Sociology Family and Households

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  • Created on: 05-04-14 10:52

How can social policies influence family life?

Definition : Actions of the government in relation to the population.

End of Consensus 1979-1997 - Reaction against welfare state from those on the right of the political spectrum. NEW RIGHT : Concerns about growing role of state in family life, growth in spending creating 'dependency culture' e.g. child benefits.

Margret Thatcher 1979 - Increase role of indivdual families by cutting state benefits. Cut child benefit in 1980. MILK SNATCHER - Affecting family when miners were attacked = unemployment = negative impact on family. Created large divisions between rich and poor.

John Major 1990 - Targeted loan parent families - absent parent pay child maintenance, relaunched in Nov 2008 as CMEC.

New Labour 1997+ - Policies supporting lone mothers e.g. paid childcare and enhanced rights for homosexuals e.g. new adoption rights (2005- success - marriage legal).

The Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004 - provides protection so less affect on children within the family as they can suffer long and short term emotional effects.

THE GUARDIAN 5th Dec 2013 - State pension age goes up to 70 - affects family as grandparents can't look after children when parents are working.

Divorce Reform Act 1969 - Leads to family diversity which new right are against.
Compulsory Education - certain hours - impact on extended kin looking after grandchildren.
Welfare Reforms - earn over £44,000 you can no longer get child benefits - could make mothers go back to work.
International - China's one-child policy - couples who comply get extra benefits (free child healthcare). Fine given to those who don't. For a lower population solution.

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Sociologists views of Social Policies

Functionalism :) - society built on consensus, state as acting in the interests of society. Policies helping families peform their functions better taking pressure of the family with education and healthcare. E.g the NHS allows the family to take care of its members with help of doctors ect.

The New Right :( - Have considerable influence of the government. See nuclear family as the core of society and critcise many existing government policies - believing they often weaken family's self-reliance by providing generous welfare benefits. E.g. Council housing for unmarried teens. (Dependency Culture). MURRAY argues these benefits offer 'perverse incentives'.

Marxism :( - Policies affecting families have devoloped due to the needs of capitalism. E.g. 2nd World War women were a reserved army of labour that disappeared when men returned. This prevented women from working and weakened their bargaining power in the family as they are financally dependent on their husband. Also welfare benefits low as poss to get people back into work for capitalists e.g state pensions poor as elderly no longer of use.

Feminism :( - Policies reinforce existing patriarchal roles. E.g. Tax benefit policies assume husbands are main wage earners making it impossible for wives to claim social security benefits. Women should have custody of children as 'natural' carer - affects family as children may lose contact with Father.

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Functionalism - Family losing its functions.

Parsons a​nd Dennis - argue that the functions that were once performed by the family have now been transferred to other more specialised institutions such as the National Health Service (NHS) or the education and welfare systems.

Traditional functions of the family
How they have changed

  • Having and taking care of children was the main reason for marriage, to provide heirs for family property and provide a future workforce.
  • More people have children and sexual relations before, alongside or outside of marriage.
  • Before industrialisation, the family home was the workplace and the family provided all the goods needed for survival.
  • Children usually followed in their parents footsteps because they learnt all the skills they needed for that work, at home.
  • Since early nineteeth century, work moved outside the family home to factories and offices.
  • Families no longer produced goods needed for survival but instead went out to work to earn wages to buy them.
  • Skills required are not learnt in the family but in workplaces or at school / college.
  • Family played a major role in looking after children who were too young to take care of themselves.
  • The modern nuclear family gets more help from a range of state welfare services (e.g child tax credits, social services, pre-school and after-school clubs, playschools and nurseries).
  • Family used to have main responsibility for health and welfare provision for children, the elderly, the disabled, the unemployed and the poor.
  • State has taken over a lot of these responsibilities. The National Health Service, social services and a range of welfare benefits reduce the dependence on extended family for money and support
  • Socialisation and social control of children was performed mainly by the family, and school was not compulsory so many children from working class families were illiterate.
  • Family still has important responsibilities for the socialisation and social development of children. However nurseries and state education help the family with these functions. Media also helps to socialise children. Education is the responsibility of the teachers rather than parents.

