sociology - Family


Families and the social structure

Is the family universal?

Murdock --> looked at 250 societies and claimed that some form of family exsited in each. He defined the family as a social group characterised by:

  • Common Residence
  • Economic coopoeration
  • Reproduction
  • Having adults of both sexes
  • Including one or more children of these adults

He concluded that the NUCLEAR FAMILY is universal, either on its own or as the base unit within an extended family.

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Murdock Evaluation

  • Murdocks definition of the family states that the family must have adults of both sexes, however alot of children today and in the past are raised in households that do not contain both sexes.
  • Gough (1959) analysed the nayar society in pre-colonial india, describes women with several husband, who took no responsibility for the care of their offspring.
  • Callahan (1997) argues that gay and lebian households should be seen as families as their relationships are not significantly different from those in heterosexual households.
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Functionalism 1

  • Murdock - argues that the family perfroms four basic functions for individuals and society and these are applicable to all societies:
    • Sexual - essential for continuation of the society
    • Reproductive - Essential for sontinuation of the society
    • Economic - Essentialfor survival
    • Educational - essential for passing on societys culture to the next generation
  • Criticisms -
    • Murdock does not consider whether the above functions could be performed by other social institutions
    • Morgan - points out that murdock presents the nuclear family as a totally harmonious institution, but is it all harmonious.
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Functionalism 2

  • Parsons - argues that the family retains two 'basic and irreducible' functions that are common to all societies:
    • Primary socialisation of children - The childs personality is moulded to absorb the central values of the societies culture. Family provide the warmth, security and mutual support necessary to make this occur
    • Stabalisation of adult personalities - emphasises the marital status and emotional security. balancing out the strsses of everday life.
  • Parson's Functional Fit - Families will change over time in orfer to fit that particular society. The extended family was typical in preindustrial society (most people worked in agriculture and needed the next generation to help out). however in modern industrail society, the isolated nuclear family is the typical family form. Its isolated in that relationships between the nuclear family and the wider kin are a matter of choice not obligation. the isolated nuclear family need:
    • structural differentiation - more institutes have evolved so family no longer needed to do the job e.g. schools, businesses.
    • Geographical isolation/mobility - no longer ties down to wider kin so are able to move anywhere they want to
    • Ascribed status rather than Achieved - status is now earned not given at birth.
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Functionalism 3

  • Parsons also believes that the family would run better if the father played the instrumental role specialising in earning a living, while the mother plays the expressive role, dealing with emotions, housework and childcare.
  • Criticisms -
    • he presents an idealised view of the family, based on the american middle class, like murdock he fails to explore alternative family structures e.g. Working class or other ethnic groups
    • Faminists - rejects his work as they feel the idea that women should stay at home sa mother-housewives is sexist
    • New Right - say we should go back to these traditional values
    • Parsons see's socialisation as a one way process and ignore the impact children have on building their own personalities
    • Laslett - found that only 10% of households contained extended kin before industrial rev
    • Anderson - Found high rates of extended households in preston in 1851
    • Young and Willmott - as late as 1950's extended kinship networks were still strong in bethnal green, a working class area of london
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Marxism 1

  • Engels - attempted to trace the evolution of the family through time. Engels said that the monogamous nuclear family developed to solve the problem of the inheritance of private property. Prpoerty was owned by males, who needed a son to whom he could pass the property onto. They needed greater control over women so the paternity of their offspring was certain. The monogamous family provided this.
  • Zaretsky - sees the family as a major prop to the capatilist system. This is based on domestic labour of housewives, who reproduce to create future generations of workers. The family consumes the product of capitalism and this enables the bourgeoisie to maintain profits. The family provides the comfort to alienated workers so they can carry on working
  • Criticisms -
    • Gough - says that engels general outline is broadly correct, However Engelshad a lack of direct evidence to support it.
    • elieves that engels exaggerates how well the family provides comfort, as their can be much conflict between families.
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Feminism 1

Feminists have strongly criticised the effects of the family life upon women. Feminist approaches have :

  • introduced the study of areas of family life such as housework and domestic violence
  • challenged established views about male dominance in families
  • highlighted the economic contribution to society of womens domestic labour
  • focused on power relationships within the family, in particular the ways in which men benefit from families at the expense of women.
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Feminism 2

Marxist Feminist - argue that the family and its expoloitation of women serves the needs of capitalism.

