How has Increased Life Expectancy Affected the Experience of Childhood…?

Life expectancy in England and Wales has risen dramatically over the last 100 years, increasing from around 55 in 1920 to 80 today for men and from 60 to 83 today for women. …

This means that children who grew up in the 1920s and 1930s would, on average, not have had the experience of being around many people over the age 60, whereas today, on average, children will experience the company of people aged 60-85 as ‘the norm’.

I am talking here of course just about ‘averages’ – experiences will vary from family to family.

For those parents who have children at a younger age, say in their 20s, their children stand much more chance of experiencing a four generation family, something which would have been almost unheard of in the 1920s.

However, three generation families would still have been common 100 years ago because people typically had babies much earlier, meaning children would still have experienced grandparents, but those grandparents would have been younger, in their 50s rather than in their 70s which would be the case in the typical three generation family today.

I think with the increase in family diversity, the increase in life expectancy would mean different experiences with grandparents for children depending on the type of family… for those parents who have children young then children are far more likely to experience grandparents in good health for their entire childhood and maybe only have to deal with their death as older teenagers, whereas experiencing the death of a grandparent during childhood would have been much more common 100 years ago.

HOWEVER, for those parents who have children later, in their 40s, probably dealing with the death of a grandparent would be more likely.

A possible negative affect of the ageing population on the experience of childhood is that parents who have to care for their ageing parents may not have as much time for their children, especially if end of life care is dragged out for several months or years as can be the case with degenerative diseases which are more common in old age.

The experience of childhood may also have been indirectly affected by wider social changes brought about by the ageing population – as society has refocussed its resources towards caring for the old (some might even say pandering to the old) there are relatively fewer resources left for children, so funding in education suffers as does Higher Education with students now having to pay for it themselves.

So as children get older they may start to feel like society is set up for the old and they get very little back in return – other than facing a life of working for 50 years as young adults in order to pay for the ever increasing ratio of old to young (the ‘dependency ratio’).

We kind of saw this with the Covid-19 pandemic – society was focused on protecting the very old while schools just closed – the children suffered for the sake of the old – the experience of childhood here was one of blocked opportunities and increased fear and uncertainty caused, effectively by the government’s choice to put the over 70s first – had the Pandemic happened in the 1920s when there were hardly any over 60s alive anyway society wouldn’t have had to shut down to protect them, because the risk of dying from covid for the under 60s was significantly lower.

Relevance to A-level sociology

This question cam up in the June 2022 families and households paper two exam.

This is a response I free wrote in around 15 minutes to give students some ideas about how they might have answered it. NB it’s not formatted like an answer to a 10 mark question should be, but there is enough information in here to top band I would have thought – there are certainly TWO ways fleshed out!

Sociological Perspectives on the Cost of Living Crisis in the UK

Inflation in the UK hit 9% in April 2022, mainly due to the rising cost of energy prices and food prices, the main cause of which was supply-line shocks caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine earlier this year, but also because of the longer term disruption to business caused by two years of the Covid-19 pandemic….

At least that’s the ‘official analysis’ of the causes of the cost of living crisis by the government in this recent report: ‘Rising Cost of Living in the UK‘ but while it’s hard to deny the fact that prices of basic goods and services are rising, some sociological perspectives may well go a little deeper than this in their analysis of the causes of this crisis, while others fail to explain its existence altogether…

Globalisation… and the declining relevance of Nation States…

EVEN if we look deeper at the cost of living crisis than official lines of analysis, it is still the case that global events are affecting Britain here.

Britain has very little control over the global forces that are influencing rising prices.

Moreover the British Government seems incapable of doing anything to help people. This of course is because we have a neoliberal government in power who believe in helping people as little as possible, especially the poor but even if we had a more left wing government in power it wouldn’t be able to do very much to soften the blows of the increasing cost of living other than taking on more debt by bailing people out.

This seems to be a case of Nation States being too small to deal with global problems as Anthony Giddens has pointed out in the past.

Marxism applied to the rising cost of living….

As with many ‘applications’ of ‘Marxism’ I’m applying some Marxist concepts here in a broad sense!

Most obviously Marxists would remind us that this cost of living crisis is affecting the poorest MORE than the richest – the top 10% will feel the effects of the crisis much less than the bottom 10%.

And for the bottom 10% of households by income a 10% immediate increase in the cost of living (NB it’s not just energy and food, rents have also gone up) really is a matter of choosing between ‘eating or heating’.