Fletcher (1966) and Shorter - deny that the family has lost its functions in contemporary society. They argue that in pre-industrial times, due to poverty, the family were not carrying the functions that they were supposed to, so therefore they cannot lose functions that they were not carrying out in the first place.

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Marxism and the Family

Eli Zaretsky (1976) -  had also adopted a Marxist approach to family life. The family and the home constitute the ‘private sphere' and are perceived as being separate from the economy. The family is thus also expected to act as a 'haven' where the worker can find solace after a harassing day. He argued that the family served the interest of capitalism through the unpaid (domestic work) of women, by the reproduction of labour force and by being an important unit of consumption.

Marxists argue key factor determining shape of all social institutions is the mode of production - type of society. As this changes so does the family.

Family type devoloped with emergence of private property - nuclear family was solution : ENGELS believed property was collectively owned and family didn't excist before and the private ownership of property created the rules of monogamous marriage to create greater control of women's sexuality and assure legit heirs.

Ideological functions performed for capitalism (set of beliefs that serve interest of dominant group).
E.g. socialising children into belief hierarchy and inequality are inevitable. School prepares them for work where they will accept orders from capitalists.

Generates profits for capitalist society - family is an important market for the sale of consumer goods. E.g. Adverts urge families to 'keep up with the Joneses' by buying latest gadgets, media target kids that use 'pester power' and children who lack latest clothes get bullied. (families compete which benefits capitalism).

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Feminsim and the Family

Liberal Feminism :) - Don't believe full gender equality achieved in familt but argue there has been gradual progress. E.g. Some studies suggest men are doing more housework, Sex Discrimination Act 1975 - outlaws this in employment.

Radical Feminsim :( - Argue all societies have been founded on patriarchy (man dominated world). The family is the root of womens oppression, needs to be abolished. Solution - separatism. Argue for political lesbianism.

Marxist Feminism :/ - Womens oppression in the family due to capitalism. 1.They reproduce labour workforce - socialise next generation of workers for capitalists. 2. Women absorb anger that would be directed at capitalism from work (Ansley 1972). 3. Women as a reserve army or labour e.g. WW2.

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Reasons for the changing patterns of marriage and


Statistics : Marriage rates are at their lowest since 1920's. In 2005 there were 170,800 first marriages, less than half the number for 1970.
                 However, there are more re-marriages. In 2005, 4 out of 10 marriages were this.
                 People are marrying later : the average age of first marriage rose by seven years between 1971 and 2005, where it reached 32 years for men and 30 for women.

Changing attitudes - Less pressure to marry and more freedom to choose the type of relationship you want. The norm that everyone ought to get married has greatly weakened.

Secularisation - In 1981, 60% of weddings were conducted with religious ceremonies, but by 2005 this had fallen to 35%.

Declining Stigma - Cohabitation, being single and having kids outside marriage are all now seen as acceptable, so pregnancy doesnt lead to 'shot gun' wedding.

Changes in the position of women - Better educational and career prospects, less economically dependent on men.

Fear of divorce - With the rising divorce rate, some may be put off marriage as they see it most likely leading to divorce.


Changes in the Law -  1969 Divorce Reform Act was the sole ground for divorce. Established by proving unreasonable behaviour, adultery, desertion and seperation.
                                    When equalised grounds between sexes there was a sharp rise in divorce petitions from women 1923 as before in 19th century divorce was difficult to obtain.
                                    Making divorce cheaper.

Declining stigma - Mitchell and Goody 1997 noted rapid decline in stigma of divorce in 1960's. 
                              Divorce now seen as a misfortune instead of shameful as it becomes more socially acceptable.