  • Benston - the husbands obligaton to pay for the production and upkeep of the next generation weakens his bargaining power at work; he cannot go on strike because he has a family to support.
  • Ansley - argues the emotional support of wives acts as a safety valve for husbands frustration caused by working within the capitalist system.
  • Cooper - argues that the family are a ideological conditioning device in which children learn to submit to authority, thus keeping capitalism stable.
  • Criticisms -
    • variations in family life such as those of class and ethnic groups are ignored
    • Morgan - points out that marxist approaches pftehn assume the existence of highly traditional families, a type of family that is becoming less common
    • Marxist feminists may 3exaggerate the harm done to women in the family and are reluctant to see any positive side to a womens role in the family
    • Little evidence to back up their views
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Feminism 3

Redical Feminists - sees the oppression of women as the most significant aspect of a patriarchal and male - dominated society.

  • Delphy and Leonard - argue that the family is a patriarchal, heirarchial institution through which men dominate and women exploited. It is an economical system in which the male head of household gets unpaid domestic, sexual and reproductive work from the woman and in return are given occastional gifts.
  • Greer - argues that wives get less out of a marriage than men. Motherhood can be rewarding but is not valued by society and mothers of take the blame for many of societies problems. Daughters are often suffer sexual abuse from male relatives. Greer concludes that women would be better off living away from patriarchal families
  • Criticisms -
    • many of the marxist fem criticisms apply to radical feminists. In addition, redical feminists largely ignore the progress made by women and simply assume all families are male dominated or patriarchal.
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Feminism 4

Liberal Feminist -

  • Sommerville - offers a more moderate assessment of womens position in contemporary society. she arges that:
    • many feminists failto achknowledge the prgress made by women in britain
    • Women have more opportunities and choices open to them than in the past, and some men advocate greater gender equality
    • Although many men do not live up their responsibilities, most women do not wish to live their lives without a male partner.
  • Sommerville concludes by saying we need to adapt principled pragmatism, by which practical policiesproduce greater equality - such as improved childcare provisions for working mothers.
  • Criticisms -
    • sommerville claims are not backed up with detailed empherical evidence
    • Radical feminists believe that pragmatic, gradual liberal policies have not produced genuine gender equality, so they are unlikely to succeed in furture.
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Postmodernism 1

  • They do not believe that a single type of family is dominant or is the norm in contemporary society.
  • They disagree with functionalist, marxists and feminists, that a single theory of family life is possible.
  • They argue that there can be no metanarrative of how family life is or should be.
  • Stacey - believes that contemporary societies such as the USA have developed the postmodern family. She associates changes in the family with a movement away from a single dominant family type and towards a greater variety in family relationships. Arrangements in the postmodern family are diverse fluid, and unresolved.
  • Criticisms -
    • it is questionable to what extent diversity and the postmodern family have become a commonplace. it is possible that stacey exaggerates the extent of change.
    • The examples in california may not be representable to everyone.
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Modernity 1

  • Giddens - argues that intimate relationships have undergone important changes:
    • in the 18th century the idea of romantic love developed, where a marriage was seen as a lifelong arrangement and women would retain their virginity waiting for the right partner.
    • Plastic sexuality has developed where better contraception has meant sex can be for pleasure rather than concieving a child.
    • Relationships are no longer based on the idea that they will be permeanant.
    • Relationships are now based on confluent love, love depends on both partners getting what they want from the relationship. in the resulting pure relationships divorce and other break ups are much more common.
    • People are unwilling to stay with unsatisfactory partners because of the reflexive project of self - a constant relflection on and attempt to improve ones life.
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Modernity 2

  • Beck & Beck - Gernsheim - see individualisation as the main characteristic of modern life: individuals expect to make thier own decisions about more and more aspects of their lives. More opportuities are open to everybody, especially women.
    • There is little security or intamacy in everyday life so people seek emotional secutiy in families
    • there is much more choice in the way love and family works. so people work out a formula for their relationships, without fixed, clear cut roles there is more conflict.
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Historical Development of the family

Young and Willmott - Four stages of the family

  • stage 1 - the preindustrial family
    • a unit of production.
  • stage 2 - The early industrail family
    • included networks beyond the nuclear family
  • Stage 3 - The symmetrical family
    • nuclear and home centered

The rise of the symmetrical family promoted by:

  • A reduction in the need for kinship-based support e.g. rising of wages
  • Increased geographical mobility
  • a reduction in the number of children per family
  • more entertainment in the homes, making it more attractive place
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Stratified Diffusion and Dispersed extended family

Young and willmott argue that their theory of stratified diffusion explains many of the changes in family life. This is when those in the upper class stratification system do today, the lower class will do tomorrow. The home-centred nuclear family originally started in the middle class, and eventually filtered down to the rest of society.

