20 May 2022


A Paradigm Shift: The Changing Structure of Marriage, Family and the Role of Education and Religion

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In any contemporary society, family and marriage are very important institutions. Education and religion have crucial roles in influencing these institutions. Family and marriage form the core fabric of any given society and have for long been considered as the units that make up the society. However, these institutions have undergone significant transformations in the recent past. This paper explores the correlations and symbolic interactions of these transformations and the role of education and religion. 

Changes in the Institution of Marriage Over Time

Marriage has been symbolic for as long as man has practiced it. From way back in the stone ages and Biblical times to these modern days we live in. Society’s basic building block is said to be family of which families are formed through marriage. All over the world, people meet, get attracted to each other, form relationship, and marry thus end up having a family. Such relationships are founded on “friendship” which Keller (2013) defines as “a deep oneness that develops when two people, speaking the truth in love to one another, journey together to the same horizon.” It is the changes in the nature of such relationship that are responsible for transforming the institution of marriage. Historically, marriage structure was founded on religious teaching with Christianity supporting monogamy whilst other religions like Islam supported polygamy. Under the watchful eye of religion, marriage was only consummated after a husband and wife had exchanged vows, and the same applied to traditional marriages. However, in the current dispensation, defined by moral decadence, marriage has lost its preserve and grandeur. 

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Over the years, dating a practice that preceded marriage has taken a backseat role; cohabiting is the new norm. It has come to be known as pre marriage arrangement whereby couples try out to determine whether they are a fit for each other while indulging in sex, a preserve for the married (Thornton, Axinn & Xie, 2007). Such a casual approach to marriage is a dangerous precedent. Studies have shown that the rise in cohabitation and divorce are directly proportional. For instances, the recent census established that almost half of marriages in the US end up in divorce. Cohabitation may be a driving factor because it entrenches thee mentality that an individual can change partners at whim if they feel the current one is not their match. When such mentality finds itself into marriage, it proportionately raises the chances of divorce. Cohabitation and divorce have devalued the institution of marriage as thee “till death does us a part” is no longer applicable.

Factors Driving the Shift in Family Structure Over the Years

Family structure has also been changing with each passing day. Coltrane and Collins (2001) argued that family has no single true form as they found out that in other places, a father and a mother lived with their children while in some, more than one generation of a family lived in the same household. Changing times saw the man being acknowledged as the breadwinner of the family while the woman as the home maker. Over the years women joined the work force and were also able to access education, paid work, birth control and legal rights (Coltrane and Collins, 2001). Women being hired saw the increase in numbers of single mothers as they realized that they could support themselves without needing a man. However, diversity has played a crucial role in changing the family structure, besides recognition of the role of women as single mothers and feminists’ activism for equality in marriage, the most confounding is the phenomenon of same-sex marriages, which has brought to question the initially unchallenged consensus that marriage was between a man and a woman. Legalization of same-sex marriages in some countries including the US implies that now a family can consist of a man and a man, or a woman and another woman. These developments are informed by need to accommodate the different needs of diverse groups in the society.

The Role of Education and Religion

Education and religion affect both the family and marriage in different ways. Studies have shown that the more religious a family is, the higher the chances of children from this families marrying or getting married and low chances of them cohabiting. Those from non-religious families have been seen to participate more in cohabitation (Coltrane & Collins, 2001). Religious marriages have helped in the formation and strengthening of families. In Christianity, divorce is not supported thus when faced with problems, couples are encouraged to go for counseling. However, one can argue that religion is taking an increasing backseat role in championing the values of family and marriage, which may be partly responsible for moral decadence and the loss of respect for these critical institutions.

Education is perhaps, the most instrumental driver of changes in marriage and family structures. Education has liberated women from the long held tradition of male dominance. Through education, women have been enlightened about equality not just at work, but also in marriage, understanding of reproductive plans, and legal provisions in their support. Consequently, women have attained independence never witnessed in history hitherto. The traditional role of a woman being a submissive wife, mother, and homemaker is fast disappearing. Most women are now their own masters because they have financial independence, and the focus on the careers implies that they retain the autonomy to decide when to have children and how many. The man is increasing assuming the passive role of a financial supporter in the family upbringing. Marriages have become contractual agreements that are settled through court battles when one partner feels aggrieved. This has seen social commentators calling for divorce laws strengthening as the laws favor women and children so much (Smock, Manning and Gupta, 1999).


Collins, R., & Coltrane, S. (2001). Sociology of marriage & the family: Gender, love, and property. Boston: Wadsworth/Thomson Learning.

Smock, P. J., Manning, D. W., & Gupta, S. (1999, December). The effect of marriage and divorce on women's economic well-being. Washington: American Psychological Association.

Thornton, A., Axinn, W.G., & Xie, X. (2007, September 15). Marriage and cohabitation (Population and Development Series) . Chicago: University Of Chicago Press.

Keller, T. (2013. May 11). The Meaning of marriage: Facing the complexities of commitment with the wisdom of God. New York, NY: Penguin Publishing Group.

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StudyBounty. (2023, September 14). A Paradigm Shift: The Changing Structure of Marriage, Family and the Role of Education and Religion.


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