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The Relationship of the Family to the Social Structure and Social Change

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The Relationship of the Family to the Social Structure and Social Change
Key definitions:

A family is usually a group of people related by marriage or blood.

A household is a person living alone or a group of people living together who may or may not be related.

Theories of the family

From the specification:

The relationship of the family to the social structure and social change

Functionalist views: the importance of the nuclear family, the universality of the family, changing functions, how the nuclear family ‘fits’ modern society.
Marxist views: the family as part of the ideological state apparatus, as an agent of social control.
Feminist views: patriarchy; liberal, radical and Marxist feminism.

Consensus/Positive views of the family

Conflict/critical views of the family

Functionalist theories: the family performs positive functions for individuals and society
New Right theories: the family is the cornerstone of society, but it is under threat
Marxist theories: the family provides important functions for capitalism
Feminist theories: the family reinforces gender inequality and patriarchy

Functionalist theories

GP Murdock
Murdock argues that the family is a universal institution (it exists everywhere) that performs four major functions:
Stable satisfaction of the sex drive with the same partner, preventing the social disruption caused by sexual ‘free-for-all’.
Reproduction of the next generation, without which society would not be able to continue.
Socialisation of the young into society’s shared norms and values.
Meeting its members’ economic needs, such as shelter and food.

However, other sociologists have criticised his functionalist approach. Marxists and Feminists reject his 'rose-tinted' consensus view that the family meets the needs of both wider society and all members of the family. They argue that functionalism neglects conflict and exploitation:
For example, feminists see the family as serving the needs of men and oppressing women. Similarly, Marxists argue that it meets the needs of capitalism, not those of family members or society as a whole.

Talcott Parsons: the functions of the family
Parsons believes that every family in every society has two 'basic and irreducible' functions: the primary socialisation of children and the stabilisation of adult personalities. The initial or primary socialisation takes place in the early years of a child's life within the family group. During this period the child learns the basic elements of the culture into which she or he has been born.
However, Parsons view of the socialisation process can be criticised for being too deterministic, with children being pumped full of culture and their personalities being moulded by all-powerful adults. He ignores the possibility of socialisation being a two-way process in which roles are negotiated or that attempts at socialisation can be resisted by children.

The second basic and irreducible function is the stabilisation of the adult's personality. The family gives the individual adult a 'safetyvalve', a place where she or he can relax, escape the stresses and strains of the world outside and feel emotionally secure.
However, the Marxist Zaretsky argues that the family only provides this emotional support in order to encourage its members to continue to work another day under the harsh realities of capitalism. The family is therefore a servant of the capitalist state which looks after the needs of exploited workers at no cost to employers.

Talcott Parsons: the theory of ‘fit’
Parsons argues that the dominant structure of the family best suits the needs of the economy at the time. This means that nuclear families ‘fit’ an industrial economy because they are geographically mobile and not reliant on wider kin. This is because family members can easily move to new centres of production. Parsons concludes that only the nuclear family could provide the achievement-orientated and geographically mobile workforce required by modern economies.

However, according to Wilmott and Young, the pre-industrial family tended to be nuclear, not extended as claimed by Parsons, with parents and children working together in cottage industries such as weaving. They also argues that the hardship of the early industrialised period gave rise to the mother-centred working class extended family, based on ties between mothers and their married daughters, who relied on each other for financial, practical and emotional support.
Similarly, Tamara Hareven concludes that the extended family, not the nuclear as claimed by Parsons, was the structure best equipped to meet the needs of early industrial society. Her research showed how extended migrant families in America in the 19th century acted as a source of support and mutual aid, as well as promoting geographical mobility by helping newcomers to find work.

Overall evaluation of functionalist theories
1. Functionalist analyses of the nuclear family tend to be based on middle class and American versions of the family and they consequently neglect other influences such as ethnicity, social class or religion. For example, Parsons does not consider the fact that wealth or poverty may determine whether women stay at home to after children or not. Since parsons wrote in the in the 1950s, many western societies, including the UK, have become multicultural. Religious and ethnic subcultural differences may mean that Parsons’ version of the family is no longer relevant in contemporary society.
2. Feminists argue that as a result of this picture of the family, functionalists tend to ignore the ‘dark side’ of the family – conflict between husband and wife, male dominance, child abuse, and so on. They give insufficient attention to the dysfunctions of the family – the harmful effects it may have on the wider society.
3. From an interpretivist point of view, functionalists tend to neglect the meanings families have for individuals and how family members interpret family relationships.
Marxist theories

Marxism is a conflict theory which sees all society’s institutions, such as the education system, the media, religion and the state, as helping to maintain class inequality and capitalism. For Marxists, therefore, the functions of the family are performed solely for the benefit of the capitalist system. This view contrasts sharply with the functionalist view that the family benefits both society as a whole and the individual members of the family.

Engels: the origin of the family
Engels argued that the need for the family arose when societies started to value private property.
With the rise of private property an organised system of inheritance became necessary  fathers needed to know who their offspring were in order to pass their property down the family line.
With this, argues Engels, the need for monogamy arose  one man married to one woman  and hence the family was created. Therefore the family serves the interests of the economy  in this case the creation of ownership of property – while subjecting women to unequal power relations in the home.
However, modern research has suggested that Engels’ interpretation of the development of the family are historically inaccurate. For example, monogamous marriage and the nuclear family are often found in hunter-gatherer groups. Since humans have spent the vast majority of their existence as hunter-gatherers, the idea that the nuclear family emerged as a response to private property is unlikely.

Functionalists such as Parsons would reject Engels view of the development of the family. Rather than being a vehicle for passing down inherited wealth, the family plays an important role in socialising the young and stabilising adult personalities. Moreover, the division of labour in families reflects the natural expressive, nurturing and caring roles of women, and the more instrumental, providing role of men.

Zaretsky: how the family benefits capitalism
Zaretsky suggests that the family serves capitalism by offering emotional security from the oppressive world of work, thus allowing such oppression to continue. However, in reality, it only provides emotional warmth to encourage its members to continue to live another day under the harsh realities of capitalism.

However, the liberal feminist Jennifer Somerville argues that Zaretsky exaggerates the importance of the family as a refuge from life in capitalist society. She suggests that Zarestsky underestimates the extent of cruelty, violence and incest within families. She also argues that Zaretsky ignores the fact that during the early stages of capitalism most working class women had to take paid work in order for the family to survive, and relatively few stayed at home as full-time housewives.

Althusser and Poulantzas: the ideological role of the family
The family can be seen as serving the functions of an ideological state apparatus by socialising both pro-capitalist ideology and its own familiar ideology in order to maintain such family patterns over time. For example the family socialises its members into accepting gender roles, into accepting that it is 'natural' for men and women to get married and engage in separate roles and jobs in the home: an attitude that is passed down from generation to generation.
However, feminists argue that Althusser and Poulantzas ignore the fact that such a family ideology supports patriarchy since it suggests that men and women should have different roles in the family and society  roles that lead to the subordination of women to men. Similarly, functionalists reject the view that the family socialises children into capitalist ideology. Instead, the family enables children to internalise the culture of society to enable them to become effective functioning adults.

Overall evaluation of Marxist theories
Marxist views of the family follow logically from Marxist theory. If, for example, the family provides emotional support for workers, then this helps them to accept the injustices of the capitalist system. This makes sense if capitalism is seen as essentially unjust. However, many sociologists reject this view of capitalism and, as a result, Marxist view of the family.

Feminists argue that the Marxist emphasis on social class and capitalism underestimates the importance of gender inequalities within the family. For feminists, the family primarily serves the interests of men rather than capitalism.

By contrast, functionalists argue that Marxists ignore the very real benefits that the family provides for its members, such as intimacy and mutual support.

From an interpretivist point of view, Marxists tend to neglect the meanings families have for individuals and how family members interpret family relationships. For example, Marxists ignore accounts of family life in which some females suggest motherhood is a fulfilling and rewarding experience.

Feminist theories

Feminists take a critical view of the family, arguing that it oppresses women and reproduces patriarchy. As such, they have focused on the unequal division of domestic labour and domestic violence against women. They do not regard gender inequality as natural or inevitable, but as something created by society

Marxist feminist
Marxistfeminists suggest that the nuclear family meets the needs of capitalism for the reproduction and maintenance of class and patriarchal inequality. It benefits the powerful at the expense of the working class and women.

The Marxistfeminist, Margaret Benston (1972), argues that the nuclear family provides the basic commodity required by capitalism, i.e. labour power by reproducing and rearing the future workforce at little cost to the capitalist class. It maintains the present workforce's physical and emotional fitness through the wife's domestic labour. Finally, women in families can be used as a reserve army of labour to be used in times of economic growth and pushed back into the home during times of economic slow-down.
However, difference feminists would criticise Marxist feminists for assuming that all women are exploited equally under capitalism. For example, lesbian and heterosexual women, black and white women, middle class and working class women have very different experiences from one another. Black feminists would argue that Marxist feminists emphasis on women’s role within capitalism ignores black and Asian women’s experience of racism which is not faced by white women.

Radical feminist
Radical feminists such as Kate Millett (1970) see modern societies and families as characterised by patriarchy  a system of subordination and domination in which men exercise power over women and children. They argue that the family is the root of all women’s oppression and should be abolished. The only way to do this is through separatism – women must live independently of men.
Diana Gittens refers to the concept of age patriarchy to describe adult domination of children, which may take the form of violence against both children and women. Similarly, Delphy and Leonard see the family as a patriarchal institution in which women do most of the work and men get most of the benefit. Moreover, this patriarchal ideology stresses the primacy of the motherhousewife role for women and the breadwinner the family as legitimating violence against women.