Willmott claims that the dispersed extended family is becoming dominant in britain. It consists of two or more related families who cooperate with each other though they live some distance apart. Telephones, public transport, cars allows them to keep in touch.

Brannen argues that contemporary family structure resembles a beanpole, as there are strong intergrational links between parents and children across two, three or four generations, but intragenerational links tend to be weaker.

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Family Diversity

Leach calls the image of the happily married couple - a male, a female and two children - The "cereal packet family". this image remains prominent in advertising.

Households in Britain

  • There has been a steady decline in the proportion of british households consisting of married couples with dependent children, from 35% in 1971 to 22% in 2005.
  • There has been a corresponding increase in single person households, which rose from 18 to 29% in the same period.
  • The proportion of single parent households with children rose from 3% to 7% in 2005.
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Family Diversity

Rapoports identify five types of family diversity in Britain:

  • Organisational Diversity - increasing number of reconstituted families (formed after divorce or marriage)
  • Cultural Diversity - difference in ethnic origins and religious beliefs
  • Class Diversity - differences in families in middle class and working class
  • Life-cycle diversity - newly married couples with no children have a different family type to married couples with children
  • Cohort Diversity - refers to the periods at which the family has passed through the life cycle, e.g. Families who went through, unemployment period have a different life to families now.

Allan & Crow see the trends towards diversity as being cause by:

  • a rising divorce rate
  • a rise in lone parent families
  • acceptance in pregnancies before marriage
  • acceptance of cohabitation before marriage
  • declining marriage rates
  • a growth in step families
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Family Diversity

Gay and Lesbian families

  • have become more common since late 1980's.
  • Weeks et al argue that gay and lesbians look on their households and even their freidnship networks as chosen families. they choose who to include in their families and negotiate their families.

New reproductive technologies

  • new reproductive technologies such as surrogate mothers and ivf have meant that there is no biological restrictions to having children, therefore enlarging family diversity and making it possible for gay and lesbian, sinle women to have children without the need for a male.

Single Parent Families

  • these have become increasingly popular in britain.
  • The figures must be interpreted with caution as they are only a snapshot and may not represent the dynamic nature of many families .
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The causes of single parent hood

people who are married can become single parents by divorce, seperation or the death of a spouse. The rise in lone mother/father hood is closely linked to two factors: the divorce rate and the increase of births outside of marriage.

  • Allan & Crow - argue that both these trends reflect an increased acceptance of diversity
  • Brown - suggests that in previous eras shotgun weddings (couples getting married to legitamize pregnancy) were common. now parents may choose to cohabit rather than marry.
  • Park - used data from the BSAS to show that younger age groups are more accepting of births outside of marriage than older age groups.
  • Rapoport and Rapoport - argue that the single parent family is an important emerging form of the family, which is becoming more accepted to as a form of family
  • Murray - believes that over-generous welfare payments allow and even encourage unmarried women to become single parents. however there is little evidence to support the claim that single mothers want to adopt this rather than have a dual relationship.
  • Burghes & Brown - did a small case study, all of the lone mothers in the sample aspired to forming a two-parent household.
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The consequence of single parenthood 1

Charles Murray a new right sociologist - has gone as far as to claim that single parenthood has contributed to the creation of an antisocial underclass. In some classes murray suggests young women choose to get pregnant, fathers remain unemployed and refuse to support their child and the children grow up to be involved in crime.

McIntosh - claims that lone mothers have been stigmatized and blamed for problems such as youth crime and unemployment.

Single parenthood is assciated with low living standards. The general house survey, found that 41% of single parent households had an income of £200 per week or less, compared to 11% of cohabititng couples with children.

McLanahan & Booth review the findings of american studies, which seem to indicate that children are harmed by single parenthood, that they are more likely to experience poverty, become deliquent or engage in drug abuse. However these generally tend to come from low incom efamily rather than the absense of a single parent.

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The consequence of single parenthood 2

Cashmore - argues that it is often preferable for a child to live with one caring parent than with one caring and one non-caring parent. Singlehood can also give women greater independence than they have in other family structures.