And Marxists would go deeper than this – reminding us that a crisis such as this was only a matter of time because Capitalism is ultimately doomed to failure. Even without the Pandemic and the War in Ukraine this rising cost of living affecting the poor more than the rich would have happened eventually, or Capitalism would have had some other ind of crisis which resulted in recession and more inequality.

In a world of finite resources and increasing population, with more developing countries developing large middle classes (such as India) this simply pushes the prices of everything up – labour, goods, resources, everything is more expensive – eventually the exploitation of the poor that cheap consumer items and food and energy are based on must come to an end.

At some point we have to start thinking about how we live in a post-capitalist world according to Marxists.

‘Micro Perspectives’ applied to the Cost of Living Crisis

This is an interesting article from the Conversation which argues that the government needs to measure poverty depth more accurately in order to effectively tackle the cost of living crisis.

It points out that not all people living in poverty face the same challenges – for example life tends to be harder for people with children rather than single people.

It also points out that government help needs to be more targeted on those that need it most – so far only 1 in 3 pounds of relief money has gone to the poorest 50% of households.

Perspectives which might struggle here..

Functionalism would struggle here, this is just dysfunctional! And clearly people aren’t all in this together!

And PostModernism – there’s nothing hyperreal about this, it’s very REAL, about energy and food prices costing enough and people going cold and hungry.

Although maybe IF people are living in hypereality this could help get them through – maybe the government jus needs to subsidise people’s Netflix subscriptions…?

Relevance to A-Level Sociology

This topic is most likely to be useful in the Theory part of the theory and methods exam – it is a contemporary event that can be used to illustrate understanding of sociological concepts and perspectives.

Decades of Racist Immigration Policy

A recent report produced by the Home Office (by an unnamed historian) has found that the Windrush Scandal was caused by decades of racist immigration policies.

In case you don’t remember it, the Windrush Scandal first came to public attention in 2018 when it came to light that 83 ethnic minority immigrants to the UK had been wrongly deported, with some of them having been living in the UK (legally) for several decades.

A larger, and still unknown number of victims were subjected to Home Office interrogation over their legal immigration status in the UK and had their lives seriously disrupted as a result, some of them losing their jobs.

Previous analysis of the causes of the scandal have pointed to the ‘hostile environment’ towards immigrants which existed under the Home Office when Theresa May was in charge, but the report goes further and suggests a ‘deeper cause’ of decades of institutionalised Racism at the Home Office.

This article in the Guardian outlines the history of some of the racist immigration policies, some of which included quotas for Black and Asian people but not white people (so overt restrictions on the numbers of immigrants from the Caribbean but NOT from the USA or Europe, for example)….

Relevance to A-level Sociology

This update is a useful addition to the migration topic within the family. It shows how government policies influence the type of people that are allowed to move freely between different countries.

It might also help to explain (if you believe the stats) the higher levels of poverty, educational failure, expulsion and crime among Black Caribbean children – the analysis above points out that the experience of black migrants to the UK (and their children) has been very different (for the worse) than that of white people, resulting possibly in blocked opportunities.

This is also of more general application to any question about inequalities in British Society.

Please click here to return to the main ReviseSociology home page!

The Queen’s 70th Jubilee – It feels like the last gasp for Modernity….

I can’t think of any individuals who represent Britishness, continuity and stability better than THE QUEEEN – she’s just always been there throughout my entire life, and through all my Dad’s adult life too.

And, unlike younger members of the royal family, The Queen it seems has never put a foot wrong – she’s just done her queen thing for 70 years – attended thousands of national events, given her speech at Christmas, opened Parliament nearly every year (until recently) – she is very possibly THE ONLY continuous symbol that’s just ‘carried on’ for that length of time.

When she was coronated in 1953 (that date’s from memory I think it’s right), Functionalism was in its heyday, at least American Functionalism exemplified by the work of Talcott Parsons – and and events such as the Jubilee and the way the majority of people come together around The Queen seem to be good examples of a shared collective conscience.

And even the way the Royal Estate seems to be managing the succession – giving Charles more of a central role and making him more visible (he opened Parliament this year) seems very ordered, very MODERN – orderly change within a centralised authority – there really is something very modern about the whole institution of royalty.

And it seems to me that there’s a general feeling that the 70th Jubilee is something good – there’s almost a sense of relief that there’s something positive to celebrate post-covid and amidst the Cost of Living Crisis – I doubt there will be many overt protests this year.

However I also get the feeling there’s a kind of ‘disbelief in relief’ at having The Jubilee to celebrate – it’s obvious the Royal family has faded in ‘glory’, it’s obvious that this will probably be The Queen’s last significant jubilee, there’s almost a tinge of sadness about the whole affair.