However, some would argue that this model is dated in that it fails to consider recent trends such as the feminisation of the workforce and women's use of divorce laws. The liberal feminist Jenny Somerville also argues that separatism is unlikely to work because heterosexual attraction makes it unlikely that the conventional nuclear family will disappear.

Hakim (1995) argues that this model fails to consider that females might be exercising rational choices in choosing domestic roles.

By contrast, functionalists argue that radical feminists ignore the very real benefits that the family provides for its members, such as intimacy and mutual support.

Overall evaluation of Feminist theories
Feminist theories of the family have dated fairly badly, because they fail to account for recent economic and social changes, such as the feminisation of the economy, the educational success of young females, women’s use of divorce and many women’s rejection of domestic labour as their unique responsibility.

Feminist also end to ignore the positive aspects of family life. Critics argue that feminists are preoccupied with the negative side of family life. They ignore the possibility that many women enjoy running a home and raising children.

Feminists tend to assume that families are manipulated in some way by the structure of society to reproduce and reinforce patriarchy through the gendered division of labour within families. Postmodernists, for example, would argue that feminists ignore the possibility that we have some choice in creating our family relationships. In fact, the diversity of family types found today reflects the fact that we can choose our domestic set up for ourselves.

From an interpretivist point of view, feminists tend to neglect the meanings families have for individuals and how family members interpret family relationships. For example, feminists ignore accounts of family life in which some females suggest motherhood is a fulfilling and rewarding experience.

Difference feminists would criticise feminists for assuming that all women share similar experiences. For example, lesbian and heterosexual women, black and white women, middle class and working class women have very different experiences of the family from one another. Black feminists would argue that by solely regarding the family as a source of oppression, white feminists neglect black and Asian women’s experience of racism. Instead, black feminists view the black family positively as a source of support and resistance to racism.

Social Policy

Although sociologists agree that social policy can have an important influence on family life, they hold different views about what kinds of effects it has and whether these are desirable. We shall examine a range of different sociological views or perspectives on the impact of social policy on families.

Functionalists see the state as acting in the interests of society as a whole and its social policies as being for the good of all. They see policies as helping families to perform their functions more effectively and make life better for their members.
For example, Ronald Fletcher argues that the welfare state supports the family in performing its functions more effectively. For example, the existence of the National Health Service means that with the help of doctors, nurses, hospitals and medicines, the family today is better able to take care of its members when they are sick.
However, functionalists assume that all members of the family benefit from social policies, whereas feminists argue that policies often benefit men at the expense of women. Similarly, functionalists assume that there is a ‘march of progress’, with social policies steadily making family life better and better whereas
Marxists argue that policies can also turn the clock back and reverse progress previously made, for example by cutting welfare benefits to poor families.

New Right
The New Right criticise many existing government policies for undermining the family. In particular, they argue that governments often weaken the family’s self-reliance by providing generous welfare benefits. These include providing council housing for unmarried teenage mothers and cash payments to support lone-parent families.
Charles Murray (1984) argues that these benefits offer ‘perverse incentives’ - that is, they reward irresponsible or anti-social behaviour. For example, the growth of lone-parent families encouraged by generous benefits means more boys grow up without a male role model and authority figure. This lack of paternal authority is responsible for a rising crime rate among young males.
Feminists argue that New Right views are an attempt to justify a return to the traditional patriarchal family that subordinated women to men and kept them confined to a domestic role.
It wrongly assumes that the patriarchal nuclear family is ‘natural’ rather than socially constructed.
Cutting benefits would simply drive many poor families into deeper poverty.

Feminist argue that social policy simply reinforce patriarchal ideas about the roles and status of men and women. For example, tax and benefits policies may assume that husbands are the main wage-earners and that wives are their financial dependants. This means women can find it difficult to claim benefits in their own right. This then reinforces women’s dependence on their husbands.
Similarly, Diana Leonard argues that although maternity leave policies benefit women, they also reinforce patriarchy in the family, by encouraging the assumption that the care of infants is the responsibility of mothers rather than fathers.
However, not all policies are directed at maintaining patriarchy. For example, equal pay and sex discrimination laws, benefits for lone parents, refuges for women escaping domestic violence and equal rights to divorce could all be said to challenge the patriarchal family.
Similarly, whether or not social policy promotes patriarchy often depends on the country. Eileen Drew found that in more equal societies family policy is based on the belief that husbands and wives should be treated the same. In Sweden, for example, policies treat husbands and wives as equally responsible for both income-earning and childcare.

Unlike functionalists, Marxists do not see social policies as benefiting all members of society equally. They see the state and its policies as serving capitalism. For example, they see the low level of state pensions as evidence that once workers are too old to produce profits, they are ‘maintained’ at the lowest possible cost.
Similarly, Marxists do not accept that there is a steady march of progress towards ever better welfare policies producing ever happier families. They argue that improvements for working-class families, such as pensions or free healthcare, have often only been won through class struggle to extract concessions from the capitalist ruling class.
However, functionalist would disagree that social policy works in the interests of the ruling class. They see social policy as benefitting all members of the family, and allows the family to perform its essential functions more effectively.
Feminists would argue that Marxists ignore the detrimental effect of family policy on women in particular. For example, maternity leave policies reinforce patriarchal assumptions that childcare is women’s work.

Jacque Donzelot: Policing families
Like Marxists and feminists, Jacques Donzelot sees policy as a form of state power over families. He argues that social workers, health visitors and doctors use their knowledge to control and change poorer families. Donzelot calls this ‘the policing of families’. For example, the state may seek to control and regulate family life by imposing compulsory parenting orders through the courts. Parents of young offenders, truants or badly behaved children may be forced to attend parenting classes to learn the ‘correct’ way to bring up their children.
However, Marxists and feminists criticise Donzeiot for failing to identify clearly who benefits from such policies of surveillance. Marxists argue that social policies generally operate in the interests of the capitalist class, while feminists argue that men are the main beneficiaries.

Family Diversity

Some important trends:

In the past 30 or 40 years, there have been some major changes in family and household patterns. For examples:

The number of traditional nuclear family households has fallen
Divorce rates have increased
There are fewer first time marriages, but more re-marriages. People are marrying later in life
More couples are cohabiting
Same-sex relationships can be legally recognised through civil partnerships
Women are having fewer children and having them later
There are more births outside marriage
There are more lone-parent families
More people live alone
There are more stepfamilies, and more couples without children
All of these upset the New Right

An Overview:

Family diversity is a bad thing

Family diversity is a good thing

Functionalist and New Right commentators believe that family diversity is not to be encouraged.
This is because they see the traditional nuclear family consisting of a married couple with children and a gendered division of labour as being ‘natural’ and ‘normal’.
They argue that the division of labour between an ‘instrumental’ male income-earner role, and an ‘expressive’ female housewife role is ‘natural’.
This is because it is based on biological differences between men and women which makes them suitable for each role.
Postmodernist and feminist sociologists reject the view of the functionalist and New Right. They argue instead that a family is whatever arrangements those involved choose to call a family.
Postmodernists and feminists are in favour of increasing family diversity because it brings people the freedom of choice to choose whatever arrangements best suit their needs.
It also frees women from the oppression of the traditional patriarchal family.

Family diversity is a bad thing 

Functionalist theories
According to Parsons, the nuclear family is uniquely suited to meeting the needs of modern society for a geographically and socially mobile workforce. It also performs two ‘irreducible functions’ of the primary socialisation of the children and the stabilisation of adult personalities, and these contribute to the overall stability and effectiveness of society.

For functionalists then, the nuclear family with a division of labour between husband and wife is best suited to perform its functions effectively in a modern society. All other types of family are seen as abnormal, inadequate or deviant because they are less able to perform the functions required by the family.
However, functionalists tend to ignore the ‘dark side’ of the family – conflict between husband and wife, male dominance, child abuse, and so on. They give insufficient attention to the dysfunctions of the family – the harmful effects it may have on the wider society.

Also, since parsons wrote in the in the 1950s, many western societies, including the UK, have become multicultural. Religious and ethnic subcultural differences may mean that Parsons’ version of the family is no longer relevant in contemporary society.

New Right theories
The New Right argue that the decline of the traditional nuclear family and the growth of family diversity are the cause of many social problems, such as higher crime rates and educational failure.

They see lone-parent families, for example, as ‘unnatural’ and harmful to children because they cannot discipline their children properly and are a burden on the welfare state.

These high levels of benefits undermine the traditional family by discouraging men from working to support their families, and they encourage a ‘dependency culture’ of living off welfare benefits.

However, there is little or no evidence that lone-parent families are part of a ‘dependency culture’, nor that their children are more likely to be delinquent than those brought-up in a two-parent family of the same social class.

Feminists argue that the traditional nuclear family favoured by the New Right is based on the patriarchal oppression of women and is a fundamental cause of gender inequality. In their view it prevents women working, keeps them financially dependent on men, and denies them an equal say in decision-making.

Rhona and Robert Rapoport see increasing family diversity as a response to people’s different needs and wishes, and not as abnormal or a deviation from the assumed norm of the nuclear family.

Robert Chester
Robert Chester argues that the extent and importance of family diversity has been exaggerated.

Like functionalists, Chester sees the nuclear family as being dominant, but he recognises that the traditional nuclear family has changed to what he calls a ‘neo-conventional’ family in which both spouses go out to work and the division of labour is more equal and shared.

Chester argues that the so-called ‘family diversity’ is more about the lifecycle than people choosing to live in new family arrangements. Most people in single-person households are either elderly widows or younger or divorced people who aspire to live in a nuclear family.

However, the Rapoports deny that this is the case and argue that diversity is of central importance in understanding family life today. They believe that we have moved away from the traditional nuclear family as the dominant family type, to a range of different types. Families in Britain have adapted to a society in which cultures and lifestyles are more diverse.

