Fewer Children and Later in Life
A clear change in British family is the decrease in the average number of children people have.
- People are having fewer children. The average number of children per family was 2.4 in 1971 compared to 1.6 in 2001 (the lowest recorded)
- Women are having children later (due to the emancipation of women). The average age of the women at the birth of their first child was 24 in 1971, compared to 27 in 2001.
- More people are not having children at all - 9% of women born in 1945 were childless at age 45, compared to 15% of women born in 1955
Social changes have influenced these trends. Contraception is now more readily available, and women's role are changing.
The emphasis on the individual in post industrial society is a key factor. Children are expensive and time- consuming and couples may choose to spend their time and money in other ways.
The conflict between wanting a succesful working life and being a mother has made many women put off having children until later.
Families with many generations of only children are called Beanpole families.
- Macionis and Plummer (1997) -highlighted the ability of new fertility treatments to allow family structures that were previously impossible.
- Treatments such as IVF allow an egg to be fertilised in a test tube and then medically implanted into the owmb of a surrogate mother - who may not of been the original egg donor
- In 1991, Arlette Schweitzer acted as a surrogate mother using a fertilised egg originally taken from her own daughter - Arguably both her daughter and granddaughter
- Fertility treatments have allowed gay and lesbian couples, and single and older women to have children when they wouldn't of been able to before. This means that family structures exist that were impossible in the past
Regional Variations in Family Structure
Eversley and Bonnerjea (1982) found that some types of family structure were more likely to be found in certain types of areas.
- Inner cities have higher concentrations of single parents and ethnic minority families.
- Coastal areas are home to a large number of retired couples with dependent children
- Declining industrial areas have a large number of traditional families, but also show a high amount of diversity
- Southern England has a high number of two parent (nuclear) upwardly mobile families
- Rural areas tend to be characterised by extended families and strong patterns of kinship
- New Right theorists believe that family diversity is the result in the decline in tradition values. They see it as a threat to the traditional nuclear family and blame it for antisocial behaviour and crime.
- Murray (1989) suggests that single-mother families are a principle cause of crime and social decay, because of the lack of a male role model and authority figure in the home.
- The New right believethat state benefits should be cut and social policy targeted to discourage family diversity and promote marriage and the nuclear family.
The New Right been criticised for their blame the victim approach
- The functionalist Robert Chester (1985) admits there has been some growth in family diversity, but believes that the nuclear family remains the dominant family structure.
- He argues that the statistics show a greater increase in diversity than is actually happening. This is because the UK society has an ageing population. The distribution of ages in society is changing so that the proportion of older people is increasing. This increases the number of people who are at a stage in their life when they're temporarily not in a nuclear family.
- Chester has also suggested that nuclear families are becoming less traditional and more symmetrical to better fit modern living.
- Claim there is no longer a single dominant family structure - postmodern society is highly diverse and diversity is increasing.
- Improvements in women's rights and the availablity of contraception have resulted in people having far more choice in their type of relationship.
- People now ten to create their relationship to suit their own needs or the idea of confluent love rather than following the traditional values of religion or the goverment.
- Their relationships only last as long as their needs are met - causing even greater diversity and instability.