was rare and disapproved of. These days about 80% of couples live together before marrying and many never 'tie the knot'.
Married women in the workforce In Australia the Public Service Act of 1902 required women in the public service to resign when they married. This was generally the situation in the workforce. It was believed a woman didn't need employment once she was married as her husband would provide for her and as well there would soon be the patter of little feet. A wife's place was in the home, not the workforce.
Several decades back it was expected a woman would get pregnant soon after marrying. Image courtesy of Pixabay
Occasionally women did return to their previous job straight after getting married. They had to reapply and if re-employed were likely to start at the lowest salary level with the status of 'temporary'. In 1966 things changed and it was possible for a married woman in the public service to have permanent status.
Whatever their marital status, it was usual for a woman to be paid about 75% of the wage paid to a male doing the same work until equal pay was introduced during the 1970s.
Divorce Sixty years ago a woman’s economic dependence on her husband, frequent pregnancies and society’s belief that a woman should be married combined to discourage a woman from leaving a marriage. Added to this, one party had to be proved to be 'at fault'. Just because a couple stayed together didn't mean their marriage was a happy one.
In 1975 The Family Law Act in Australia enabled a couple to divorce if they had lived apart for twelve months and their marriage had suffered an 'irretrievable breakdown'.
A study of American families found both domestic violence and the suicide rate of married women dropped after the introduction of no-fault divorce.
Divorce rates increased after the 1950s but in more recent times have dropped. Divorce was more likely thirty years ago than it is now. However, it is important to note there are no statistics about the likelihood of couples in a de facto living arrangement to separate. Therefore we can't say couples are less likely to separate, just those who are married.
Divorce rates have dropped in more recent times Image courtesy of Pixabay
Motherhood and employment In 1971 over seventy five per cent of the women surveyed believed motherhood was more important than any career they might have. By 1991 only twenty five per cent believed this. Now it is common for women to combine motherhood and paid work, often before their children start school. More women want to have 'meaningful' employment in addition to being a mother.
Marriage rate In the late 1990s there was a noticeable decline in the number of marriages but since 2001 there has been a steady increase. These days some choose a 'living apart together' relationship where each partner has their own home.
Age at time of marriage In times gone by it was expected the husband would be older than his wife. It was believed this would put him in a better financial position to provide for his wife and children. In 1974 the bride was the older partner in only 11% of first marriages. By 1995 the bride was the older in 20% of first marriages.
These days, as a generalisation, couples are choosing to marry at a later age, if at all. Since the 1970s more couples have been choosing to ‘live together’ either before they marry or instead of ‘tying the knot’. Generally de facto couples have the same legal rights as married couples.
I wonder how marriage will change over the next sixty years.