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Attitudes towards family and marriage in time and context: using two British birth cohorts for comparison

Obolenskaya, Polina (2012). Attitudes towards family and marriage in time and context: using two British birth cohorts for comparison. (Unpublished Doctoral thesis, City University London)


With dramatic changes in family-related behaviours in the past 50 years, there has been an increasing awareness and acceptance of different family arrangements. Subsequently, measuring and studying people’s attitudes towards issues such as commitment to marriage, acceptance of alternative family forms, parental separation and gender roles has gained a lot of attention among those working in the fields of sociology, social psychology and demography.

The majority of studies examining the relationship between family-related attitudes and behaviour have focused on either the selection or adaptation effects of attitudes, with fewer (particularly of those using British data) specifically addressing the possibility of both processes taking place. This study’s main goal is to address the latter using the data of two British cohorts born 12 years apart: the 1970 British Cohort Study (BCS) and the 1958 National Child Development Study (NCDS). The cohort’s attitudes are measured by a scale consisting of three items which relate to: marriage being a lifelong commitment, a divorce being easily obtainable these days and the acceptability of parental separation. This work adopts the perspective of value orientation and life course position which implies a recursive nature of attitudes and behaviour whereby behaviour is influenced by people’s values (the selection effect of attitudes) and these values, in turn, adjust following changes in people’s circumstances (the adaptation effect of attitudes).

The availability of attitude statements at two time points for each cohort (at age 26 and 30 for BCS; at age 33 and 42 for NCDS) and rich partnership history data allows for such analyses to be carried out as the order of events can be established. Firstly, this research utilises bivariate and multivariate techniques to investigate the determinants of attitudes. Further, it implements regression analyses to explore the relationships between attitude scores and: a) transition to first marriage for non-cohabiting cohort members (BCS and NCDS); b) transition to first marriage of cohabiting cohort members (BCS) and c) dissolution of first marriage (NCDS).

The main findings show some evidence of both the selection and adaptation effects of attitudes in relation to marital transitions for both cohorts, indicating the importance of attitudes in shaping people’s behaviour and at the same time showing the tendency of attitudes to change in line with an individual’s personal circumstances.

Publication Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
H Social Sciences > HQ The family. Marriage. Woman
Departments: Doctoral Theses
School of Policy & Global Affairs > Sociology & Criminology
School of Policy & Global Affairs > School of Policy & Global Affairs Doctoral Theses
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