Family diversity is a good thing 

Postmodernist sociologists reject the functionalist and New Right view that there is one ‘best’ family type which shapes its members behaviour.
Instead, they argue that individuals make their own choices about family life and relationships.
This has increased family diversity to the extent that it no longer makes sense to talk about a single ‘best’ type.

David Morgan: Family practices
Morgan argues that family diversity has increased as a response to society becoming more fragmented. He uses the concepts of family practices to describe how we create our sense of ‘being a family member’ through actions such as feeding children or doing DIY.

He sees the family as ‘what people do’ rather than as a concrete ‘thing’ or structure.

Similarly, he argues that things like the family, friendships, and other forms of relationship have become less clear-cut and the boundaries between them blurred because today’s society is more fragmented.

However, structuralist sociologists argue that although life courses and family practices are the actions of individuals, they take place in the context of the wider social structure and norms. For example, gender norms and differences in job opportunities in wider society may dictate that males will be the major income-earners and women the homemakers, and this will influence individuals’ expectations of each other within the family.

David Cheal
David Cheal argues that family diversity has increased because we now have more choice over the type of family we create.
As a result family life has become more diverse than ever. In today’s postmodern society, there is no longer one single type of family that is dominant – only families plural.

However, some sociologists point out that greater freedom of choice in relationships means a greater risk of instability, since these relationships are more likely to break up.

Antony Giddens
Giddens argues that family diversity has increased because there is more equality between men and women. As a result, the basis of marriage and the family have changed into one in which the couple are free to define their relationship themselves, rather than acting out roles that have been defined in advanced by law or tradition. For example, they can now choose whether to marry or cohabit.
However, Giddens himself points out that with more choice, personal relationships inevitably become less stable. Relationships can be ended more or less at will by either partner.

Judith Stacey
Stacey argues that changes in the position of women has increased the diversity of family types. Stacey’s research found that women have been the main agents of change in the family. Many of the women she interviewed rejected the traditional stay-at-home role and instead created new types of family that better suited their choice to work, return to education, divorce and re-marry.
One of these new family types Stacey calls the ‘divorce-extended’ family whose members are connected by divorce rather than marriage. The key members are normally female and may include former in-laws such as ex-mother and daughter in-laws.
Such families illustrate the idea that postmodern families are diverse and that their shape depends on the active choices people make about how to live their lives – for example, whether to divorce, cohabit, come-out as gay etc.

Jeffrey Weeks
Weeks identifies a long-term shift in attitudes towards sexual and family diversity since the 1950s. These have become more favourable towards issues such as cohabitation and homosexuality. As such family diversity has increased.

However, despite these changing attitudes, family patterns tend to be fairly traditional. Most people still live in a family; most children are brought up by couples; most couples marry and many divorcees re-marry.

Also, some sociologists have suggested that these changes have led to a ‘crisis of masculinity’ in which some men experience anxiety about their role. As such, the result of this could be an increase in domestic violence in an attempt to re-assert their traditional masculinity.

Changes within the family

From the specification:

The nature and extent of changes within the family, with reference to gender roles, domestic labour and power relationships
Gender roles within families: functionalist, feminist, New Right and other views.
The domestic division of labour – changing nature of housework and home-related activities related to changing roles of men and women and to masculinity and femininity, both in and beyond the home.
Decision-making and power relations within households.
Consequences of unequal power: the ‘dark side of the family’, domestic violence, child abuse, mental illness.

Are Domestic Roles Becoming More Equal ?
Yes they are
No they’re not

Willmott and Young

Wilmott and Young argue that the extended family has been replaced by a privatised nuclear family characterised by ‘symmetry’. Modern marriage is characterised by ‘joint conjugal roles’ meaning that women are now going out to work and men are doing a fairer share of domestic tasks. Moreover, couples are now more likely to share both leisure time and decision-making.



Oakley argues that Young and Wilmott’s claim of increasing symmetry in based on suspect methodology. Their conclusions were based on one interview which was worded in such a way that could exaggerate the amount of housework done by men.

British Social Attitudes Survey 2007

The recent British Social Attitudes Survey found more sharing of child-rearing than household tasks, although their was some movement towards a more equal division of labour over time.

Ferri and Smith

Ferri and Smith used survey data to focus on childcare. In almost every kind of household – even where the woman was in paid employment outside the home and the man did not – it was more common for the woman to take the main responsibility for childcare


Elston's survey of over 400 couples in which both partners were doctors found that 80% of female doctors reported that they took time off work to look after their sick children compared with only 2% of male doctors. Elston concluded that only a minority of professional couples in her study genuinely shared housework and childcare.


In her study of 30 dual-career professional couples, Hardill found that the important decisions were usually taken either by the man alone or jointly, and that his career normally took priority when deciding whether to move house for a new job.

Pahl and Vogler

Pahl and Vogler focus on how each partner’s contribution to the family income affects decision-making within the family. They found that ‘pooling’ incomes through, for example, a joint bank account, was on the increase and was more common among couples who both work full-time. However, they found that men usually made the major financial decisions.


Burghes and Beck

Burghes and Beck suggest that fathers are increasingly taking an active involvement in the emotional side of bringing up children even when marriages break down. However, it is important not to exaggerate men’s role in childcare. Research by Gray found that many fathers would like to spend more time with their children but are prevented by long working hours from bonding effectively with their children.


Sullivan’s analysis data collected over a 25 year period found a trend towards greater equality as men did more domestic labour. In particular there was an increase in the number of couples with an equal division of labour and men were participating more in traditional ‘womens’ tasks such as childcare and ironing.

Possible sources of evaluation:

However, Giddens argues that in recent decades the family and marriage have been transformed by greater choice and more equality between men and women.
As a result, the basis of marriage and the family have changed into one in which the couple are free to define their relationship themselves, rather than acting out roles that have been defined in advanced by law or tradition. For example, they can now choose whether to marry or cohabit, and who carries out particular domestic roles within the home.
Beck puts forward a similar view to Giddens. He argues that we now live in a ‘risk society’ where tradition has less influence and people have more of a choice. As such, we are more aware of risks because making a choice involves calculating the risks involved.
Greater gender equality and greater individualism have led to a new type of family which Beck calls the ‘negotiated family’, which is more equal than the traditional patriarchal family. These do not conform to the traditional family norm,and who does what domestic task varies according to the wishes and expectations of their members.

Does more women in work mean greater equality in the home ?

Yes it does
No it doesn’t


Found income from employment, age and education affected how much housework women did. Better paid, younger, better-educated women did less housework. For example, every £10000 increase in the woman’s income reduces her weekly housework time by 2 hours.

Schor and Silver

Housework has become ‘commercialised’. The goods and services that housewives previously had to produce are themselves now mass-produced and supplied by supermarkets etc. Freezers, micro-wave ovens, ‘ready meals’ etc all reduce the amount of domestic labour that needs to be done. Working women can afford these services and, as such, the burden of housework on women has decreased.


Gershuny found that the husbands of working women continued to do less than half the total paid and unpaid work of their partners. However, although the ‘dual burden’ of paid and domestic work remained for women, men did seem to be doing more housework when their wives were in paid work.


Arber and Ginn

Greater equality depends on the social class position women are in.
Arber and Ginn found that middle class women were able to afford full-day childcare when they went out to work. However, many working class women cannot, and are therefore stuck in the vicious-cycle of childcare responsibilities and low-paid, part-time work.

Gregson and Lowe

Similarly, Gregson and Lowe’s study of the employment of domestic ‘help’ by dual-earner middle class families found that for these couples it was more economical to employ working class women as nannies and cleaners than for the wife to stay at home. Unlike the middle class, most working class women cannot afford to employ domestic ‘help’ and so have to carry a dual burden of paid and unpaid domestic work.


Despite the number of working women increasing, Dunne argues that there has been little change in the domestic division of labour. This is because of deeply ingrained ‘gender scripts’. These are expectations or norms that set out the different gender roles of men and women in heterosexual couples are expected to play.

Dunscombe and Marsden

Dunscombe and Marsden identify another element of women’s domestic work – ‘emotion work’. Many women in their study expressed dissatisfaction with their partner’s emotional input into the relationship and the family. Most men did not acknowledge that emotion work needed to be done to make the relationship work. They also found that many women ended up doing a triple shift: having completed their paid employment they not only have to do most of the housework, they also have to do the emotion work.


In her study of 30 dual-career professional couples, Hardill found that the important decisions were usually taken either by the man alone or jointly, and that his career normally took priority when deciding whether to move house for a new job.

Pahl and Vogler

Pahl and Vogler focus on how each partner’s contribution to the family income affects decision-making within the family. They found that ‘pooling’ incomes through, for example, a joint bank account, was on the increase and was more common among couples who both work full-time. However, they found that men usually made the major financial decisions.

Domestic Violence

Many commentators argue that the rosy picture of nuclear family life transmitted by functionalism and the New Right obscures the contradictions that permeate family life in reality.

Domestic Violence

A common view of domestic violence is that it is the behaviour of a few sick or disturbed individuals, and that its causes are psychological rather than social. However, sociologists have challenged this view.
Domestic violence is far too widespread to simply be the work of a few disturbed individuals. According to the British Crime Survey (2007), domestic violence accounts for almost a sixth of all violent crime. Mirrlees-Black’s survey of 16000 people estimates there are about 6.6 million domestic assaults a year, about half involving physical injury.

Both Marxists and radical feminists have drawn attention to the problem of domestic violence. This is usually defined as the power of men to control women by physical force, although Davidson argues that men are also the victims of female domestic violence.

Official statistics report that violence by men against their female partners accounts for a third of all reported violence. Stanko’s survey in 2000 found that one incident of domestic violence is reported by women to the police every minute in the UK.

Explanations for domestic violence

Dobash and Dobash
Dobash and Dobash (1992) argue that in patriarchal societies there is still cultural support for the view that men have a 'right' to 'discipline' their wives or partners. Furthermore, there has been little institutional support offered by society to the battered wife.

