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Education in America

Key statistics on education in America, and the key features of the American education system including primary, secondary and tertiary education, the national curriculum and the examinations system.

This is part of a new set of posts designed to help students assess how developed countries are in terms of some of the key indicators of development such as economics, inequality, education, health, gender equality, peacefulness and so on…

America is an interesting case study because it is the wealthiest nation on earth in terms of total GDP, and very wealthy in terms of GNI per capita, but these high levels of wealth and income do not translate into social development for all.

This is a summary post at first, to be expanded on later…

America: Key Education Statistics

Core education statistics taken from World Bank data 

  • Pre-primary net enrollment rate – 63.8%
  • Primary enrollment rate – 93.1%
  • Secondary enrollment rate -90.5%
  • Tertiary enrollment rate – 86.7%
  • Out of school children – 1.5 million !
  • Government expenditure on education as percentage of GDP – 5.2%.

Education stats taken from other sources

Pisa Rankings (2015)

  • Science – 24th
  • Maths – 25th
  • Reading – 39th

Key Features of the American Education System 

Kindergarten, Primary, and Secondary Education in America

Schooling is compulsory for all children in the United States, with every child being entitled to a minimum of 12 years publicly funded education. Some states add on an additional year of pre-primary ‘Kindergarten) education, and the school leaving age also varies from state to state: some states allow students to leave school between 14–17 with parental permission, other states require students to stay in school until age 18.

American education

Children attend primary school from the ages of 6-11 where they are taught basic subjects, typically in a diverse, mixed ability class, with one teacher.

Children attend secondary school from the ages of 12-17, which is subdivided into junior high-school and senior high school. Here students are typically taught in different classes for different subjects and are allowed some degree of freedom to choose ‘elective subjects’.

While there is no overarching national curriculum, education in secondary school generally consists of 2–4 years of each of science, Mathematics, English, Social sciences, Physical education; some years of a foreign language and some form of art education, as well as the usual PSHE.

Many high schools provide ‘Honors classes’ for the more academically able during the 11th or 12th grade of high school and/ or offer the International Baccalaureate (IB).

The National (And Hidden) Curriculum

While there isn’t a national curriculum in America, there are some very detailed national common core standards in subject areas such as English and Maths – so why schools aren’t told what books they should actually get students to read, or how to teach maths, the standards dictate that they must spend a certain amount of time teaching these and other subjects…. When I say detailed, they really are – the standards on English stretch to over 60 pages.

In terms of the Hidden Curriculum – 50% of schools require their students to pledge allegiance as part of their daily routine, which I guess is an attempt to enforce a sense of national identity.

If you’re American I imagine this gives you a warm glowing feeling, if you’re not you’re probably fluctuating between an uncomfortable feeling of nausea and wondering WTF this has got to do with ‘liberty’. NB note the doting parents looking on, and that YouTube is full of this sort of thing.  

 

Differential Educational Achievement in America

The education system clearly doesn’t work for everyone equally – around 3 million students between the ages of 16 and 24 drop out of high school each year, a rate of 6.6 percent as of 2012.

Unsurprisingly, there are considerable ethnic differences in educational achievement in America, as this data from 2009 suggests:

ethnicity education America

 

Sources (those not included in links above!)

Wikipedia entry – Education in the United States

An overview of American education

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How I would’ve answered the families and households section of A level sociology paper 2 (AQA, 2017)

Hints and tips on how I would’ve answered the A level sociology exam paper 2, 2017 (families and households section)

2017 Paper two exam questions and answers

Question 04: Outline and explain two ways in which changing gender roles within the family may have affected children’s experience of childhood…

For starters, identify two changes to gender roles – three obvious ones to target include:

  • the fact that both men and women now work
  • The fact that child care and parenting roles have changed
  • the fact that there is greater equality in the domestic division of labour

Then you simply need to link these to aspects of the experience of childhood:

  • Toxic childhood
  • disappearance of childhood
  • basic socialisation
  • age of parents
  • family size (number of siblings)
  • marriage and divorce

You could also criticise the extent to which things have actually changed!