Secularisation - 2001 census data : 43% of young people with no relgion cohabitating against only 34% of christians.
                         Religious institutions losing their influence.

Rising expectations of marriage - Fletcher 1966 says higher expectations of marriage is a major cause of rising divorce rates. Couples nowadays less willing to tolerate an unhappy marriage and have an ideology of romantic love.

Changes in the position of women - Women more likely to be paid in work - Rose from 47% in 1959 to 70% in 2005.


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Reasons for changing patterns in other families

Cohabitation of the rise - Unmarried couples in a sexual relationship living together. There over two million of these couples in Britain expected to double by 2021.
                                      - This is due to the decline in stigma attached to sex outside marriage as recent figures have shown 18-24 year olds thought 'it was acceptable for a couples to live together without intending to get married'.
                                      - As well as increased career oppurtunities for women suggests they have less financal needs for marriage. However, this type of relationship is just a step away from marriage.

Same-sex relationships - Evidence of increased social acceptance in recent years. Stonewall 2008, the campaign for same-sex rights, estimates about 5-7% of adult population have had a same-sex relationship. 
                                         - This is another family on the rise due to the decline in stigma and secularisation.

One-person households - In 2006, almost 3 in 10 households contained just 1 person : nearly three times the figure in 1961.
                                          - This is due to the increase in divorce and seperation, with most of the time the children living with their mother. As well as the proportion of adults who are single has risen by half since 1971 due to social acceptance of this.
                                          - 'Living alone together' : Research from the British Social Attitudes survey found 1 in 10 aduts are LATs.

Lone Parents increasing - Now make up 24% of all families - 1 in 4 children live in one. 
                                           - This has increased as divorce and seperation has increased and also linked to the stigma decreasing to births outside marriage.

Step Families (Reconstituted) - Account for 10% of all families with dependent children in Britain. Thus a reason causing an increase in the number of lone-parents.

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Family Diversity - Sociologists accepting

Postmodernity and the life course - We have a much greater choice about our personal relationships and this has led to family diversity. The life course focuses on the meanings people give to life events and choices: it focuses on what family members themselves find important and it is suitable for studying families in today's society.

Postmodernists argue we no longer live in a 'modern' world with its predictable structures such as the nuclear family. Society has now entered a new, chaotic postmodern stage. We have families - plural.

Giddens - choice and equality
Family and marriage have been transformed by greater choice and equality in recent decades.
Due to - Contraception allowed intimacy rather than reproduction. (CHOICE to have kids)
              Women have gained independence as result of feminism and status improved through education and work.
              Couples are new free to define their relationships instead of acting out the role by law or tradition.

Beck's Risk Society
We now live in a 'risk society' where tradition has less influence and more choice.
Today contrasts with earlier times when roles were fixed - gone predictibility. E.g. Men as breadwinners while women stayed at home doing housework and childcare.
       In postmodern society there are two key trends: Greater gender equality
                                                                                    Greater individualism'
This had led to the new family - NEGOTIATED FAMILY (entering relationship on equal basis) This is a 'risk' as its less stable, they can leave if not satisfied.

Weeks 2000
Shift in attitudes since 1950s. Sexual morality has become largely matter of personal choice, church and state lost power.
Growing acceptance of sexual and family diversity by the under 35s.
Yet family patterns continue to be fairly traditional - still aspiration for nuclear family.

The Rapoports: 5 types of family diversity
Find family diversity as being important to understand family life today - moved away from traditional.
It means a widespread acceptance of different cultures. Unlike New Right see diversity as responce to peoples different needs and not abnormal.
Organisational diversity, cultural diversity, social class, life-stafe, generational.

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Family Diversity - Against and Other

Functionalism and the New Right are seen as 'modernist' - see modern society fixed and predictable. Best family is nuclear and any other is abnormal.

