This is a rebuttal of Happy Families? - a document that concludes, amongst other things,
# The 'permissive'1960s were not the decisive break with long-established norms of marital stability and sexual propriety that is often thought.*
# There was a change in the late 1960s from some of the norms of the post-Second World War period, but that was the historically unusual period, with high rates of relatively long-lasting marriages.
# High rates of unmarried cohabitation of men and women bringing up children prevailed over many centuries, mainly due to the difficulty of obtaining a divorce before 1969.
Professor Rebecca Probert and Dr Samantha Callan offer a different view:
In expressing serious concern about the evidential basis for the claims in Happy families?, it is not our intention to suggest that all marriages in the past were happy and long-lasting, nor that there were no examples of successful and stable cohabiting relationships. But the quality of family life should be distinguished from its form: the fact that a number of marriages were brutal and fleeting should not obscure the centrality of marriage to family life in previous decades.Whilemany Victorianmarriages were short-lived because of the untimely death of one of the spouses, this does not mean that the experiences of the survivors were in any way comparable to those undergoing a divorce today. Similarly, while one can of course find examples from all historical periods of couples who lived together outside marriage, it does not follow that cohabitation was remotely as common in the past as it is today. In the preface to Happy families?, it is implied that those who make public policy are ignorant of the historical context, this report being presented as ‘bring[ing] to bear the skills of the humanities on questions of public policy.’67 It is of course vital that those working in the humanities contribute to debates on public policy by providing accurate and unbiased accounts of the past. But a failure to do this, as we have seen in Happy families?, jeopardises the integrity of the field and is likely to lead to ill-informed public policy.
Download as pdf here.
* Speaking as someone alive at the time, I can only say, "Oh yes they were."
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