Question 05: Analyse two ways in which migration patterns may have affected family structures…

I covered this in this recent blog post here

Question 06: Applying material from item D, and your own knowledge, evaluate functionalist explanations of the role of the family in society (20)

This really does just appear to be a standard ‘evaluate functionalism’ essay – all you need to do is a basic intro to functionalism, then your four standard points – Murdoch, Parson’s functional fit theory, stabilisation of adult personalities and gender roles, then conclude.

The item (which I won’t reproduce here) is pretty standard – it just wants you to emphasise increasing family diversity and the fact that families may well be dysfunctional, so evaluating from mainly radical feminism, and Postmodernism and the personal life perspective…!

Not a bad half of a paper TBH.

A Level Sociology Families and Households Revision Bundle

Families Revision Bundle CoverIf you like this sort of thing, then you might like my A Level  Sociology Families and Households Revision Bundle which contains the following:

  1. 50 pages of revision notes covering all of the sub-topics within families and households
  2. mind maps in pdf and png format – 9 in total, covering perspectives on the family
  3. short answer exam practice questions and exemplar answers – 3 examples of the 10 mark, ‘outline and explain’ question.
  4.  9 essays/ essay plans spanning all the topics within the families and households topic.

 

 

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Analyse two ways in which migration has affected household structures (10)

This question cam up as part of the families and households option in A level sociology paper 2 (topics in sociology), June 2017.

Item C

In the 1950s, most immigrants into the United Kingdom came from Commonwealth countries such as India and Jamaica. More recently, many immigrants have come from European countries such as Poland. May immigrants are young adults seeking work. 

These migration patterns have affected household structures. 

Applying material from Item C, analyse two ways in which migration patterns have affected household structures in the United Kingdom. 

Answer (hints and tips)

Point one – has to be about the variation in Caribbean and Indian household structures… quite easy I think… Of course you could talk about both separately.

Point two – asks that that you talk about more recent structures, drawing on Polish immigration.

What kind of household structures could you discuss?

  • Number of people in the household – so single person, or multiple occupancy.
  • The relationships between the people in the household – married or not? Friends or families? Ages?
  • Gender roles in those households – domestic division of labour
  • Numbers of adults and children (e.g. single person households)
  • Matrifocal/ Patrifocal household
  • The relationships between people in one household and other households (maybe a useful way to demonstrated analysis)
  • Generational variations…

So a potential answer might look like this:

Point one – focusing on Caribbean and Indian migration

  • Caribbean households – 60% single parent families
  • Link to male unemployment/ racism in society
  • matrifocal households
  • Contrast to Indian households
  • Higher rate marriage/ lower rate divorce
  • But later generations – divorce more likely
  • Discuss Mixed race couples

Point two – focusing on European migration

Almost certainly less you can say about this! But as long as you’ve made the most of the previous point, you could easily get into the top mark band… 

  • Younger age structure
  • More likely to have children and be married
  • Higher proportion of married families with children
  • Probably more shared-households – younger people without children sharing.

Commentary

This is a pretty straightforward question on a sub-topic within demography on how migration has affected family life in the U.K. so absolutely fair enough to ask it as a question.

However, it does concern me that the AQA’s online specification explicitly directs teachers to really dated material, and most of the text books focus on this, while this exam question expects students to know about recent events relating to migration and the family which are neither on their online specification or in any of the major A level text books.

I think the AQA needs to relax it’s focus on that really dated material (the classic question on ‘Functionalism and the Family’ in the same paper is a good example of how students are expected to know in-depth this stuff from the 1950s) if it’s going to demand a more contemporary focus.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with a contemporary focus, just all that dated material that was such a waste of time students learning (like Pahl and Volger FFS), just in case it came up. This is a real problem because it makes sociology lose credibility, undermining the discipline.

Critics might say this problem emerges from the fact that whoever sets the agenda for the AQA families and households syllabus is something of a timeserver who can’t be bothered to update the specification appropriately by cutting down all the dated material. They might cite as evidence for this the fact that the specification hasn’t really changed significantly in 30 years.

Full answer from the AQA 

Below is an example of an abbreviated (by me) marked response to this question, which achieved a top band-mark, 10/10 in fact!

The example is taken from the 2017 Education with Theory and Methods Paper (paper and mark schemes available from the AQA website).

