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Reference SA/PIC/F/14
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Previous Numbers PIC.VIII/9
Level Series
Extent 5 boxes
Title Marriage and divorce
Date 1953-1976
Box Number 37-41
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Description Contains correspondence, papers, reports, and working calculations and tabulated statistics relating to research on marriage and divorce.
Historical Background

In 1953 consideration was given to the future research programme of the Population Investigation Committee (PIC). It was agreed that a study of marriage habits in Britain would be an important and valuable contribution to demographic knowledge. The General Register Office co-operated in drawing a sample of about 500 marriage certificates from their records. This sample was drawn to study the possibilities of obtaining data on social class differences in marriage habits from the occupations given on marriage certificates. In addition to this, Griselda Rowntree was appointed to undertake a study into broken marriages, which included approximately 300 families from the National Survey of the Health and Development of Children, where normal family life had been broken through the death of a parent or through divorce or separation. The results were published in Population Studies in Mar 1955.

In 1954 the PIC obtained the co-operation of the President of the Probate, Divorce and Admiralty Division of the High Court of Justice in extracting copies of certain particulars from divorce petitions lodged in the Divorce Registry. The information was transcribed by officials and included particulars from the original marriage certificate lodged with the petition, details of matrimonial offences alleged, and certain information regarding the occupations of the parties and the children of the marriage. This was the first time such records were made available for research. The PIC also approved a grant to pay for the extraction of sample data for petitions filed in 1951. In order to obtain comparable material relating to the position in the 1870s, an analysis was made of all the divorce petitions for the years 1871-1872.

The PIC began to collect published statistics and conducted a new analysis of them including the occupations of husband at marriage, as well as the calculation of divorce rates by duration of marriage. The analysis of published sources illustrated the proportion of couples married in each year who obtained a divorce in the first or any subsequent year of their marriage. The PIC also sponsored an inquiry into the changing habits and attitudes to marriage since the second half of the 19th century, under the direction of Miss Rowntree. All of these inquiries relating to marriage and divorce were undertaken under the supervision of the Marriage and Planned Parenthood Sub-Committee.

In 1957, marriage data was extracted for 1871, making it possible to combine the statistics so far derived with those of the censuses of 1871 and 1951. An interim report was published in Population Studies in Mar 1958 by Griselda Rowntree and Norman Carrier. To complement the analysis of published material, the PIC decided to conduct field inquiries into marriage aspirations and into the circumstances affecting the age at marriage and the choice of partner. A grant of £10,000 was received from the Rockefeller Foundation to meet the cost of a national inquiry to cover marriage and marital breakdown and attitudes on family size and family limitation. An additional grant of £1000 was received from the Marriage Guidance Council of the Sir Halley Stewart Trust and £1000 from the Oliver Bird Trust. The latter grant was to enable additional questions to be asked and further analysis to be done on fertility and contraception on behalf of the Family Planning Association (FPA).

The survey was based on a stratified random sample of 3000 men and women both ever-married and still single between the ages of 16-59, and concerned with changes in courtship and marriage conventions, and attitudes to various economic and social factors which had in the past been commonly associated with marriage and the establishment of a household. The Survey also included questions on birth control practice, internal migration, marriage across the social classes and social mobility. The fieldwork was carried out by Social Surveys Ltd. (Gallup Poll) and Norman Carrier, then Research Secretary of the PIC, supported and offered his expertise alongside Research Officer Griselda Rowntree. The primary objective of the survey was to examine some of the factors associated with the trend towards earlier marriage. At the suggestion and encouragement of the National Marriage Guidance Council the scope of the survey extended to include several questions on preparation and adjustment to marriage, on pre-marital attitudes to divorce, and on some of the circumstances in which cases of marital breakdown occurred. The survey contained 200 questions for married persons including those widowed or divorced, 120 questions for those engaged, and 50 questions for those neither married nor engaged.

During the 1960s several articles were published in Population Studies on various aspects of the survey predominantly written by Griselda Rowntree, Rachel Pierce, and Norman Carrier. In Dec 1960 a special report was prepared for the FPA Working Party, a report 'Marriage in the 1950s' was circulated by the National Marriage Guidance Council, and another paper on teenage marriage was read at the British Association in Sep 1962. Other related studies were begun such as a study at Leeds University of the employment of married women, and the data on internal migration analysed at the Centre for Urban Studies at University College London. A symposium was planned entitled 'Aspects of Marriage and the Family in Britain 1870-1961'. Unfortunately this symposium did not take place.

Following the resignation of both Miss Rowntree and Miss Pierce in 1965, Norman Carrier continued the cohort analysis of divorce in England, Valerie Oppenheimer analysed information on the employment of women, and David Glass and Dr S. Thapar continued the investigation of regional changes in marriage patterns since the 1930s.

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