It’s as if we’re witnessing a celebration of a bye gone era – it’s like a flashback to Modernity when things were more certain – kind of similar to when you go to an 80s party – you dress up and make believe for an evening – and so here does the Nation for the Jubilee Weekend.

Because in truth the Royal Family is more post-modern than ever – with Meghan and Harry having ‘divorced themselves’ from the institution, and with their very own paedophile-prince (Andrew) showing that they don’t all have the same norms and values.

And once The Queen is gone we are left with Charles and Camilla – it’s just not the same rally-round is it? Much more chalk and cheese!

And when the Jubilee weekend is over, it’s back to postmodern/ late modern reality for us all – the grind, the uncertainty, the increasing cost of living, the fear of the next Pandemic.

This Jubilee celebration is just a pit stop to the past, pleasant to play modernity dress up for a weekend, but that’s all it is.

Related Posts

From Modernity to Post Modernity

Marxism Applied to Topics in A-level Sociology

The easiest way for students to prepare for the Theory and Methods parts of the A-Level Sociology Paper 1 and Paper 3 exams is to revise how Marxism applies to the different topic areas usually taught as part of the specification – typically the Family, Education, Religion and Crime and Deviance.

For an overview of these two papers please see my ‘exams advice page’.

This post is a summary of how Marxism applies to these topic areas.

Research Methods Implications

  • Scientific Marxism – The purpose of research is to find out more about the laws of Capitalism to see when revolution is ripe
  • Requires a Cross National Macro-Approach to social research focusing on economics and how the economy affects society
  • Humanistic Marxism – Research can be more varied, focusing on highlighting social injustices in order to make people more critical of Capitalism (Not value free!)

Marxism applied to the family

  • Capitalism, Private Property and The Family
  • The family as a safe haven

More at the Marxist Perspective on the Family.

Marxism and Education

  • The ideological state apparatus
  • Reproduction/ Legitimation of class inequality
  • Correspondence Principle
  • Cultural Capital

More at the Marxist Perspective on Education.

Dependency Theory

  • Colonialism and Slavery
  • The Modern World System
  • Unfair trade rules
  • TNC exploitation

More at Dependency Theory .

Marxism applied to Crime and Deviance

  • Private Property and Crime
  • The costs of Corporate Crime
  • Selective Law Enforcement
  • Criminogenic Capitalism (‘Dog Eat Dog“ Society)

For more see The Marxist Perspective on Crime and Deviance.

Marxism – more advanced theory

Using what Marxists say about the above topic areas is just one way to approach a theory question on Marxism, another way is to use the work of specific Marxists such as Althusser and Gramsci, and of course Marx himself. These ideas are outlined in this revision post: Marxism A-level Sociology Revision Notes.

For more links to Marxist theory please see my Theory and Methods page for A2 Sociology.

Representing Gender Diversity – The New Netflix Norm…?

Small confession…. I’ve had way too many Netflix binge sessions over the last year, and one thing I’ve noticed is that most of the Netflix shows have a wider range of representations of gender than I’m used to seeing on the BBC.

In fact practically every series features pretty major characters who are gay, bisexual or (more recently) transgender and as a general rule these sexuality-identities are incidental to the plots – that is to say that for the most part characters are just gay (for example) and that’s that, rather than their ‘gayness’ being part of the plot itself.

In other words Netflix seems to be doing a great of job of normalising gender diversity.

I imagine most students are familiar with Netflix and this should offer some accessible evidence to update the topic of the representation of gender in the media.

A few examples…

The Hundred

FINALLY, A T.V. series which features a bisexual woman as the MAIN CHARACTER – she starts off with a boyfriend, he dies, and then she seems to develop a preference for always women as the series progresses – but no big deal, that’s just how it is!

The 3%

Most characters are heterosexual but the ‘Utopia’ in the series is founded by a ‘founding trio’ who are in a three-way relationship, and later on in the series it turns out one of the main characters is a Lesbian, but actually very reticent about sex (not that interested in emotional closeness for various reasons) and there is also one transgender character, B list rather than A-list though.

Ozark

One of the best pieces of T.V. I have ever seen – featuring a bad gay FBI agent and a closet gay Hillbilly – they are not the most savoury of characters, but then again neither are most of the characters in this series which also features possibly the most dysfunctional yet functioning ‘cereal packet nuclear family’ ever.

Star Trek Discovery

The only show I’ve ever seen which features a non-binary character – the show does make a bit of a thing out of this as at one point they explain their sexuality to someone else (not identifying with any gender in particular.