The Question with Item 

10-mark-question-item-sociology

The Mark Scheme (top band only)

10-mark-question-item-mark-top-band-sociology.png

Student Response:

Item C points out that most immigrants come to Britain from commonwealth countries such as Jamaica. Bertod did a study of Caribbean families which found a type of individualism: the norm that people had to right to be free within marriage even if they had a child with the other person. This meant many Caribbean fathers chose not to stay with the mother of their children, leading to an increase in lone parent families.

Thus it follows that the increase in Caribbean immigration has lead to an increase in single parent families which is up from 10% in the 1970s to 23% today.

Item C also says that immigrants come from India. A study by Ballard found that South East Asians have collective, traditional values and tight knit extended families which support traditional family values – women having many children and being in the expressive role, and men in the breadwinner role, with close ties to grandparents.

This should mean an increase in traditional extended families in the UK due to Indian immigration, however the statistics do not confirm this as the divorce rate has increased dramatically since the 1970s. This does not support the idea of increased traditional families as these value marriages.

However, functionalists argue that divorce can be healthy as it there is better quality relationships in surviving marriages and remarriages.

Examiner Commentary:

Mark: 10/10

aqa-sociology-paper-2-commentary.png

KT’s commentary:

  • This is overkill, easily 10/10!
  • Apparently 4 students died instantly of boredom on seeing the question because of reference to yet more sociology from before their parents were born. 

Source:

A-level
SOCIOLOGY
Feedback on the Examinations
Student responses and commentaries: Paper 1 7192/2 Topics in Sociology
Published: Autumn 2017

NB – this document is NOT available on the AQA website, but any teacher should have access to it via eaqa. I’m sharing it here in order to make the exam standards more accessible, and to support the AQA in their equality and meritocratic agendas, because there will be some poor students somewhere whose teachers aren’t organised enough to access this material for them. 

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Experiments in Sociology – Revision Notes

Definitions, key features and the theoretical, practical and ethical strengths and limitations of laboratory and field experiments applied to sociology (and psychology). Also covers key terms related to experiments

Experiments – The Basics: Definitions/ Key Features

  • Experiments aim to measure the effect which one or more independent variables have on a dependent variable.
  • The aim is to isolate and measure as precisely as possible the exact effect independent variables have on dependent variables.
  • Experiments typically aim to test a ‘hypothesis’ – a prediction about how one variable will effect another.
  • There are two main types* of experimental method: The Laboratory experiment, the field experiment and the comparative method.
    • Laboratory Experiments take place in an artificial, controlled environment such as a laboratory.
    • Field Experiments – take place in a real world context such as a school or a hospital.

Advantages of Laboratory Experiments

  • Theoretical – The controlled conditions of laboratory experiments allow researchers to isolate variables: you can precisely measure the exact effect of one thing on another.
  • Theoretical – You can establish cause and effect relationships.
  • Theoretical – You can collect ‘objective’ knowledge – about how facts ‘out there’ affect individuals.
  • Theoretical – Good Reliability because it is easy to replicate the exact same conditions.
  • Theoretical – Good Reliability because of the high level of detachment between the researcher and the respondent.
  • Practical – Easy to attract funding because of the prestige of science.
  • Practical – Take place in one setting so researchers can conduct research like any other day-job – no need to chase respondents.
  • Ethical – Most laboratory experiments seek to gain informed consent, often a requirement to get funding.
  • Ethical – Legality – lab experiments rarely ask participants to do anything illegal.
  • Ethical – Findings benefit society – both Milgram and Zimbardo would claim the shocking findings of their research outweigh the harms done to respondents.

Disadvantages of Laboratory Experiments

  • Theoretical – They are reductionist: human behaviour cannot be explained through simple cause and effect relationships (people are not ‘puppets’).
  • Theoretical – Laboratory experiments lack external validity – the artificial environment is so far removed from real-life that the results tell us very little about how respondents would actually act in real life.
  • Theoretical – The Hawthorne Effect may further reduce validity – respondents may act differently just because they know they are part of an experiment.
  • Theoretical – They are small scale and thus unrepresentative.
  • Practical – It is impractical to observe large scale social processes in a laboratory – you cannot get whole towns, let alone countries of people into the small scale setting of a laboratory.
  • Practical – Time – Small samples mean you will need to conduct consecutive experiments on small groups if you want large samples, which will take time
  • Ethical – Deception and lack of informed consent – it is often necessary to deceive subjects as to the true nature of the experiment so that they do not act differently. Links to the Hawthorne Effect.
  • Ethical – Some specific experiments have resulted in harm to respondents – in the Milgram experiment for example.
  • Ethical – Interpretivists may be uncomfortable with the unequal relationships between researcher and respondent – the researcher takes on the role of the expert, who decides what is worth knowing in advance of the experiment.