The New Right
Conservative and anti-feminist perspective on the family.
      Argue decline in traditional nuclear family are the causes of many social problems e.g. higher crime rates and ed failure. 
      Lone-parents are unnatural and harmful to children - mothers can't discipline their children well and are a burden on welfare state (child benefits). Boys do not have adult male role model - threatens social stability : THE TELEGRAPH 2013 : Boys more likely to behave and recieve low grades if from "emotionally distant" parents.
      Womans only role - caring for family first and only priority. Shouldn't work.

Other ideas:

Chester - the neo-conventional family
Contrast to traditional family, this family is a dual-earner where both spouses go out to work.
Apart from this change, Chester doesnt see any other major changes - people aren't choosing to live in alternatives to nuclear for a long time (cycle : single then nuclear) - nuclear still remains what people aspire to.

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How have gender roles changed?

Females - More mothers/wives working : 47% in 1959 to 70% in 2005.
Womens independence - 75% of women do less housework than their mother (who does what? article).
Still doing most housework - BBC article : women spend 18.5 hours a week on chores.

Fathers - 60% of men do more housework than their father. 
Own surveys - Men spend more time on leisure activities and DIY around house.
Entertainment within home (TV ect) made men spend more sparetime at home.

WILLMOTT AND YOUNG'S (1973) Func : Life is symmetrical. See family gradually improving, becoming more equal and demcratic, towards joint conjugal roles and the 'summetrical family'. 
(women now go to work and men help with childcare and housework - 64%)
             In their study : young couples more likely to have this family if they're more geographically and socially isolated. Concludes, as young people have this shows roles gradual improvements towards equality.


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Power and control in relationships

Domestic division of labour - the roles men and women play in relation to housework, childcare and paidwork.

Impact of paid work - the better educated, better paid and younger women did less housework. (generation change).
Commercialisation of housework - online delivery, microwaves, take-away - easier for women.

Women have the 'TRIPLE SHIFT' - Duncombe and Marsden (1993) interviewed 40 white couples married 15 years = women experience 'emotional lonliness'. Women not only expected dual burden on housework and paidwork, but also emotion work. Play expressive role - take **** from men when they come home.

EDGELL'S STUDY on middle class couples 1980 - sample of 38 profes couples 
Women control unimportant decisions e.g. childs clothing, interior design, food buying.
Men control important ones e.g. buying expensive items - cars, house moving. 

Anne Oakley Feminist 1974 - Critisies Willmott and Young : In own research discovered husbands did help in home but not equally. Only 15% had high level of participation in housework and 25% in childcare. Nothing's changed.

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Domestic Violence - physical, mental, financial, s

Radical Feminists - Domestic abuse is an example of patriarchy : All patriarchal society has to preserve power that all men have over women. (Have to remain on top so use violence). Men will not change until women reject them - political lesbianism.

Dobash and Dobash 1979 (time when still legal to **** wife) - looked at police reports and court records (however wouldnt be reported in those days) and argue marriage legtimates violence against women - as men have power over women (their property). 

Richard Wilkinson 1996 Marxist - Stress is major factor of D.V
Working class males more likely due to stress about money - lose manliness - regain on power against wife.
Lack of money also restricts peoples social circles - can't take it out anywhere else.
Bourgeoisie are those exerting power on workers - increasing domestic abuse. 

Functionalists - believe this doesn't happen (ignore it) - ideolise the family.

Statistics : UK WOMENS AID : 1 in 4 women abused in lifetime.
                                               2 women a week are killed by current or former male partner.
HOWEVER, so do 1 in 6 men.
This does not include emotional abuse - often more destructive. 

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History - Aries (1960) middle ages childhood did not exist. 'mini adults' with same legal rights, duties and expectations as adults. Took info from paintings of the time (however, only rich would be able to afford this).

Now - Pilcher 1995 childhood is now a separte state of being - laws regualte what children can do e.g. drink, vote, leave school.

1880 - Introduction of compulsary schooling.