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Ethnicity and Family Diversity 1

  • Black african and black caribbean families have much higher rates of single parenthood than any other groups
  • Rates among indian families are very low, with white and pakistani have rates near the average
  • Asian families are more likely to have extended kin in the household that the families of other ethnic groups
  • One-person households are most common among black ethnic groups and leasy common among pakistani/bangladeshi households.

South asian families

  • Ballard - has examined south asian families in britain:
    • many children had the experience of two cultures. they behaved in ways that conform to the culture of wider society for part of the time but at home conformed to their ethnic subculture
    • Although children expeted to have some say in their marriage partner, they did not reject the principle of an arranged marriage
    • Despite the distance involved, most families retained tight links with their villge of origin in Asia
    • In Britain, close family ties remained, by living cloesly together, people were able to remain close strong family links.
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Ethnicity and Family Diversity 2

African caribbean families in britain

  • Barrow - found that mother centered families could rely less on the support of female kin than they could in the west indies. however equivilent networks would build up in areas with high concentrations of west indies.
  • Reynolds - emphazies the diversity of African - Caribbean families and the importance of visiting relationships, where a female head of household has a male partner but they could not cohabit

The evidence from different ethnic communities suggests that immigrants and their descendants have adapted to fit british circumstances but still retain some distinctive features in their patterns of family life.

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The British Neo-conventional Family

In a strong attack on the idea that fundamental changes are taking place in british family life, Chester, argues that the changes have only been minor:

  • nearly half the population still live in nuclear family households
  • the vast majority of people still experience parent-child household at some point
  • Chester accepts that many families are no longer conventional in the sense that the husband is the main breadwinner. he sees this type of family as "neo-conventional" this is only slightly different from the conventional as increasing number of wives go to work for part of their married life.

Since chester there has been a slow drift away from the nuclear families in britain.

  • Rapoport & Rapoport argued this is because the degree of family diversity indicates increasing acceptance of alternative households and families.
  • HOWEVER, Sommerville believes that most people still aspire to conventional family life.
  • Dench et al researched in bethnal green found a new individualism promoted by family diversity.
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Changing Functions of the family 1

Many sociologists argue that the family has lost a number of its functions in modern industrial society. Institutions such as businesses, schools and welfare organisations now specialise in functions previously performed in the family.

(Func) Parsons - maintains that the family still has a vital role in preparing its members to meet the requirements of the social system.

(Func) Fletcher - disputes the claim that some of the familys functions have been lost. He argues that the family has retained its functions and that these have increased in importance. The family is no longer a unit of production but the modern home-centred family is a vital economic unit of consumption, for things such as washing machines.

Feminist views

  • feminists disagree that the family has lost its economic function.They argue that much of the work that takes place in the family is not recognised as much because it is unpaid and usually done by women.
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Changing functions of the family 2

Postmodernist view

  • these sociologists reject the view that there is any single type of family that always perform certain functions. With increasing diversity, some individual families and some types of family may be radical forces for society for example gay and lesbian families.
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Conjugal roles 1

A major characteristic of the symmetrical family which willmott and young claimed was developing in 1970's was the sharing of domestic work and leisure activities between spouses. Relationships of this type are now known as joint conjugal roles rather that segregated conjugal roles.

inequality within marriage

  • there is no generally accepted way of measuring inequality between husbands and wives. Different researchers have measured it in different ways. However most find little evidence that inequality in marriage has been significantly reduced.
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Conjugal Roles, Housework and Childcare

Oakley - argues that willmott and young's claim of increasing symmetry is based on inadequate methodology. Their conclusions were based on only one interview question, which was worded in a way that could exaggerate the amount of housework done by men.

The British social attitudes survey found more sharing of child-rearing than household takss, although there was some movement towards a more egalitarian division of labour over time

Ferri & Smith used survey data to focus on childcare. In almost every kind of household, the woman usually took the main responsibility for the chilldcare

Willmott & Young found that the differences between men's and women's total work time inside and outside the home were not great

Gershunny found that the husbands of working women continued to do less than half the total paid and unpaid work done by their spouse. however although the "Dual Burden" of paid and domestic work remained for women, men seemed to make more of an effort to do housework when their wife was in paid employment.

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Conjugal roles and Power 1

A study by Hardill et al found that although males dominated decision making in most households, this was not the case in significant minority of families were relationships were more equal.