Dobash and Dobash found that one of the major factors precipitating assaults was the husband’s perception that the wife was not performing her domestic duties to his satisfaction. Insofar as our society still accepts a domestic division of labour which allocates the majority of domestic duties to women, this leaves them vulnerable to this sort of criticism, and possible subsequent assault.

The study also showed that many women are economically dependent on men, since many women are in poorly paid employment. As such, many women who leave abusive husbands are forced to return for economic reasons and because of the stigma surrounding the break-up of marriage.

These findings have been interpreted by radical feminists to suggest that widespread domestic violence is an inevitable feature of patriarchal society and serves to preserve the power that all men have over women.
However, Elliot rejects the radical feminist claim that all men benefit from domestic violence. Not all men are aggressive and most are opposed to domestic violence. Similarly, radical feminists fail to explain female violence, including child abuse by women and violence against male partners. For example, it would be difficult to explain the actions of Vanessa George who systematically sexually-abused children in the nursery where she worked by claiming that society is patriarchal.

Wilkinson – domestic violence, inequality and stress
Wilkinson sees domestic violence as the result of stress on family members caused by social inequality. He argues that families on low incomes or living in overcrowded housing are likely to experience higher levels of stress. This reduces their chances of maintaining stable and caring relationships and increases the risk of conflict and violence.

The findings of studies by Wilkinson and Mirrlees-Black show that not all people are equally in danger of suffering domestic violence: those with less power, status, wealth or income are often at greatest risk.

Wilkinson’s approach is useful in showing how social inequality produced stress and triggers conflict and violence in families. As those in lower social classes face greater hardships and hence stress, this helps to explain the class differences in the statistics on domestic violence.
However, unlike the radical feminists Wilkinson does not explain why it is women, rather than men, who are at greatest risk of domestic violence.

Family Patterns

From the specification:

Changing patterns of marriage, cohabitation, separation, divorce, child-bearing and the life-course, and the diversity of contemporary family and household structures Marriage: fall in number of marriages, later age of first marriage.
Cohabitation: growth of cohabitation, greater acceptability of cohabitation, types (eg trial marriage, long term partnership).
Separation and divorce: legal position, increase in divorce after 1969, reasons for divorce; remarriages and reconstituted families.
Child-bearing: number of children, age at which women have first child, changes in parenting practices; lone parent families; beanpole families.
Life course: consideration of range of possibilities, including living alone (singletons), grandparents.

1. Marriage

The number of first marriages has significantly declined since the 1970s: from 480000 in 1972 to 306000 in 2000.
Remarriages increased from 57000 in 1961 to 126000 (46% of all marriages) in 2000. Most remarriages involve divorced persons rather than widows and widowers. The largest increase occurred between 1971 and 1972 following the introduction of the Divorce Reform Act of 1969.
People are marrying later: the average age of first marriage rose by seven years between 1971 and 2005 when it was 32 years for men and 30 for women.

Reasons for changing patterns of marriage

Changing attitudes to marriage
There is less pressure to marry and more freedom for individuals to choose the type of relationship they want. .The postmodernist David Cheal argues that this greater choice over the type of family we create has led to an increase in family diversity.

However, some sociologists point out that greater freedom of choice in relationships means a greater risk of instability, since these relationships are more likely to break up.

The decline of religious influence
The decline in influence of the Church means that people no longer feel they should get married for religious reasons. People are freer to choose what type of relationship they enter into.

However, the majority of first-time marriages take place within a religious context, which suggests that religion still has some influence over the decision to get married.

The declining stigma attached to alternatives to marriage
Cohabitation, remaining single and having children outside marriage are all now regarded as acceptable. In 1989 70% of respondents to the British Social Attitudes Survey believed that couples who wanted children should get married. By 2000 this had dropped to 54%.

However, despite this, most couples who cohabit do tend to get married. It is just that the average age of getting married has risen.

Changes in the position of women
Many women are now financially independent from men because of better education and better career prospects. This gives them greater freedom not to marry.
The growing impact of the feminist view that marriage is an oppressive patriarchal institution may also dissuade women from marrying.

However, changes to the position of women in society does not necessarily mean that they don’t get married, they merely put off marriage until their careers are established.
Many feminists also argue that the fact that women are now wage earners as well as homemakers has itself created a new source of conflict between husbands and wives and this is leading to more divorces. Feminists argue that marriage remains patriarchal, with men benefiting from their wives’ ‘triple-shifts’ of paid work, domestic work and emotion work

Fear of divorce
The fear of divorce and the experience of seeing or going through a divorce has led to some women rejecting marriage.

2. Divorce

Changing patterns of divorce
Since the 1 960s, there has been a great increase in the number of divorces in the United Kingdom.
The number of divorces doubled between 1961 and 1969, and doubled again by 1972. The upward trend continued, peaking in 1993 at 180,000.
Since then, numbers have fallen somewhat, but still stood at 157,000 in 2001 — about six times higher than in 1961. This rate means that about 40% of all marriages will end in divorce.
About 7 out of every 1 0 petitions (applications) for divorce now come from women. This is in sharp contrast to the situation in the past. For example, in 1946, only 37% of petitions came from women — barely half today’s figure. The commonest reason for a woman to be granted a divorce is the unreasonable behaviour of her husband.
Some couples are more likely than others to divorce. Couples whose marriages are at greatest risk include those who marry young, have a child before they marry or cohabit before marriage, and those where one or both partners have been married before.

Theoretical approaches to divorce
Sociologists disagree as to what today’s high divorce rate tells us about the state of marriage and the family:
The New Right see a high divorce rate as undesirable because it undermines the traditional nuclear family. Divorce creates an underclass of welfare-dependent lone mothers and leaves boys without the adult role model they need.
Feminists disagree. They see a high divorce rate as desirable because it shows that women are breaking from the oppression of the patriarchal nuclear family.
Postmodernists see a high divorce rate as giving individuals the freedom to choose to end a relationship when it no longer meets their needs. They see it as a cause of greater family diversity.
Functionalists argue that a high divorce rate does not necessarily prove that marriage as a social institution is under threat. It is simply the result of people’s higher expectations of marriage today. The high rate of re-marriage demonstrates people’s continuing commitment to the idea of marriage.

Explanations of the increase in divorce
Changes in the law
Divorce was very difficult to obtain in 19th-century Britain, especially for women. Gradually, changes in the law have made divorce easier. There have been three kinds of change in the law:

Equalising the grounds (the legal reasons) for divorce between the sexes ;
Widening the grounds for divorce;
Making divorce cheaper.

The widening of the grounds in 1971 to ‘irretrievable breakdown’ made divorce easier to obtain and produced a doubling of the divorce rate almost overnight. The introduction of legal aid for divorce cases in 1 949 lowered the cost of divorcing. Divorce rates have risen with each change in the law.
Yet although changes in the law have given people the freedom to divorce more easily, this does not in itself explain why more people should choose to take advantage of this freedom. To explain the rise in divorce rates we must therefore look at other changes too. These include changes in public attitudes towards divorce.

Declining stigma and changing attitudes
Juliet Mitchell and Jack Goody (1997) note that an important change since the 1 960s has been the rapid decline in the stigma attached to divorce. As stigma declines and divorce becomes more socially acceptable, couples become more willing to resort to divorce as a means of solving their marital problems.

In turn, the fact that divorce is now more common begins to ‘normalise’ it and reduces the stigma attached to it. Rather than being seen as shameful, today it is more likely to be regarded simply as a misfortune.
However, despite these changing attitudes, family patterns tend to be fairly traditional. Most people still live in a family; most children are brought up by couples; most couples marry and many divorcees re-marry.

Also, some sociologists have suggested that these changes have led to a ‘crisis of masculinity’ in which some men experience anxiety about their role. As such, the result of this could be an increase in domestic violence in an attempt to re-assert their traditional masculinity.

Secularisation refers to the decline in the influence of religion in society. As a result of secularisation, the traditional opposition of the churches to divorce carries less weight in society and people are less likely to be influenced by religious teachings when making decisions. For example, according to 2001 Census data, 43% of young people with no religion were cohabiting, as against only 34% of Christians, 17% of Muslims, 11% of Hindus and 10% of Sikhs.
At the same time, many churches have also begun to soften their views on divorce and divorcees, perhaps because they fear losing credibility with large sections of the public and with their own members.
However, some sociologists challenge whether secularisation is occurring, and point to the number of first-time marriages taking place in a religious context, and the changes made by the Church of England to allow divorced people to remarry in Church. This suggests that there is still a demand for religious weddings, even amongst those who have been divorced before.

Rising expectations of marriage
Functionalist sociologists such as Ronald Fletcher (1966) argue that the higher expectations people place on marriage today are a major cause of rising divorce rates. Higher expectations make couples nowadays less willing to tolerate an unhappy marriage.
Functionalist sociologists such as Ronald Fletcher (1966) argue that the higher expectations people place on marriage today are a major cause of rising divorce rates. Higher expectations make couples nowadays less willing to tolerate an unhappy marriage.
However, despite today’s high divorce rates, functionalists such as Fletcher take an optimistic view. They point to the continuing popularity of marriage. Most adults marry, and the high rate of re-marriage after divorce shows that although divorcees may have become dissatisfied with a particular partner, they have not rejected marriage as an institution.
Feminists argue that the oppression of women within the family is the main cause of marital conflict and divorce, but functionalists ignore this. Although functionalists offer an explanation of rising divorce rates, they fail to explain why it is mainly women rather than men who seek divorce.