Incidentally the main character ‘ is a woman, but with a traditionally male name – Michael – NEVER questioned which I kind of like. Almost like a subtle challenge to one of the most obvious gender markers.

There are MORE examples…

I kept this to just FOUR examples, but there are many many more – drop your suggestions in the comments.

Or it might be more useful/ difficult to drop new shows which DON’T have a gender diversity theme going on – it seems to be the new norm on Netflix..

For more posts on related topics please see my page on Media Studies

The Mass Shooter Database…

Mass shootings per year in America are increasing, and some recent research from the Violence Project aims to help us understand why this is.

For students of A-level Sociology this is a useful case study relevant to both research methods and crime and deviance.

The project has interviewed hundreds of people convicted of mass shootings and their family members to better understand their life histories (nice link to secondary qualitative data here!) and then fed this information into a database in oder to quantify it and to see what the main characteristics of mass shooters are.

Interestingly the data shows that there is a broad difference between people who do mass shootings in restaurants, bars and retail establishments compared to people who shoot up workplaces, religious institutions or schools and colleges. In the former, the victims tended to be strangers to the shooters, in the later type the shooters were much more likely to have known their victims.

The main characteristics of mass shooters in America….

  • Out of 172 cases only four were women, two of these acted with a man.
  • 50% are white, 50% from other ethnic backgrounds
  • 65% of shooters had a criminal record, 63% had a history of violence
  • The most common ‘motivation’ was a history of psychosis (30% of shooters) where the shooter was loosing their grip on reality.
  • Half the shooters acquired their guns legally.

You can explore the database for yourself at the link below.

These seem to be a very ‘postmodern’ set of findings…

The researchers note that the data reveals that there is ‘no one type of shooter’ – mass shooters in America come from a diverse array of backgrounds and have diverse motives for what they are doing.

Although personally i can see one clear trend from the data which is the huge bias towards to males – as is the case with many other crimes!

And another is the recent shift to grocery store shootings – the first of these wasn’t until 2018, and since then there have been ‘copycat’ cases following it – Shooters tend to take lessons from other shooters who have done the same before!

Controlling Gun Crime…

The project suggests two main solutions to bring down the number of mass shootings…..

  1. Monitoring people with high risk characteristics and restricting gun sales to these people (nice link to Actuarialism here within crime and deviance).
  2. Stopping giving attention to mass shooters – which should help stop the copycat spreading of such hideous acts!

Sources

Functionalism applied to different topic areas in A-level Sociology….

One of the easiest ways to revise for the Paper 3 theory and methods paper (the theory and methods section) is to rely on what different theories say about the topic areas within Sociology, such as the family, education and crime and deviance.

This post is a summary with links of what Functionalists say about the man topic areas…

Functionalism: Main Ideas

(D= Durkheim, P = Parsons)…

  • (D) Society exists externally to the individual as a series of social facts – there is a social structure which exists independently from individuals. This social structure shapes the individual.
  • (D) Individuals need to be constrained.
    (D) Anomie is the fundamental problem of advanced industrial societies. Figuring out how to achieve solidarity based on change and difference is the big question of our times.
  • (P) We should analyse society as a system – look at each bit by looking at the contribution it makes to the whole
  • (P) Socialisation is important – individuals need to be regulated for the benefit of everyone. The integration and regulation of individuals is a good thing.
  • (P) Advanced Industrial society is better than primitive society – one of the main reasons social order is so important is so we don’t go backwards – (ties into the idea of progress

From Functionalist Theory and Methods.

Functionalism: Research Methods Implications

  • See Positivism
  • Macro-Level Research
  • Social Facts
  • Objectivity
  • Official Statistics
  • Correlations
  • Generaliseablity
  • Science

How they understand family life       

  • The four universal functions of the family
  • Functional fit theory
  • Primary socialisation
  • Stabilisation of adult personalities
  • Gender roles

From Functionalism and the Family.

How they understand education       

  • Secondary socialisation
  • Social Solidarity
  • Skills for working
  • Meritocracy
  • Role Allocation

From the Functionalist Perspective on Education.

How they understand crime and deviance   

  • The Inevitability of crime (society of saints)
  • Three positive Functions of Crime (integration, regulation and social changed)
  • Bonds of attachment theory (the more detached an individual, the more likely they are to turn to crime)
  • Subcultural Theory (when whole groups become detached, crime is more likely)

Mainly from the Functionalist Perspective on Crime and Deviance.

