The Nuclear family is not as common in British history as you may think according to this recent podcast of Radio Four’s ‘Thinking Allowed that looks at Research into the history of the family and social policy by Pat Thane. You can also find details of the research at this link
This research challenges the idea that the nuclear family and marriage have been common throughout British History. The picture this research paints is that family diversity was the norm up until world war two, then there was a brief period of thirty years from the 1940s -to the 1970s where nearly everyone got married and stayed in nuclear families, and now we are returning to greater family diversity.
Firslty, On Marriage and Divorce –
The decades after the end of the Second World War constituted a quite abnormal period, with much higher marriage rates and much lower rates of non-marriage than had previously been known. In the 1930s 15 percent of women and 9 percent of men did not marry. Similar numbers had long been normal. After 1945 marriage, at least once, became almost universal and most marriages produced children. Average age at marriage fell to historically low levels at the same time that life expectancy was rising and divorce remained difficult to obtain, so marriages tended to last longer.
Secondly, there is a longer history of lone parenthood than you may expect – In the late 1730s, 24 percent of marriages were ended by the death of a partner, more often the male, within ten years. For the same reason, complex families of step-parents and step-children were commonplace in Britain. As health and life expectancy improved in the twentieth century, so did the survival chances of marriage
There is more info in the podcast – check it out!