Changes in the position of women
One reason for women’s increased willingness to seek divorce is that improvements in their economic position have made them less financially dependent on their husband and therefore freer to end an unsatisfactory marriage.
The availability of welfare benefits means that women no longer have to remain financially dependent on their husbands. These developments mean that women are more likely to be able to support themselves in the event of divorce.
However, many feminists also argue that the fact that women are now wage earners as well as homemakers has itself created a new source of conflict between husbands and wives and this is leading to more divorces. Feminists argue that marriage remains patriarchal, with men benefiting from their wives’ ‘triple-shifts’ of paid work, domestic work and emotion work.

3. Cohabitation
Cohabitation involves an unmarried couple in a sexual relationship living together. While the number of marriages has been falling, the number of couples cohabiting continues to increase and is the fastest growing family type in the UK.
There are over two million cohabiting couples in Britain. About a quarter of all unmarried adults under 60 are now cohabiting — double the number in 1986.
The number of cohabiting couples is expected to double again by 2021.

Reasons for the increase in cohabitation
Increased cohabitation rates reflect the decline in stigma attached to sex outside marriage. In 1989, only 44% of people agreed that ‘premarital sex is not wrong at all’, but by 2000, 62% took this view (British Social Attitudes, 2000).
The young are more likely to accept cohabitation: 88% of 18-24 year olds thought ‘it is airight for a couple to live together without intending to get married’, but only 40% of those over 65 agreed (Social Trends 34, 2004).
Increased career opportunities for women may also mean that they have less need for the financial security of marriage and are freer to opt for cohabitation.
Secularisation: according to the 2001 Census, young people with no religion were more likely to cohabit than those with a religion.
The relationship between cohabitation and marriage

Although cohabitation is increasing as marriage decreases, the relationship between the two is not clear-cut. For some couples, cohabitation is just a step on the way to getting - married, whereas for others it is a permanent alternative to marriage.

Robert Chester (1985) argues that for most people, cohabitation is part of the process of getting married. For example, according to Ernestina Coast (2006), 75% of cohabiting couples say they expect to marry each other.

Many see cohabitation as a trial marriage and intend to marry if it goes well. Most cohabiting couples decide to marry if they have children. In some cases, cohabitation is a temporary phase before marriage because one or both partners are awaiting a divorce.

On the other hand, some couples see cohabitation as a permanent alternative to marriage. André Bejin (1985) argues that cohabitation among some young people represents a conscious attempt to create a more personally negotiated and equal relationship than conventional patriarchal marriage. For example, Shelton and John (1993) found that women who cohabit do less housework than their married counterparts.

Clearly, then, cohabitation does not mean the same thing to every couple. Eleanor MackIm (1980) argues that the term covers a diverse range of partnerships, and that the relationship between marriage and cohabitation is a complex and variable one.

4. Same-sex relationships

Stonewall (2008), the campaign for lesbian, gay and bisexual rights, estimates that about 5-7% of the adult population today have same-sex relationships. It is impossible to judge whether this represents an increase because in the past, stigma and illegality meant that such relationships were more likely to be hidden.

There is evidence of increased social acceptance of same- sex relationships in recent years. Male homosexual acts were decriminalised in 1967 for consenting adults over 21 More recently the age of consent has been equalised with heterosexuals. Opinion polls show more tolerance of homosexuality.

Social policy is now beginning to treat all couples more equally, whether homosexual or heterosexual, cohabiting or married. For example, since 2002, cohabiting couples have had the same right to adopt as married couples. Since 2004, the Civil Partnership Act has given same-sex couples similar legal rights to married couples in respect of pensions, inheritance, tenancies and property.

Jeffrey Weeks (1999) argues that increased social acceptance may explain a trend in recent years towards same-sex cohabitation and stable relationships that resemble those found among heterosexuals.

Weeks sees gays as creating families based on the idea of ‘friendship as kinship’, where friendships become a type of kinship network. He describes these as ‘chosen families’ and argues that they offer the same security and stability as heterosexual families.

Similarly, Kath Weston (1992) describes same-sex cohabitation as ‘quasi-marriage’ and notes that many gay couples are now deciding to cohabit as stable partners. She contrasts this with the gay lifestyle of the 1970s, which largely rejected monogamy and family life in favour of casual relationships.

Others sociologists have noted the effect on same-sex relationships of a legal framework such as civil partnerships. For example, Allan and Crow argue that, because of the absence of such a framework until recently, same-sex partners have had to negotiate their commitment and responsibilities more than married couples. This may have made same-sex relationships both more flexible and less stable than heterosexual relationships.

5. One-person households
Fewer people today are living in couples.There has been a big rise in the number of people living alone. In 2006, almost three in ten households (6.8 million people) contained only one person — nearly three times the figure for 1961.
Half of all one-person households are people of pensionable age. Pensioner one-person households have doubled since 1961, while those of non-pensioners tripled. Men under 65 were the group most likely to live alone, with a particularly large increase in the number of young men living alone.

Reasons for the changes
The increase in separation and divorce has created more one-person households, especially among men under 65. This is because, following divorce, any children are more likely to live with their mother; their father is more likely to leave the family home.
The decline in the numbers marrying, and the trend towards people marrying later, mean that more people are remaining single. The proportion of adults who are single has risen by about half since 1971.
Peter Stein (1976) argues that a growing number of people are opting for ‘creative singlehood’ — the deliberate choice to live alone.
However, while many of these choose to remain single and live alone, some are alone because there are too few partners available in their age group. These are mainly older widows

‘Living apart together’
Research by Simon Duncan and Miranda Phillips for the British Social Attitudes survey (Thomson et al, 2008) found that about one in 10 adults are ‘living apart together’ or ‘LATs’ — that is, in a significant relationship, but not married or cohabiting. It has been suggested that this may reflect a trend towards less formalised relationships and ‘families of choice’.
However, Duncan and Phillips found that both choice and constraint play a part in whether couples live together. For example, some said they could not afford to. However, a minority actively chose to live apart, for example because they wanted to keep their own home.
Public attitudes towards LATs are favourable. A majority believe that ‘a couple do not need to live together to have a strong relationship’, while 20% saw LATs as their ‘ideal relationship’ (more than the number who preferred cohabitation).
Duncan and Phillips conclude that, while being a LAT is no longer seen as abnormal, it probably does not amount to a rejection of more traditional relationships.

6. Child-bearing
Over four in every ten children are now born outside marriage: five times more than in 1971. However, nearly all these births are jointly registered by both parents. In most cases, the parents are cohabiting.
Women are having children later: between 1971 and 2005, their average age at the birth of their first child rose by more than three years to 27.3 years.
Women are having fewer children than in the 20th century, though the number increased slightly in the early 21st century. The average number of children per woman fell from a peak of 2.95 in 1964 to a record low of 1.63 in 2001, rising somewhat to 1 .84 by 2006.
More women are remaining childless: it is predicted that a quarter of those born in 1973 will be childless when they reach the age of 45.

Reasons for these changes

Reasons for the increase in births outside marriage include a decline in stigma and increase in cohabitation. For example, only one-third of 18-24 year olds now think- marriage should come before parenthood.
The rise is largely the result of an increase in births to cohabiting couples rather than to women living alone.
The later age at which women are having children, smaller family sizes and the fact that more women are remaining childless, all reflect the fact that women now have more options than just motherhood. Many are seeking to establish themselves in a career before starting a family, or instead of having children at all.

7. Lone-parent families
Lone parent families now make-up 24% of all families. One in four children now live in a lone-parent family.
Over 90% of lone-parent families are headed by women
Until the 1990s, divorced women were the biggest group of lone mothers. From the 1990s single (never married) women became the biggest group of lone mothers.
A child living with a lone parent is twice as likely to be in poverty as a child living with two parents.

Reasons for the patterns
The number of lone-parent families has increased due to the increase in divorce and separation and more recently, the increase in the number of never-married women having children. This is linked to the decline in stigma attached to births outside marriage.
In the past, the death of one parent was a common cause of lone-parent families, but this is no longer very significant.
Lone-parent families tend to be female-headed for several reasons. These include the widespread belief that women are by nature suited to an ‘expressive’ or nurturing role; the fact that divorce courts usually give custody of children to mothers and the fact that men may be less willing than women to give up work to care for children.
Many lone-parent families are female-headed because the mothers are single by choice. They may not wish to cohabit or marry, or they may wish to limit the father’s involvement with the child. Jean Renvoize (1985) found that professional women were able to support their child without the father’s involvement.
Equally, as Ellis Cashmore (1985) found, some working- class mothers with less earning power chose to live on welfare benefits without a partner; often because they had experienced abuse.
Feminist ideas, and greater opportunities for women, may also have encouraged an increase in the number of never-married lone mothers.

Lone parenthood, the welfare state and poverty
The New Right thinker Charles Murray (1984) sees the growth of lone-parent families as resulting from an overgenerous welfare state providing benefits for unmarried mothers and their children.
Murray argues that this has created a ‘perverse incentive’; that is, it rewards irresponsible behaviour, such as having children without being able to provide for them. The welfare state creates a ‘dependency culture’ in which people assume that the state will support them and their children.
For Murray, the solution is to abolish welfare benefits. This would reduce the dependency culture that encourages births outside marriage.
However, critics of New Right views argue that welfare benefits are far from generous and lone-parent families are much more likely to be in poverty. Reasons for this include:
1. Lack of affordable childcare prevents lone parents from working: 60% of them are unemployed.
2. Inadequate welfare benefits.
3. Most lone parents are women, who generally earn less than men.
4. Failure of fathers to pay maintenance, especially if they have formed a second family that they have to support.