Pahl studied how couples manage their money. Just over a quarter of the couples in her study had a system of money mamagment in which their was a fair degree of equality. however in about 60% of families the husband had more control over the wife. Wife control was more dominant in poorer families where managing the money was a burden not a choice.

Vogler's research largely confirms Pahl's research. she found an increase in the proportion of relationships with egalitarian financial arrangments but this proportion remained small.

Emotion work

Duncombe & Marsden - most men do not achknowledge the emotional work needed to be done to make the relationship work. many women are disatissfied. women can end up doing a "triple shift". paid employment, housework and emotional work.

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Inequality within marriage conclusion

A study of Lesbian households by Dunne suggests that an equitable domestic division of labour can be achieved. However it is hard to achieve in a culture that still differentiates so clearly between masculinity and femininity.

Overall, the evidence indicated that women are still some way achieveing equality within marriage.

Husbands of wives with full time jobs seem to be taking over some of the burden of housework, and childcare, (the new man) but in other respects men still have power over women.

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Childhood - Life Cycle/Course

Pitcher defines the life course as a socially defined timetable of behaviours deemed as appropriate for particular stages within any one society. This implies thta the expected behaviour changes between societies, over time and between different groups in society e.g. Attitudes towards childhood has changed over time.

Form this viewpoint chronological age does not determine the nature of age groupings in society (childhood, youth, old age ect) which are largely a social construct.

Postmodernists such as Ferne & Hepworth believe that even the life course has been deconstructed so there are no clear distictions between behaviour expected at different stages of life e.g. children are less segregated rrom adult life that they were. Personal age is more important than how old you feel or the stage of life chourse reached.

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Childhood across different cultures

Chioldhood is often seen as a natural stage of life shaped by biological age. If this was true then childhood would be very similar throughout the world and throughout history. But this is not the case. In the world children live very different lives to those in western society. For example:

  • Wyness said that in mexico, until recently,most children did paid work.
  • According to Amnesty International there are child soldiers in more than 30 countries.
  • In Samoa children are expected to perform ganderous and physically demanding tasks.
  • Amongst the Tikopia in the western pacific children are not expected to be obedient.
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The Historical Development of Childhood 1

The idea of childhood as we know it today is relitively new. Many sociologists see childhood as a social construct - a role which is socially defined and specific to particular societies at particular times.

Phillip Aries believes that the whole idea of childhood is modern and that childhood did not exist in medieval times, they treated them as little adults:

  • people didnt bother to write their chronological age.
  • there were few specialists toys, games or clothes for children
  • Children were not seen as innocent and kept away from the adult world.
  • There was limitied mourning of a childs death, no pictures ect were kept
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The Historical Development of Childhood 2

After the sixthteenth century modern conceptions of childhood developed in which:

  • specialist toys, games and clothes were developed
  • children who died, where mourned and had portraits kept.
  • schooling kept the children away from the adult worl and the children came to be seen as innocent
  • Families became much more "child centered" with children coming to be seen as much more special

Aries gives the following reasons for this:

  • The introduction of education kept children seperate from adults and extended the transmission to adulthood
  • The Infant Mortality rate fell. As most children survived and parents had fewer children, they were more committed to the children they had.
  • By the twentieth century specialist sciences like psychology and pediatrics emphasised the need for parents to car and nurture children.
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The Historical Development of Childhood 3

Shorter puts forward other reasons for modern ideas of childhood developing:

  • The idea of Romantic Love developed, which made children seem important, as the product of a special relationship
  • Philosophers such as Rousseau emphasised that children were born good and need careful nurturing.
  • The idea of motherhood involving sacrifice for the benefit of children emerged.

Other factors are also suggested as having influenced modern ideas of childhood.

Postman argues that childhood is deconstructed and the invention of the printing press is important because it meant that children had to spend many years learning to read before becoming adults

Pilcher sees the 19th century factory legislation banning children from factories and mines as crucial

Jenks puts more emphasis on changing attitudes, arguing the apollpnian image of the child as a special individual in need of careful treatment has changed the position of the child.

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Childhood in Late Modernity

Postman puts forward a postmodern view of childhood. He argues that the distinction between childhood and adulthood is breaking down in postmodernity, leading to the disappearance of childhood. The development of the mass media exposes children to the adult world including images of sex and violence

Jenks disagrees that childhood is disappearing. There is concern about loss of innocence, antisocial behaviour by children and exposure to adult knowledge, but children are still very restricted and regulated for example they have to attend school.However he does think adult-child relationships are changing in late modernity. Parents place even more emphasis on relationships with children than they do on relationships with partners. Parent-child relationships are the last primary relationships because rising divorce rates make marriages less permeanant.