Key Studies and Examples you can use to illustrate Functionalism…           

  • Durkheim’s 1897 study of suicide, and the fact that contemporary official statistics today show the same patterns
  • The EU Referendum and the ‘Immigration Crisis’ (illustrate how we haven’t managed to figure out a way of achieving solidarity based on difference, rather than solidarity based on similarity)
  • The Case study of Musharef in Educating Yorkshire shows one school being functional in a similar way to Parson’s view of education
  • The way the Police and the media respond to high profile very serious crimes seems to reinforce social integration and
  • social regulation at a societal level – for example the social responses to September 11th and other terrorist attacks and to the London Riots.

Overall evaluations of Functionalism

  • Merton’s dysfunctionality critique
  • Deterministic
  • Rose Tinted
  • Teleological
  • Ethnocentric/ ideological

Covid-19 and Disadvantage Gaps in England 2022

A recent report published by the Education Policy Institute examined the trend in the education disadvantage gap in England over the last decade.

It found that the gap for ‘disadvantaged’ pupils (pupils who had been eligible for Free School Meals for one out of the last six years) had decreased over the last decade – meaning there is less of a gap (more equality) between the results of disadvantaged and all other pupils…

However, for ‘persistently disadvantaged’ pupils (who had been on FSMs for 80% of their school careers) there had been no closing of the achievement gap.

This means that government policies which have aimed to reduce inequality of educational achievement over the last decade (such as the Pupil Premium) have had mixed success… they seem to have helped those pupils who have been in ‘not too bad’ deprivation, but none nothing for those in persistent poverty.

The impact of Teacher Predicted Grades on educational inequalities…..

The report also notes that teacher predicted grades did not confer advantage of wealthier pupils overall at GCSE level – it seems that teachers were ‘fair’ in their awarding grades based on the social class backgrounds of their pupils.

HOWEVER, at A-level – A-level students were awarded on average a grade higher than previous years (when students actually sat exams) while BTEC grades did not increase from the previous year.

This means that at the 16-19 more affluent students got a relative advantage because they are more likely to do A-levels.

Sources and Relevance to A-level Sociology

This is a useful update for the education policies topic and social class and educational achievement topics.

For links to posts on education please see my Education and A-level sociology page!

You can read the full report here: Covid-19 and Disadvantage Gaps in England 2022.

Sociological Perspectives on the War in Ukraine…

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is having profound negative implications for not only Ukrainians but also the populations of every European country, and Russia itself.

This post explores some of the sociological concepts we might use to better understand the war and its consequences….

Students need to be able to apply contemporary events to their answers in their exams where ever possible, and this event is the most recent and ‘highest consequence’ event since the Pandemic, so it’s worth thinking about how you can make it relevant.

Global Development

This conflict is immediately relevant to the War and Conflict topic. It reminds us that conflicts do not only happen in the developing world and it’s also a grim reminder of the extreme social and economic consequences of war.

The war has disrupted the majority of Ukraine’s businesses meaning it’s economic output is well down, including its wheat production – which has implications for the cost of basic food stuffs in other countries as wheat is one of Ukraine’s major exports.

Also the damage done to infrastructure in Ukraine is going to mean billions of pounds of rebuilding after the war is over, hopefully sooner rather than later!

Crime and Deviance

Under United Nations conventions Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is illegal – one country isn’t supposed to invade another member country of the UN without the agreement of all the other nations, and Russia doesn’t have this consent in this case.

From a ‘human rights perspective’ this invasion is also a disaster – Russia is shelling civilian areas and killing children, and allegedly forcibly deporting prisoners of war back to Russia.

However the international community has been powerless to prevent this invasion, showing us that those Nation States with huge military power still have the capacity to do what they want.

European nations are generally in consensus about the immorality and illegality of the war, but that’s nominal (in name only) – but they aren’t prepared to go to war with Russia preferring ‘softer’ sanctions such as stopping buying Russian oil, but so far that is having limited affect.

The Family

The issue migration is relevant here. Consider the contrast between how the UK welcomed wealthy Russian Oligarchs since the collapse of the Soviet Union, without really asking any questions about how they accumulated their wealth or what links they may have had to an increasingly repressive regime under Putin. In sociological terms these are the ‘global elite’ – countries tend to try to attract these types of immigrant by offering favourable tax policies and turning a blind eye to any shady business and political connections they may have.

Contrast this to the difficulties so many Ukrainian refugees have faced trying to get into Britain despite the fact that there are people who have signed up to let them live in their houses. The Home Office seems to be deliberately delaying the issuing of visas – this is typical, countries tend not to welcome the poor and needy.

Other relevant posts

You might also like to read this post on the relationship between the war and globalisation.

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