8. Stepfamilies/reconstituted families

Stepfamilies (often called reconstituted families) account for over 10% of all families with dependent children in Britain.
In 86% of stepfamilies, at least one child is from the woman’s previous relationship, while in 11 % there is at least one child from the man’s previous relationship. In 3% of stepfamilies there are children from both partners’ previous relationships.
Elsa Fern and Kate Smith (1 998) found that stepfamilies are very similar to first families in all major respects, and that the involvement of stepparents in childcare and childrearing is a positive one. However, they found that in general stepfamilies are at greater risk of poverty.
However according to Graham Allan and Graham Crow (2001), stepfamilies may face particular problems of divided loyalties and issues such as contact with the nonresident parent can cause tensions.
Jane Ribbens McCarthy et al (2003) conclude that there is diversity among these families and so we should speak of ‘stepfamilies’ plural rather than ‘the stepfamily’. Some have few tensions, while for those that do, the tensions are not so different from those in ‘intact’ families.

Reasons for the patterns
Stepfamilies are formed when lone parents form new partnerships. Thus the factors causing an increase in the number of lone parents, such as divorce and separation, are also responsible for the creation of stepfamilies.
More children in stepfamilies are from the woman’s previous relationship than the man’s because, when marriages and cohabitations break up, children are more likely to remain with their mother.
Stepparents are at greater risk of poverty because there are often more children and because the stepfather may also have to support children from a previous relationship.
Some of the tensions faced by stepfamilies may be the result of a lack of clear social norms about how individuals should behave in such families.

9. Ethnic differences in family patterns
Immigration into Britain over the last 60 years has helped to create greater ethnic diversity. Analysis of the 2001 Census shows that 92.1% of the UK population (54 million people) were White.
Of the 7.9% belonging to an ethnic minority, the main groups were Indian, Pakistani or Bangladeshi (3.6%); mixed ethnicity (1.2%); Black Caribbean (1 %); Black African (0.8%) and Chinese (0.4%). Greater ethnic diversity has contributed to changing family patterns in the UK.

Black families
Black Caribbean and Black African people have a higher proportion of lone-parent households. In 2002, just over half of families with dependent children headed by a black person were lone-parent families. This compared with one in 11 Indian families and just under a quarter for the population as a whole.
The high rate of female-headed, lone-parent black families has sometimes been seen as evidence of family disorganisation that can be traced back to slavery or, more recently, to high rates of unemployment among black males.
Under slavery, when couples were sold separately, children stayed with the mother. It is argued that this established a pattern of family life that persists today.
It is also argued that male unemployment and poverty have meant that black men are less able to provide for their family, resulting in higher rates of desertion or marital breakdown.
However, Heidi Safia Mirza (1997) argues that the higher rate of lone-parent families among blacks is not the result of disorganisation, but rather reflects the high value that black women place on independence.
Tracey Reynolds (1997) argues that the statistics are misleading, in that many apparently ‘lone’ parents are in fact in stable, supportive but non-cohabiting relationships.

Asian families

Bangladeshi, Pakistani and Indian households tend to be larger than those of other ethnic groups, at 4.5, 4.1 and 3.3 persons per household respectively, compared with 2,3 for both Black Caribbean and White British households, and 2.4 for the population as a whole.
Such households sometimes contain three generations, but most are in fact nuclear rather than extended. Laiger household sizes are partly a result of the younger age profile of British Asians, since a higher proportion are in the childbeanng age groups compared with the population as a whole
Larger Asian households also to some extent reflect she value placed on the extended family in Asian cultures. However, practical considerations, such as the need for assistance when migrating to Britain, are also important. For example, Roger Ballard (1982) found that extended family ties provided an important source of support among Asian migrants during the 1950s and 1960s.
In this early period of migration, houses were often shared by extended families, Later, although most Asian households were now nuclear, relatives often lived nearby. There was frequent visiting, and kinship networks continued to be a source of support. Today, Sikhs, Muslims and Hindus are still more likely than other ethnic or religious groups to live in extended family units.

10. The extended family today
The existence of the extended family among minority ethnic groups raises the question of how widespread this kind of family is in the UK today. According to functionalists such as Parsons, the extended family is the dominant family type in pre-industrial society, but in modern industrial society it is replaced by the nuclear family.
For example, as Nickie Charles’ (2005) study of Swansea found, the classic three- generation family all living together under one roof is now “all but extinct”. The only significant exceptions she found were among the city’s Bangladeshi community.
However, while the extended family may have declined, it has not entirely disappeared. Instead, as Peter Willmott (1988) argues, it continues to exist as a ‘dispersed extended family’, where relatives are geographically separated but maintain frequent contact through visits and phone calls.
Similarly, Mary Chamberlain’s(1999) study of Caribbean families in Britain found that, despite being geographically dispersed, they continue to provide support. She describes them as ‘multiple nuclear families’ with close and frequent contact between siblings, uncles, aunts and cousins, who often make a big contribution to childrearing.
Nickie Charles found that contact remains high between mothers and daughters. However in the case of brothers and sisters, there had been a sharp decline in both support and contact. This affected who counts as ‘family’- those who don’t keep in touch or provide support may cease to be defined as family. Conversely, friends may become ‘family’ if they are seen often and help one another.
As Charles shows, there is some variability in what can be expected of different relatives. For example, Janet Finch and Jennifer Mason (1993) found that more is expected of females than males. However, people do continue to feel some obligation towards their extended kin.
In Finch and Mason’s study, over 90% had given or received financial help, and about half had cared for a sick relative.
Overall, evidence suggests that the extended family continues to play an important role for many people today, providing both practical and emotional support when called upon.
However, this is very different from Parsons’ classic extended family, whose members lived and worked together and were bound by strong mutual obligations. Nevertheless, some sense of obligation does remain, at least to some kin and as a last resort in times of crisis.

The major issues covered here are:

How childhood is socially constructed – how it is created and defined by society
Is the position and status of children better now than in the past ?
What is the future of childhood likely to be ?

The social construction of childhood

Sociologists see child hood as socially constructed; in other words, as something created and defined by society. They argue that what people mean by childhood, and the status of children in society, is not fixed but duffers between different times, places and cultures. This can be illustrated by comparing the western idea of childhood with childhood in the past and in other cultures.

The modern western idea of childhood

Jane Pilcher argues that the most important feature of childhood is separateness. Childhood is seen as a distinct life stage, and children in our society occupy a separate status from adults.

This can be illustrated in several ways, for example, through laws regulating what children are allowed, required or forbidden to do. Their difference from adults is also illustrated through differences in dress, especially for younger children, and through products and services specially for children, such as toys, food, play areas and so on.

Related to this separate status is the idea of childhood as a ‘golden age’ of happiness and innocence. However, this innocence means that children are seen as vulnerable and in need of protection from the dangers of the adult world and so they must be separated from it. As a result, children’s lives are lived largely in the sphere of family and education, where adults provide for them and protect them.

However, this view of childhood as a separate age-status is not found in all societies. Stephen Wagg argues that because childhood is socially constructed there is not one single universal experience of childhood. This means that, while all humans go through the same physical process of ageing, different societies construct or define this process differently.

Historical differences in childhood

Philippe Aries (1960) has argued that in pre-industrial society, children as we know them did not exist. Instead, children were ‘little adults’ who would take on adult responsibilities as young as 7 or 8. At this age, children would be expected to help out in productive activities in the household (remember that households at this time are more units of production than consumption) and may well be apprenticed out to learn a trade.

In the eyes of the law, 7 and 8-year-olds were seen as being criminally responsible. This means that they could be tried and punished for crimes such as stealing on a similar basis to that of adults. Aries argued that two factors explain why society did not regard children as objects of love and devotion:

There was a very high level of infant mortality.

Life was very ‘hand to mouth.’ Children had to work in order for the family unit to survive, which in turn meant they were given adult responsibilities at a younger age.

Aries argues that the view of children as ‘little adults’ remained common well into the 19th century, with young children frequently being employed to work in mines and factories.

However, around the middle of the 19th century, Aries argued that the infant mortality rate started to decrease with improvements in sanitation and diet. With the increasing affluence of the middle classes, the attitudes of middle class parents started to change and children started to become regarded as objects of love and devotion.

Aries also notes that the working classes tended to still view their children as little adults, as working class families tended to be dependent on their children’s income for survival.

Reasons for the changes in the position/status of children

Laws restricting child labour and excluding children from paid work. Children became an economic liability by being financially dependent on their families rather than an economic asset.
The introduction of compulsory schooling in 1880 had a similar effect, especially for children of the poor. The raising of the school leaving age, and recent government policies to keep children in fulltime education or training until the age of 18 has extended this period of dependency.
Child protection and welfare legislation, such as the 1889 Prevention of Cruelty to Children Act. Exactly a century later, the 1989 Children Act made child welfare a fundamental principle underpinning the work of agencies such as social services.
The growth of the idea of children rights. For example, the Children Act defines parents as having ‘responsibilities’ rather than ‘rights’ in relation to children.
Declining family size and lower infant mortality rates. These have encouraged parents to make a greater financial and emotional investment in the fewer children that they now have. .
Laws and policies that apply specifically to children, such as minimum ages for a wide range of activities from sex to smoking. have reinforced the idea that children are different from adults and so different rules must be applied to their behaviour.

Most sociologists agree that the process of industrialisation - the shift from agriculture to factory production as the basis of the economy - underlies many of the above changes. For example, modern industry needs an educated workforce and this requires compulsory schooling of the young. Similarly, the higher standards of living and better welfare provision that industry makes possible lead to lower infant mortality rates. Industrialisation is thus a key factor in bringing about the modern idea of childhood and the changed status of children.

Has the status of children improved ?

As we have seen, childhood is socially constructed and varies between times, places and cultures. There are important differences between childhood in western societies today as compared with both present-day Third World countries and European societies in the past. For example, in the Middle Ages, child labour was a basic fact of life for almost all children, while schooling was available only to the wealthy.

The march of progress view

These differences raise the question of whether the changes in the status of childhood that we looked at earlier represent an improvement. The ‘march of progress’ view argues that, over the past few centuries, the position of children in western societies has been steadily improving and today is better than it has ever been.