Jenks argues that all theories of childhood tend to generalize about changes in childhood and fail to take account of variations according to class, gender, ethnicity.

Prout agrees with jenks but points out that jenks himself tends to generalise. Prout emphasizes the massive differences in the experience of childhood betwen wealthier and poorer countries for example the lack of education and the requirement to work from a young age in some poorer countries.

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Marriage and Marital Breakdown 1

Alternatives to marriage

  • The rate of first marriages in england and wales fell from 82.3 per thousand in 1981 to just 24.7 in 2004. From this point of view it is argued that marriage has become less popular. There may be a number of reasons:
    • The greater priority women give to their careers
    • The impact of feminism, which may have made marriage seem less attractive
    • Individualisation (Beck and Beck-Gersheim) people feel they can choose whether to get married rather than feeling they have to get married.
    • Giddens and confluent love - people will only wish to marry if they can find a partner who provides them with full personal fullfillment.
    • Cohabitation is seen as a long term alternative to marriage
  • however some see the decline as delaying marriage rather than writing it off completely
  • The average age of marriage is steadily increasing from around 24 to around 30.
  • Bernardes points out, most people do get married at some point in their lives. Cohabitiation may just be a prelube rather than an alternative.
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Marriage and marital Breakdown 2


This is increasing. By 2004 nearly a quarter of non-married people in britain were cohabiting however there are competeing views on this:

  • Morgan - sees it as part of a trend in which marriage is going out of fashion. Cohabities are much more likely to break up than married couples.
  • Chandler - takes a different view too ^^ she notes that the time couples spend cohabiting is lengthening, and more of them appear to be choosing cohabitiation as a long term alternative to marriage.
  • The British Social Attitudes Survey (Barlow et al) found that the british pop has become increasingly accepting of long term cohabitiation and suggested that marriage would become more of a lifestyle choice rather than a social obligation

Declining Fertility and birth rates:

A further threat to marriage comes from declining fertility and birth rates.

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Marriage and marital Breakdown 3

Single-person household

Many single person households may be formed as a result of divorce or seperation but others may result from a deliberate choice to live alone. Single person households are becoming more common in Britain.

Marital Breakdown

These can be divided into three categories:

  • Divorce - The legal termination of marriage
  • Seperation - which refers to the physical seperation of the spouses
  • so called "empty shell marriages" where the spouse continues to cohabit but their marriage exists only in name.

There has been a steady rise in Divorce rates in modern societies throughtout the 20th century. The rates appear to stabalise in during 1990's, though they are still very high. the proportion of remarriages have also been rising, standing at around 40% in 2005. Reliable figures for seperation and empty shell marriages are not available.

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Explanations of marital breakdown 1

Functionalists such as Parson and Fletcher argue that the rise reflects the increasing value that is now put on marriage. People expect and demand more from marriage, and are more likely to end a relationship which might have been tolerable in the past. The BSAS has found that people still value marriage but they also see divorce as a legitamate alternative.

The isolation of the nuclear family from wider kin places strain on the marital relationships. Leach suggests the nuclear family suffer from an emotional overload which increases the level of conflict between its members. Allan & Crow suggests that greater financial independence for women makes them less willing to accept conflict with thier spouse.

Gibson claims that the development of modernity has put increasing emphasis on individual aspirations. The ideology of the market emphasises Consumer choice: if you are not satisfied with your first partner you are more likely to leave and try an alternative in the hope of greater personal satisfaction.

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Explanations of marital breakdown 2

It is generally agreed that the Stigma attatched to divorce has decreased. Gibson believes that secularisation has weakened the degree to which religious beliefs can bind a couple together and make divorce less likely.

Changing attitudes to divorce has led to changes in the law which have made it easier to obtain a divorce. In Britain before 1857, a private act of parliament was required to obtain a divorce.Since 1857 the costs of obtaining a divorce has gone down and the grounds for divorce widened. by 1996 there was no need to show that either partner was at fault in order to prove the marriage had broken down. Instead they had to only show that the marriage had gone through a period of reflection normally a year. In 2002, new legislations required spouses to pay a fixed proportion of their income towards childcare costs if they didnt have custody of the children. CSA.

