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Compared to the past century, women in Australia have more rights and privileges and their status has risen higher. The transformation that is now being witnessed among the Australian women came about as a result of hard fought political and social battles by movements advocating for change in women’s roles both.
In the past, women in Australia led a life characterized by a lot of hardships because of the harsh traditions that they were supposed to follow. These traditions viewed women’s roles as being mothers and housewives within the family setting. There was little that was done by the existing social structures to raise the status of women or improve their living standards.
Generally, women were considered to be inferior and the society was dominated by the males. The changing status of women in Australia has been reflected in many areas of life, one of them being marriage. In this paper, I shall explore the ways in which marriage reflects the changing status of women in Australian culture in the past century.
Trends in the Australian marriages
Survey studies on marriages in 1980’s in Australia showed that there was a decline in the rates of marriage. Even though there were many married couples, most of them were just cohabiting. More cases of divorce were also reported. It was also noted that the fertility rate had gone down. I believe that these problems threatened the survival of marriage.
According to Lieberman (2011), the size of households and family types in Australia has also changed over the years. The size of households has fallen from an average of 4.5 members in 1911 to an average of 2.6 members in 2006.
Changes have also been noted in the emerging family types. Prior to the year 2006, households comprising of couples living with children who depended on them were very common. However, this trend has changed and most of the households have couples who do not have children.
By the year 1980, more women were being enrolled in institutions of learning and especially the post secondary education. This enabled them be employed in various organizations (Ireland, 2010). Previously, only men were in paid work force because women were not educated and their roles were viewed as only those of a mother and a housewife.
The manufacturing industries as well as other industrial and corporate sectors were in need of a workforce that was skilled and with better education. Since women had equal chances with their male counterparts to be employed, they were able to get into paid work force (Hearn, 2008).
These changes in education trends in women and the consequent employment resulted to changes in the patterns of marriage. Women were able to postpone the time of getting into marriages.
Easy accessibility to contraceptive pills among the women also changed the child bearing trends. There was a delay in the age at which women chose to have children as women concentrated more on their education and careers. The age at which women had their first child shot up from teenage to early twenties and early thirties.
By the year 2007, there were cases of first time mothers who had their children in late thirties (Lieberman, 2011). Generally, the ongoing wave of feminism enlightened the women to look beyond their past social roles of motherhood and housewives to other possibilities in political and economic scenes.
The opportunity for women to bear children reduced greatly due to the technological advancements in methods of family planning, instability of many relationships and delay in childbearing because of education or economic factors.
The rate of fertility continued on the downward trend until it came to an alarming rate in the 1990’s (Lieberman, 2011). There were concerns that the diminishing fertility rate was going to have major impacts on the economic and social scenes.
According to McDonald (2005), the postponement of the age at which a woman will bear children has a major impact on the number of children they are going to get. This is because getting a first child at an older age restricts one to only a limited number of children because of biological factors.
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The social constructions about the ideal age of getting into a marriage and the conditions that one has to meet also impact on the marriage trends. Some women wait until they are able to own a house with many rooms where each child has their room and also until when they feel they are economically stable to take their children to private schools, before getting into marriage.
By the time this happens, most of them are advanced in age and are only able to have one or two children at most. Some even end up being unable to have children, although they would have wished to have some. This trend has led to an increase in the number of women who have one child or none at all.
The number of women who have three or more children is slowly becoming extinct. Currently, two-child families are more common although the number of women who have given birth to only one child is steadily rising.
In the past, when women were assigned the roles of motherhood and housewives, there were very few cases of ex-nuptial births. However, there has been a rising trend of ex-nuptial births among women in the recent times. Australian unmarried women who got pregnant in the 20th century had several options at their disposal.
They were either supposed to give up the child for adoption immediately after birth or look for a way to get into marriage. Abortion was not allowed. The number of babies born outside marriage has continued to rise significantly.
Family-work balance for the working mothers
A significant change in the status of Australian women is seen in the entry of women in paid work force. This had an impact on the family life. The number of women in both part-time and full time employment, who had dependants increased.
This led to the emergence of households where both parents are working hence putting a lot of strain on the marriage and especially caring for the young children. The situation is particularly tough for single mothers who have to work for long hours or even get two jobs in order to meet all her family obligations.
With the child caring role still being left to the mothers, the age of the children or child in the household affects the way the mother is going to participate in the economic sector. As the youngest child grows older, more women find themselves in a better position to look for paid employment. The trend of mothers venturing into paid work called for adjustments in many areas in the family.