Writers such as Aries and Shorter hold a ‘march of progress’ view. They argue that today’s children are more valued, better cared for, protected and educated, enjoy better health and have more rights than those of previous generations.

For example, children today are protected from harm and exploitation by laws against child abuse and child labour, the family has become child-centred, with parents investing a great deal in their children emotionally as well as financially.

However, conflict sociologists such as Marxists and feminists dispute this. They argue that society is based on a conflict between different social groups such as social classes or genders. In this conflict, some groups have more power, status or wealth than others. Conflict sociologists see the relationship between groups as one of domination and subordination, in which the dominant group act as oppressors.

The conflict view

Conflict sociologists argue that the ‘march of progress’ view of modern childhood is based on a false and idealised image that ignores important inequalities. They criticise the ‘march of progress’ view on two grounds:
There are inequalities among children in terms of the opportunities and risks they face: many today remain unprotected and badly cared for.
The inequalities belween children and adults are greater than ever: children today experience greater control, oppression and dependency, not greater care and protection.

Inequalities among children
Not all children share the same status or experiences: children of different nationalities are likely to experience different childhoods and different life chances. 90% of the world’s low birth-weight babies are born in the Third World.
There are also gender differences between children. For example, according to Mayer Hillman (1993), boys are more likely to be allowed to cross or cycle on roads, use buses, and go out after dark unaccompanied
Similarly, there are ethnic differences: Julia Brannen’s (1994) study of 15-16 year olds found that Asian parents were more likely than other parents to be strict towards their daughters.

There are also important class differences between children:
Poor mothers are more likely to have low birth-weight babies which may delay physical and intellectual development
According to Woodroffe, children from manual backgrounds are more likely to be hyperactive and suffer long-standing illnesses than children of professionals.

Child liberationists – inequalities between children and adults

Child liberationists see the need to free children from adult control. This adult control takes a number of forms:
Neglect and abuse, either physical, sexual or emotional
Controls over children’s space – children are told to play in some areas and are forbidden to be in others such as some shops and hotels
Controls over children’s time – adults in modern societies control children’s daily routines, including when they get up, eat, go to school, go to bed etc
Controls over children’s bodies, including how they sit, walk and run, and what they wear, whether they can be picked-up, cuddled, or even smacked.

Diana Gittins use the term ‘age patriarchy’ to describe the inequalities between adults and children. Today this power may still assert itself in the form of violence against both children and women. For example, according to Cathy Humphreys and Ravi Thiara (2002), a quarter of the 200 women in their study left their abusing partner because they feared for their children’s) Such findings support Gittins’ view that patriarchy oppresses children as well as women.

However, critics of the child liberationist view argue that some adult control over children’s lives is justified on the grounds that children cannot make rational decisions and so are unable to safeguard their interests themselves.

Critics also argue that, although children remain under adult supervision, they are not as powerless as the child liberationists claim. For example, as we saw earlier, the 1989 Children Act and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child establish the principle that children have legal rights to be protected and consulted.

The disappearance of childhood

Neil Postman (1994) argues that childhood is ‘disappearing at a dazzling speed’. He points to the trend towards giving children the same rights as adults, the disappearance of children’s traditional unsupervised games, the growing similarity of adult and children’s clothing, and even to cases of children committing ‘adult’ crimes such as murder. In his view, the cause both of the emergence of childhood, and now its disappearance, lies in the rise and fall of print culture and its replacement by television culture.

Television blurs the distinction between childhood and adulthood by destroying the information hierarchy. Unlike the printed word, TV does not require special skills to access it, and it makes information available to adults and children alike. The boundary between adult and child is broken down, adult authority diminishes, and the ignorance and innocence of childhood is replaced by knowledge and cynicism.

However, unlike Postman, lona Opie (1993) argues that childhood is not disappearing. Based on a lifetime of research into children’s games, rhymes and songs, conducted with her husband Peter Opie, she argues that there is strong evidence of the continued existence of a separate children’s culture over many years.

Their findings contradict Postman’s claim that children’s own unsupervised games are dying out Their studies show that children can and do create their own independent culture separate from that of adults.

Toxic childhood ?

Some writers suggest that children in the UK today are experiencing what Sue Palmer (2006) calls ‘toxic childhood’. She argues that rapid technological and cultural changes in the past 25 years have damaged children’s physical, emotional and intellectual development.

These changes range from junk food, computer games, and intensive marketing to children, to the long hours worked by parents and the growing emphasis on testing in education.

Concerns have also been expressed about young people’s behaviour For example, Julia Margo and Mike Dixon (2006), drawing on recent studies, report that UK youth are at or near the top of international league tables for obesity, self-harm, drug and alcohol abuse, violence, early sexual experience and teenage pregnancies. A UNICEF survey in 2007 ranked the UK 21’ out of 25 for children’s well being.

Such concerns reveal an anxiety that the modern notion of childhood as an innocent and protected stage is under threat. However it is hard to draw firm conclusions about this, for two reasons.
Firstly, not all children are affected equally by these negative trends. There are clusters of young people, namely those growing up on the poorer end of the social scale, who live desperate lives, while others do not.
Secondly, it depends on which aspect of childhood we look at, Some aspects suggest the continuation of childhood as a separate age-status, while others suggest it may be disappearing or changing.


1. Births

The birth rate is the number of live births per 1000 of the population per year.

There have been fluctuations in births, with three baby booms’ in the 20tb century.

The first two came after the two world wars (1914-18 and 1939-45) as returning servicemen and their partners started families that they had postponed during the war years.

There was a third baby boom in the 1960s, after which the birth rate fell sharply during the 1970s. The rate rose during the 1980s, before falling again after the early 1990s, with a recent increase since 2001.

The total fertility rate

The total fertility rate (TFR) is the average number of children women will have during their fertile years.

The factors determining the birth rate are, firstly, the proportion of women who are of childbearing age (usually taken to be aged 15-44) and, secondly, how fertile they are - that is, how many children they have.

The UK’s TFR has risen since 2001, but it is still much lower than in the past.

These changes in fertility and birth rates reflect the fact that:

More women are remaining childless than in the past.

Women are postponing having children: the average age for giving birth is now 29.6, and fertility rates for women in their 30s and 40s are on the increase. Older women may be less fertile and have fewer fertile years remaining, and so they produce fewer children.

Reasons for the decline in the birth rate

Sociologists have identified a number of reasons for the long.4erm decline in the birth rate since 1900. These reasons involve a range of social, economic, cultural, legal, political and technological factors.

1 Changes in the position of women

There were major changes in the position of women during the 20tb century. These include:
Legal equality with men, including the right to vote.Increased educational opportunities — girls now do better at school than boys
More women in paid employment, plus laws outlawing unequal pay and sex discrimination.
Changes in attitudes to family life and women role.
Easier access to divorce.
Access to abortion and reliable contraception, giving women more control over their fertility.
As a result of these changes, women now see other possibilities in life apart from the traditional role of housewife and mother. Many are choosing to delay childbearing, or not to have children at all, in order to pursue a career. For example, in 2006, one in five women aged 45 was childless—double the number of 20 years earlier

2 Decline in the infant mortality rate

The infant mortality rate (IMR) measures the number of infants who die before their first birthday, per thousand babies born alive, per year. Many sociologists argue that a fall in the IMR leads to a fall in the birth rate. This is because, if many infants die, parents have more children to replace those they have lost, thereby increasing the birth rate. By contrast, if infants survive, parents will have fewer of them.

During the first half of the 20th century, the UK’s IMR began to fall. This was due to several reasons:

Improved housing and better sanitation, such as flush toilets and clean drinking water, reduced infectious disease.
A fall in the number of married women working may have improved their health and that of their babies.
Improved services for mothers and children, such as antenatal and postnatal clinics.

However, while many sociologists claim that the falling IMR led to a fall in birth rates, others reject this view. For example, Brass and Kabir (1978) argue that the trend to smaller families began not in rural areas, where the IMR first began to fall, but in urban areas, where the 1MB remained higher for longer

3 Children have become an economic liability

Until the late 19th century, children were economic assets to their parents because they could be sent out to work from an early age to earn an income. However, since the late 191h century children have gradually become an economic liability:
Laws banning child labour, introducing compulsory schooling and raising the school leaving age mean that children remain economically dependent on their parents for longer and longer.

4 Child centredness

The increasing child centredness both of the family and of society as a whole has encouraged a shift from ‘quantity’ to ‘quality’ — parents now have fewer children and lavish more attention and resources on these few.

Effects of changes in fertility

Changes in the number of babies born affect several aspects of society. These include the family, the dependency ratio, and public services and policies.

The family

Smaller families mean that women are more likely to be free to go out to work, thus creating the dual earner couple typical of many professional families. However, family size is only one factor here. For example, better off couples may be able to have larger families and still afford childcare that allows them both to work full-time

The dependency ratio

The dependency ratio is the relationship between the size of the working or productive part of the population and the size of the non-working or dependent part of the population. The earnings, savings and taxes of the working population must support the dependent population. Children make up a large part of the dependent population, so a fall in the number of children reduces the ‘burden of dependency’ on the working population.

However, in the longer term, fewer babies being born will mean fewer young adults and a smaller working population and so the burden of dependency may begin to increase again.

Public services and policies

A lower birth rate means fewer schools and maternity and child health services may be needed. It also has implications for the cost of maternity and paternity leave, or the types of housing that need to be built.

However, we should remember that many of these are political decisions. For example, instead of reducing the number of schools, the government may decide to have smaller class sizes instead.

2. Deaths

The death rate is the number of deaths per thousand of the population per year. In 1900, the death rate stood at 19, whereas by 2007 it had almost halved, to 10.