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Explanations For Marital Breakdown Conclusion

It is easy to exaggerate the extent to which there has been a retreat from marriage.

The socialist feminists Abbott & Wallace recognize the increasing diversity of family forms but see the alleged decline of the family and marriage as having been exaggerated for political ends by the New Right.

Sommerville believes that despite diversification of family forms and relationships most people still believe in the value of family life and marriage.  

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The Family politics and Social Policy 1

Despite the traditional beliefs that politicians should not interfere with the family, state policies have always had an impact on family life. Taxation, Welfare, Housing, education policies and divorce laws all influence the way in which people organize their domestic life.

Feminists have argued that government policies tend to favour the traditional nuclear family with a male breadwinner.

Allan argues that much state policy is based on an ideology of the 'normal' family. Such policies assume that one family member will put primary emphasis on childcare rather than work, that families will usually take care of the elderly, and that wives economically dependent on thier husbands.

Johnson argues that school hours and holidays make it difficult for single parent to work. There is little help for women to care for elderly relatives. Despite more state provision of nursery schooling, the cost of childcare are not tax deductable for working parents.

Mothers still tend to be given custody of children in divorce cases. showing they believe in the mother playing the expressive role.

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The Family, Politics and Social Policy 2

Fox harding gives some examplesof state policies that favour the traditional family:

  • Few council or other public-funded houses have been built to accomodate groups larger than the conventional nuclear families.
  • Married women can only recieve invalidity pensions if they show that their physical condition prevents them from doing housework - a rule that does not apply to men and single women.
  • Regulations relating to maternity leave and pay reinforce traditional gender roles, despite the introduction of paternity pay in 2001.

However not all policies reinforce traditional gener roles and nuclear family. Fox Harding points out that in 1991 the house of lords ruled that men were no longer exempt from being charged from ****** their wives.

The liberalisation of divorce laws has led more families to break up, while the rights of cohabitees have been extended.

Civil partnerships between gay and lesbian couples have been allowed since 2005. And since 2014 Gay and lesbian couples have been allowed to marry.

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The Family, Politics and Social Policy 3

Almond belives recent changes actually undermine traditional families for example liberal divorce laws and tx discriminations against families with one breadwinner.

The New Right and the Family:

Abbot & Wallace critics of the new right, describe the new right approach of the family in the following way:

  • The new right support liberal economic ploicies, supporting for the free market and cuts in government spending.
  • The new right support Conservative Social Moral values, in favour of the conventional family and against family diversity, they see the conventional family as being in decline and under threat.
  • The new right are critical of any laws or aspects of the welfare state which may allow or encourage alternative to the traditional nuclear family (benefits for lone parent). They object to benefit payments both because of cost to government and they encourage dependency on the state.
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The Family, Politics and Social Policy 4

  • Margaret Thatcher and John Major followed new right thinking. They introduced some policies with the same thinking. for example changing the tax system so cohabiting couples did not get the same tax breaks as married couples. Abbot & Wallace argue however they are largely failed to reassert traditional moral values and some policies such as making divorce easier seemed to go against their tradition.
  • Charles Murray's underclass theory which seeswelfare dependent single parents as an underclass, is an example of a new right perspective.


  • Feminists- see it as ignoring gender inequality and abuse within family
  • Marxists - see it as ignoring the role of families in capitalism
  • Postmodernists - celebrate the move away from traditional families rather than criticising it.
  • A lot of research contradicts underclass theory, suggesting that single parents would like jobs and prefer to live in conventional families.
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New labour and the Family

In general Blair/Brown governments policies have been based around strengthening traditional familes, seeing marriage as the ideal for raising children. A number of measures have been taken to help parents combine paid work with domestic responsibilities, particulalry working class family credits. Policies have encouraged both married and single mothers to work.

New labour recognise that diverse family forms are here to stay. It has also moved away from supporting traditional families and traditional mortality, in allowing gay and lesbian civil partnerships and marriage and banning discrimination on the grounds of sexuality.

