Family Structures of Great Britain

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Family Structure of Great Britain

Many countries have experienced very significant changes in patterns of family formation and family structure. Great Britain is one of the countries where these changes have been particularly marked, with the result that British families have become less stable and more diverse. The roles of women and men within the family have also changed, especially for women with children, who are now very likely to be combining paid employment with domestic and care work. These trends have led to renewed interest in the family in both the sociological and the policy literature, as well as in popular and political discourse. Patterns of family formation and dissolution in Britain changed significantly in the latter half of the twentieth century. This is particularly true since the late 1960s when restrictions on contraception, abortion, and divorce were substantially reduced. The 1964 introduction of the contraceptive pill in Britain made contraception easier to obtain and use and much more reliable. The National Health Service (Family Planning) Act of 1967 allowed doctors to give family-planning advice and to prescribe free contraceptives, initially to married women only. The Abortion Act of the same year allowed the termination of pregnancy if two independent medical practitioners agreed that continuance would cause physical or mental risk to the health of the woman or her existing children. And the 1969 Divorce Reform Act made the "irretrievable breakdown" of the marriage the sole grounds for divorce, although it was necessary to prove this in one of five ways (unreasonable behavior, desertion, adultery, two years separation with consent, five years separation without consent). (It should be noted that there are differences across U.K. countries in the timing and operation of these measures. For example, the 1969 Divorce Reform Act applied to England and Wales, and Scotland did not introduce similar reforms until 1976.) These measures...
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