Reasons for the decline in the death rate

There are several reasons why the death rate declined during the 20th century.

Improved nutrition

Thomas McKeown (1972) argues that improved nutrition accounted for up to half the reduction in death rates, and was particularly important in reducing the number of deaths from TB. Better nutrition increased resistance to infection and increased the survival chances of those who did become infected.
However, others have challenged McKeown’s explanation. For example, it does not explain why females, who receive a smaller share of the family food supply, lived longer than males, nor why deaths from some infectious diseases, such as measles and infant diarrhoea, actually rose at a time of improving nutrition.

Medical improvements

However, after the 1950s, improved medical knowledge, techniques and organisation did help to reduce death rates.
More recently, improved medication, bypass surgery and other developments have reduced deaths from heart disease by one-third.

Public health measures and environmental improvements

In the 20th century, more effective central and local government with the necessary power to pass and enforce laws led to a range of improvements in public health and the quality of the environment.

These included improvements in housing (producing drier, better ventilated, less overcrowded accommodation), purer drinking water and laws to combat the adulteration of food and drink.

Other social changes also played a part in reducing the death rate during the 2Qth century. These included:

The decline of more dangerous manual occupations such as mining
Smaller families reduced the rate of transmission of infection
Greater public knowledge of the causes of illness
Higher incomes, allowing for a healthier lifestyle.

The ageing population

The average age of the UK population is rising. In 1971, it was 34.1 years. By 2007, it stood at 39.6. By 2031, it is projected to reach 42.6. There are fewer young people and more old people in the population. The number of people aged 65 or over is projected to overtake the number of under-16s for the first time ever in 2014.

The effects of an ageing population

Public services

Older people consume a larger proportion of services such as health and social care than other age groups. This is particularly true of the old old’ (usually defined as 75 or over) as against the ‘young old (65-74).

However, we should beware of overgeneralising, since many people remain in relatively good health well into old age.

In addition to increased expenditure on health care, an ageing population may also mean changes to policies and provision of housing, transport or other services.

One-person pensioner households

The number of pensioners living alone has increased and one-person pensioner households now account for about 14% of all households. Most of these are female, both because women generally live longer than men, and because they are usually younger than their husbands.

The dependency ratio

Like the non-working young, the non-working old are an economically dependent group who need to be provided for by those of working age, for example through taxation to pay for pensions and health care. As the number of retired people rises, this increases the dependency ratio and the burden on the working population.

However, it would be wrong to assume that ‘old’ necessarily equals ‘economically dependent’. For example, the age at which people retire can vary — about one in ten men in their SOs is no longer working, while recent changes mean that women will soon have to wait until they are 65 to access the state pension (previously women’s pensions began at 60, men’s at 65). Others carry on working into their 70s.

Also, while an increase in the number of old people raises the dependency ratio, in an ageing population this is offset by a declining number of dependent children.

The social construction of aqeing as a ‘problem’

Age statuses are socially constructed. This also applies to old age. Much discussion about old age and ageing is negative and has constructed it as ‘problem’. For example:

The Griffiths Report (1988) on the care of the elderly saw society as facing the problem of meeting the escalating costs of health and social care for the growing numbers of old people.

Recently, there have been concerns about the ‘pensions time bomb’, with fears about how society will meet the cost of providing pensions for the elderly.

More broadly, in modern societies, ‘ageism’ — the negative stereotyping of people on the basis of their age — often portrays the old as vulnerable, incompetent or irrational, and as a burden to society. This contrasts with the view of the elderly found in traditional societies. In these cultures, the old are revered and respected; ageing is associated with a rising status.

According to Peter Townsend (1981), one reason for negative attitudes to the elderly in our society is that old age has been socially constructed as a period of dependency by creating a statutory retirement age at which most people are expected or required to stop working and are forced to rely on inadequate benetits that push many into poverty.

Policy implications

According to Hirsch the main problem of an ageing population will be how to finance a longer period of old age. This can either be done by paying more from our savings and taxes while we are working, or by continuing to work for longer, or a combination of both.

Hirsch therefore argues that we need to reverse the current trend towards earlier retirement. One way of doing this is by redistributing educational resources towards older people so that they can retrain and improve their skills and so continue earning.

Similarly, there may need to be changes in housing policy to encourage older people (who are more likely to be living in larger houses than they need) to ‘trade down’ into smaller accommodation and retirement homes. This would release wealth to improve their standard of living and free up housing resources for younger people.



Migration refers to the movement of people from place to place. It can be internal, within a society, or international.

Immigration refers to movement into an area or society.

Emigration refers to movement out.

Net migration is the difference between the numbers immigrating and the numbers emigrating, and is expressed as a net increase or net decrease due to migration.

For most of the 20th century, the growth of the UK population was the result of natural increase (more births than deaths), rather than the numbers of people immigrating and emigrating.

Patterns and Trends

From 1900 until the Second World War (1939-45), the largest immigrant group to the UK were the Irish, mainly for economic reasons, followed by Eastern and Central European Jews, who were often refugees fleeing persecution, and people of British descent from Canada and the USA. Very few immigrants were non-white.

By contrast, during the 1950s, black immigrants from the Caribbean began to arrive in the UK, followed during the 1960s and 1 970s by South Asian immigrants from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, and by East African Asians from Kenya and Uganda.

One consequence of this immigration was that it produced a more ethnically diverse society. By 2001, minority ethnic groups accounted for 7.9% of the total population. One result of this has been a greater diversity of family patterns in Britain today.

However, as noted earlier, throughout this period, more people left the UK than entered. Nor did non-white immigrants make up the majority of settlers. During the 1950s, the Irish were the largest single group (with over a third of a million) and almost as many again arriving from continental Europe.


From as early as the mid-16th century until the 1980s, the UK has almost always been a net exporter of people: more have emigrated to live elsewhere than have come to settle in the UK.

Since 1900, the great majority of emigrants have gone to the USA and to the Old Commonwealth countries (Canada, Australia and New Zealand) and South Africa.

The main reasons for emigration have been economic— both in terms of ‘push’ factors such as economic recession and unemployment at home, and even more so in terms of ‘pull’ factors such as higher wages or better opportunities abroad.

In the earlier part of the century, there were often labour shortages in the destination countries, while after 1945, the relatively poor performance of the British economy compared with that of other industrial countries acted as an incentive to emigrate.

These economic reasons for migration contrast with those of some other groups, who have been driven to migrate by religious, political or racial persecution.

The dependency ratio

The effect of migration on the dependency ratio is complex.

On the one hand, the fact that migrants are mainly of working age reduces the dependency ratio.

On the other hand, immigrant women tend to have higher fertility rates, which in the short term contributes to a higher dependency ratio by adding more children to the population.

However this also reduces the average age of the population and in due course produces more workers, thereby lowering the dependency ratio as these children grow up and reach working age.

Finally, to complicate matters further, evidence suggests that the longer an immigrant group is settled in the country, the closer their fertility rate comes to the national average.

SCLY1 AS Sociology of The Family – Easy to understand breakdown of what we teach
Hi, it’s occured to me that we really don’t cover that much material in this module. Despite the main text books over convoluting a lot of the stuff – I think all that we cover boils down to the following 7 key questions (ok and sub questions)
Topic 1 – Domestic roles.
The General Trend here is that men and women have become more equal in their domestic roles and relationships are generally characterised by more negotiation and discussion (reflexivity)
Key questions –
To what extent is this true of modern relationships? Are there contradictory examples if you look at different generations/ social classes and ethnic groups?
If you believe this is there is a general trend towards gender equality, what factors have lead to this change and what is the relative importance of each factor?
What do the different sociological perspectives say about these Topic 2 – Marriage, Co-habitation and Divorce
The general trend here is that there has been a long term decline in the rate of Marriage and a corresponding increase in cohabitation. The divorce rate has increased overall – especially rapidly after the 1969 divorce act, although it has been declining since 2006.
Key Questions
What are the reasons for these changes, and what is the relative importance of each.
What are the consequences of these changes (relates to topic 3)
What do different sociological perspectives think about the decline in marriage and increase in divorce? Topic 3 – The decline of the traditional Nuclear Family and increasing in diversity in families and households –
The general trend here is that there families and households are characterised by more diversity in the following ways –
There are more reconstituted families (step families)
There are more single parent families
There are more single person households
There are more visible and legally recognised same sex relationships
There is greater ethnic diversity
There is greater generational diversity (as people live longer)
Key Questions
What are the reasons for these changes, and what is the relative importance of each reason for each change (relates to topic 2!)
What are the consequences of these changes
What do different sociological perspectives think about the decline in marriage and increase in divorce?
Topic 4 – perspectives on the extended and nuclear family in historical context
The general trend is that European societies use to have more extended families, however, with industrialisation; the nuclear family came to be the dominant family form. However, since the 1970s, the nuclear family appears to be in decline.
Key questions/ perspectives
Assess the Functionalist/ Marxist/ Feminist/ Postmodernist/ Late Modernist view on the role and functions of the nuclear family in society.
Topic 5 – Childhood.
The general trend here is that family life and society in general has become more child centred, and children’s lives are more regulated, although some would argue that childhood is now disappearing.
Key questions
Examine the ways in which childhood is socially constructed
Assess the view that children are better off today than in the past, now that their lives are more regulated by adults.
Assess the view that childhood is disappearing. Topic 6. Demography
The general trend is that birth and death rates have both decreased and net migration to the UK has increased steadily in recent years.
Key questions
Why are the birth and death rates decreasing?
What are the causes and consequences of immigration/ emigration? Topic 7. The family and social policy
Here we examine different perspectives on how the government should influence family life through policy
Key questions
Examine the relationship between social policy and any of the following – gender equality in the family, the role of children in the family, marriage/ divorce, family diversity, the place of children in the family.
Examine different sociological perspectives on social policy.

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