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Demography 1

Declining Fertility and Birth Rates

  • Total fertility rate = The number of children born per 100 of the population per woman of childbearing age has fallen to just 1.77 in 2004 from 2 in 1970's.
  • There has been a corrusponding fall in the birth rate (the number of live births per 1000 of the population) from 28.6 in 1900-02 to 12 in 2005.
  • this is partly because women are having children later in life meaning they have less time to have further children. between 1971 and 2004 age of first birth rose from 23.7 to 27.1.
  • Morgan argues that the decline is due to a rise in cohabitation - cohabitees have fewer children rather than married couples. Also she believes that marriage is going out of fashion as part of a general decline in family life.
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Demography 2

  • Geographers such as Waugh see the decline as part of a demographic transition - a period in the development of advanced societies when birth and death rates fall, these result from:
    • improved contraception and greater access to steralisation and abortion
    • increased desire for material goods and the increasing cost of raising a child
    • The empancipation of women and higher levels of labour-force participation. Sue Sharpe suggests that in in the 1970's love, marriage and children were the highest priority for women by the 1990s careers and jobs were more important
    • a decline in the death rate as young children as a result of improvments in medicine and hygiene meaning that there is no need to have extra children on the assumption that some might die.

Decling Death and Fertility rates are part of a social change which does not necessarily reflect a decline in the family. Another important factor could be individualisation (Beck and Beck-gersheim) people increasingly see children as restricting individual choices and reducing personal fulfillment, rather than as a source of fulfillment.

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Demography 3

The mortality or death rate is the number of people dying per million of the population per year. The Standardised mortality rate is used to compare the death rates of different groups.

Death rates in britain have fallen steadily. The death rates for males fell from 25,829 per million in 1901 to 8,477 in 2000. the fall for women was just as steap.

Between 2001 and 2007 the death rate fell for males by a further 15% and for females a further 11%.

Infant Mortality (deaths per 1000 of live births) fell from 151 in 1901 to 4.8 in 2007.

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Demography 4

Biomedical reasons for falling death rate

The biomedical model sees the body as a biological machine which requires proper maintenance and repair when it goes wrong. Jewson argues tha the development of labratory medicine is cruicial. Medical improvments include:

  • The development of immunization against infectious disease such as small pox, plauge, TB, diptheria ect.
  • The discovery of penicillin by Fleming in 1928 helping to fight infectious diseases such as menengitus
  • The continuing development of new surgical techniques to deal with conditions such as coronary heart disease and cancer.

From this point of view Unschuld sees the history of progress in medicine as responsible for falling death rates.

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Demography 4

Sociological resons for falling of death rate

Mckeown argues that most of the fall in death rates was due to improvments in nutrition and hygiene not developments in medicine, The biggest fall in death rates was before medical inventions. This view is supported by studies which show that social factors such as class have a strong influence on death rate.

The Achenson Report found that middle class had a sufficiently lower death rate than the working class, and the gap is still widening. This was due to cultural factors for example poor diet ect but also material factors such as wealth and class inequality.

WILKINSON argues that poverty causes high death rates and death rates fall once income reaches around £5000 per head. Once this level is reached an epidemiological transition takes place and death rates fall rapidly.

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The ageing population and society 1

One consequence of the reduction in death rate is an increased life expectancy. Combined with a declining birth rate this has lead britain to an ageing population. The proportion of the population in older age groups has increased.

By 2005 the avergae age in britain was 38.8 compared to 34.1 in 1971. In 2006 16% of the population was over 65, projected to rise by 22% by 2031. An ever ageing proportion of the population is in retirment.

An ageing population can produce problems for society, with the ageing population sometimes known as the deomgraphic time bomb.

A particular problem facing britain is the large number of baby boom generations, a particularly large cohort born after the second world war. Problems include:

  • increasing cost of pension for employers and the state
  • a declining proportion of the pop of working age, reducing taxes available to pay for elderly
  • An increaed financial burden on health and social services
  • An increased burden on adult children caring for elderly relatives

Feminisits argue this burden tends to fall on women, who may have paid employment themselves.  

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Consequences of an ageing population

Vincent argues that there is an exaggerated fear of the consequences of an ageing population. The problem is not the size of this group but the unequal distribution of wealth, it tends to be working class individuals on low pay who cannot afford their own care an dhave inadequate pensions.

Gannon argues that women are the most adversely affects by old age because the problems of ageism, sexism and poverty produce an accumulated disadvantage which contributes to difficulties in old age.

Blaikie argues that improved health, longevity and affluence means that many people past retirment age can enjoy an active and relatively healthy third age as a time of fulfillment and choices without being an undue burden on society or relatives. Only amongst the most elderly does the fourth age "dependence, decrepitude and death" become a problem.

Hockey and James argue that stereotypes of the elderly in the media and elsewhere means that the elderly tend to be treated like children, making a fulfilling old age difficult.

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