March of Progress View -  De Mause (1974) believes children are in much better position now than previously - social workers, laws against child abuse/labour (Children Act 1989). Further into past you go the worse childhood was.

Conflict View - ^ is a western perspective, there are still child soliders in other countries that do not have the same rights are other children today.  

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Changes and Disappearance of Childhood

Neil Postman 1994 - 'childhood is disappearing at a dazzling speed' 

  • Middle Ages : most people couldn't read. 
  • Childhood became seperate when literacy began to improve in 19th century.
  • Adults were the ones who knew about money, sex ect. (taboo) Could hide from children due to having literacy skills and kids not.
  • TV has blurred this distinction - children have access to taboo easily. e.g. TV in room : cant be sent to bed early to avoid seeing taboo programme. 
  • Internet exposer as well e.g. ****, music videos taboo. 

Sue Palmer 2006 - children experiencing 'toxic childhood'.

  • Rapid technology and cultural changes have damaged childrens physical, emoctional and intellectual devolopment.
  • Alarming symptons of unhappiness in modern childhood - increase in ADHD and self-harm. (The Observer 2009 - up to 12 kids hurt themselves on regular basis : highest in Europe).
  • Is a result of - unhealthy food, lack of play in natural surrondings (parents no trust), poor sleep patterns (technology use), decline in emoctional security.
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Demographic Trends since 1900 - birth and death ra

Reasons for decline in Birth rate:

  • Two factors determine birth rate - proportion of women childbearing age 15-44 and how fertile they are.
  • 1. Changes in position of women - choice of work first, abortion, contraception use.
  • 2. Decline in the infant mortality rate - families no longer need to have lots of kids in case others die (better healthcare and nutrition).
  • 3. Children have become an economic liability - average parent spend £201,000 by time 21.
  • 4. Child centreness - parents have fewer kids and give more attention and resources on these few.  
  • Specifics: Babyboom after war, birth rate increase 1960s : 'free love' hippies, 1970-80s drop due to womens independence.
  • Statistics - UK - birth rate of 28.7 in 2007 it has now dropped to 10.7.

    Reasons for decline in Death rate:

  • N.R.Tranter 1996 - between 1850-1870 decline due to fall in infectious diseases. By 1950s - heart disease replace as main cause of death due to obesity increase - desk jobs, fastfood, cars.
  • Medical Improvements - After 1950s medical knowledge improved death rates - intro of anticiotics, better maternity services (IMR), setting up of National Health Service 1949. Recent medical advances in drugs and surgery.
  • Decline in dangerous jobs e.g. mining.
  • Environmental improvements - better housing, purer drinking water, improved sewage ect.
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Infant mortality decline + Life expectancy increas

Infant mortality

  • Declined due to better health care and standards of living. 
  • In 1900 15% of babies died in their first year.
  • Today a new-born baby has a better chance of reaching its 65th birthday than one born in 1900 did of reaching its 1st.

Life Expectancy

  • Males born in 1900 UK could expect to live until 50, women until 57.
  • Males born in 2004 UK can expect to live until 77 and women until 82.
  • In the past two centries life expectancy has increase by two years per decade due to better health care and nutrition e.g. introduction of widespread immunisation helps old people defeat flus, shingles. 
  • Women generally live longer than men - although narrowing due to them working
  • Working class men in unskilled job 3 times more likely to die before 65 than those in professional jobs due to physical strain, accidents, medical breathing difficulties created, stress.
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Affects size and age of population.

Immigration - WW2 Irish immigrate to UK for economic reasons, safety from natural disasters, refugees fleeing.

Emigration - climate, economic unemployment, political persecution, education, healthcare.

Effects on family structure - bigger families, more ethnically diverse, different atttitudes to marriage (forced), arfo-carribean have more single parents.
In 2004, highest net inflow of people into the UK.

Effects on dependency ratio - More people to provide for - more taxes, more workers, more elderly to care for - strain on NHS. 

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