Analysis of the essay question

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Essay question

In the last 20 years, rates of divorce have risen significantly in Western countries. Critically analyse some of the different explanations given for this phenomenon. In your discussion, you should consider what implications these explanations might have for social policy.

Analysis of the essay question

Which of the three is the most reasonable interpretation of the essay question? Why?

Student 1

This essay topic is about divorce in Western countries. I would look in detail at statistics for divorce in various countries. I would then focus on the effects of divorce as discussed by various sociologists. I would describe the effects divorce is thought to have on parents and children. Then I would consider what social policy solutions there are for the problems arising from divorce.

Student 2

For this essay, I would focus on why rates of divorce have increased in Western countries. To answer this question, I would give my own critical explanation, focusing on what I know from experience are the reasons why couples choose to divorce. I would then interview a number of divorced people I know, asking them what the reasons were for the breakdown of their marriage. I would then consider current social policies relating to divorce and find out how well the people I interview have coped since they were divorced.

Student 3

This topic states that divorce has risen in Western countries. First, I would want to find out if this is the case by looking at statistics from a number of countries. Assuming that the proposition is true, I would then look at a variety of accounts given by sociologists for this increase. For each of these, I would consider how adequate an explanation it is. The topic seems to imply that rising divorce is a phenomenon that needs to be addressed by policy makers. I would then think about what sort of social policy propositions might follow on from each explanation.


Which one of the two is the more appropriate introduction? Why? Then, identify the essential elements of an introduction in the chosen one.

Introduction 1

Divorce is increasingly a problem in society and sociologists have provided a number of different explanations for it happening. The first type of explanation can be characterised as a legal one. Bilton et al. (1987) who represent this position, say that increased divorce is not necessarily due to families becoming more unstable, mainly because they suggest it is simply not possible to find this information out. Bilton et al. (1987) believe instead that increased divorce is related more to changes in family law. They do not think however, that new laws are the cause of divorce, but are a kind of solution for unhappily married couples who did not previously have a way of getting out of their marriage. It will be argued in this essay that a legalistic approach like this is not really adequate.

Introduction 2

One major change that has occurred in the Western family is an increased incidence in divorce. This change is borne out clearly in census figures. For example, 30 years ago in Australia, only one marriage in 10 ended in divorce; nowadays, the figure is more than one in three (Australian Bureau of Statistics 1996). An interesting issue is why this change has occurred – a question that has been considered by a number of sociologists. This essay will seek to critically examine a number of sociological explanations for the 'divorce phenomenon' and also consider the social policy implications that each explanation carries with it. It will be argued that the best explanations are to be found within a broad socio-economic framework.

Body paragraph

Identify the essential elements of a body paragraph in the sample writing below.

Another type of explanation for the divorce phenomenon is one that focuses precisely on these broad societal changes. For example, Hart (1991, cited in Haralambos 1995) argues that increases in divorce and marital breakdown are the result of economic changes that have affected the family. One example of these changes is the raised material aspirations of families, which Hart suggests has put pressure on both spouses to become wage earners. Women, as a result, have been forced to become both homemakers and economic providers. According to Hart, the contradiction of these two roles has lead to conflict, and this is the main cause of marital breakdown. It would appear that Hart’s explanation cannot account for all cases of divorce – for example, marital breakdown is liable to occur in families where only the husband is working. Nevertheless, her approach, which is to relate changes in family relations to broader social forces, would seem to be more probing than one that looks only at legislative change.


Identify the essential elements of a conclusion in the sample writing below.

In conclusion, this essay argued that the most convincing explanation for the increase in divorce rates in Western countries can be found within a broader socio-economic framework. Changes to pertinent laws and to the roles of women in modern society which progresses their economic status were two explanations explored. While restricting divorce laws may lead to a reduction in rates, this could impact negatively on individuals in detrimental or violent partnerships. A more effective change to social policy would be to provide support to all at-risk families. Addressing the causes would seem the most effective approach to bringing about a decline in divorce rates.

Adapted from:

Language and Learning Online 2014, Essay writing, Monash University, viewed 21 August 2014, <>.

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