The need for someone to take care of the child or children while the mother was away arose. The people considered for this role were mostly relatives, particularly the grandparents. Availability of this service however depended on various factors such as the health person, the relationship between the parents and the caregiver and their place of residence.
Grandparents are mostly preferred because of their ability to offer emotional support, guidance, historical facts and generally, be good role models for the children to emulate (Lieberman, 2011).
This option of using relatives as care givers to the children of working mothers has not been very effective and has necessitated for another way of providing the same services. Formal child care centers have emerged. The number of preschool age children attending formal care child institutions has increased drastically.
Negative effects of the changing status of women on marriages
There exists a relationship between the changes of status of women especially culturally and the consequences on marriages. Economic productivity and feminism are some of the factors that cause a change of status among women which in turn impacts on marriages (Illouz, 1969).
Women who spend a lot of their time in pursuit of education or careers are being shunned by men who believe that such women cannot make good mothers and wives. This has led to emergence of a group of women who are not ready to give up these pursuits and consequently, opt to be single mothers.
This is because the women are able to run this type of family independently. Education and paid employments are some of the things that have contributed significantly to the changing status of women in Australia and have impacted both negatively and positively on marriages.
The changing status of women is also causing a re-evaluation and redefinition of the roles of men in the family and in the society. Men are feeling that they are at an inferior position because of the rising rates of divorce and changing social norms. The changing structure of the families has caused a lot of anxiety among the men. Women are opting for family types that do not favor men.
Women also are redefining some of their roles and expressing their dissatisfaction with some of the social roles placed upon them, which is causing men to feel insecure and powerless in the marriage institutions, contrary to how it was some years ago when men dominated almost all areas, including the area of marriage.
Alternative types of marriages such as lesbianism are an issue of concern to men (Rosa, 1994). This type of marriage was not very common in the past but it is now increasingly gaining popularity among women, especially the elite and those who consider themselves liberated from the past traditions.
Butler (2002) states that: ‘… the proposition that marriage should become the only way to sanction or legitimate sexuality is unacceptably conservative’ (Butler, 2002). This view is being held by many other women who disregard marriage because of their changed social status and the ability to choose the kind of marriage they want to get into.
Emerging studies which show that single women have a higher chance of high educational achievements also affect marriages because some women opt not to get to marriage so that they can achieve their educational goals. Some studies go further to suggest that single women are happier than married women. This too is a deterrent to women getting into marriages.
The notion that was held in the past that the man is supposed to be the provider is lowly dying away. Women now feel that they are as good as or even better than their male counterparts and are no longer dependent on them for financial support.
This has caused superiority complex among the married women which may cause their husbands to feel inferior, especially if the woman is earning more compared to the man. Single women with this kind of mentality may choose to never get married because they feel that they are self sufficient.
Feminist writers have further affirmed this stand taken by some women claiming that women have the right to choose how they want to live their lives without outside interference. Their writings show that single women are as happy as or even happier than their counterparts who are married. This has led to emergence of many single parent families and higher divorce rates among the existing marriages.
The roles of women in Australia have revolutionized in the past century. Several factors such as pursuit of higher education, paid employment and advancements in the area of family health, particularly family planning methods, have contributed to the revolution. Until 1914, women’s roles were restricted to housewife and motherhood. The average age of marriage was eighteen for many girls.
This was not the case for everyone because those who came from lower social classes had their marriage age lower. The girls were married at an average of age fourteen. Since most of the housework was done manually as there were no electrical appliances, most of the work was time consuming.
This means that the married women had no time to engage in other activities apart from housework. However, this trend changed over the years as women’s status changed and the effects of this change are still felt on the marriage institutions.
Butler, J., 2002. Is Kinship Always Already Heterosexual? A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies, 2002: (13)1, 14-44.
Hearn, A., 2008. ‘Variations on the Branded Self: Theme, Invention, Improvisation And Inventory’, in The Media and Social Theory, David Hesmondhalgh and Jason Toynbee (eds). London: Routledge.
Illouz, E., 1969. The rise of Homo Sentimentalis. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Ireland, J., 2010. Our Cheatin’ Hearts. Sydney Morning Herald Spectrum, October 2-3, 2010 pp. 12-3. Web.
Lieberman, F., 2011. A focus study: gender. New South Wales: Department of Education and Communities and Charles Sturt University. Web.
McDonald, P., 2005. Has the Australian fertility rate stopped falling? People and Place, 13(3), 1-5.
Rosa, B., 1994. Anti-Monogamy: a Radical challenge to Compulsory Heterosexuality? The anarchist library, (3)1, 106-120.