Advantages of Field Experiments over Laboratory Experiments

  • Theoretical – They generally have better validity than lab experiments because they take place in real life settings
  • Theoretical – Better external validity – because they take place in normally occurring, real-world social settings.
  • Practical – Larger scale settings – you can do field experiments in schools or workplaces, so you can observe large scale social processes, which isn’t possible with laboratory experiments.
  • Practical – a researcher can ‘set up’ a field experiment and let it run for a year, and then come back later.

The relative disadvantages of Field Experiments

  • Theoretical – It is not possible to control variables as closely as with laboratory experiments – because it’s impossible to observe respondents 100% of the time.
  • Theoretical – Reliability is weaker – because it’s more difficult to replicate the exact context of the research again.
  • Theoretical – The Hawthorne Effect (or Experimental Effect) may reduce the validity of results.
  • Practical Problems – access is likely to be more of a problem with lab experiments. Schools and workplaces might be reluctant to allow researchers in.
  • Ethical Problems – As with lab experiments – it is often possible to not inform people that an experiment is taking place in order for them to act naturally, so the issues of deception and lack of informed consent apply here too, as does the issue of harm.

Experiments – Key Terms Summary

Hypothesis – a theory or explanation made on the basis of limited evidence as a starting point for further investigation. A hypothesis will typically take the form of a testable statement about the effect which one or more independent variables will have on the dependent variable.

Dependent Variable – this is the object of the study in the experiment, the variable which will (possibly) be effected by the independent variables.

Independent variables – The variables which are varied in an experiment – the factors which the experimenter changes in order to measure the effect they have on the dependent variable.

Extraneous variables – Variables which are not of interest to the researcher but which may interfere with the results of an experiment

Experimental group – The group under study in the investigation.

Control group – The group which is similar to the study group who are held constant. Following the experiment the experimental group can be compared to the control group to measure the extent of the impact (if any) of the independent variables.

You should also know about natural experiments/ the comparative method –involves comparing two or more societies or groups which are similar in some respects but varied in others, and looking for correlations.  

Related Posts:

These are the more in-depth posts…

Experiments in sociology – an introduction

Laboratory experiments in sociology

Field experiments in sociology

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Does the Mainstream Media Influence our Voting Behaviour?

The Independent recently reported that only 28% of Sun readers voted the way the paper wanted them to.

 

This is the lead into a brief article about the Sun’s waning influence over it’s readers – as the article points out that the paper ran an anti-Corbyn campaign, which it did, and some of the headlines and articles were shockingly one-sided:

However, I think the 28% figure above is a bit misleading. You only get this when you calculate in the low turnout by Sun readers, the lowest of all the readerships of the major newspapers, with a turnout of only 48%.

Of those who voted, 62%, or nearly 2/3rds of Sun readers voted for either the Tories or UKIP.’

 

The article then goes on to point out that the swing in this election was 16% points away from UKIP, 12% gain for the Tories, and 6% gain for Labour, meaning that above headline is at least somewhat misleading.

A few things to note here

  • While objectively true (only 28% of Sun readers did vote Tory, it’s true!), this is a good  example of how sound bite snap-shot statements of stats do not actually give you an accurate picture of what’s going on. You need to know that 48% didn’t vote, and that of those who did vote, almost 2/3rds of them voted Tory! AND the swing was mainly away from UKIP.
  • This article shows you a good example of how subjective political biases in reporting can distort the objective statistical facts (of course there are problems with those too, more of that here) – Obviously there’s the example of the bias in The Sun itself, but there’s also bias in The Independent’s (sorry, the ‘Independent’) reporting of the bias in The Sun. The ‘Independent’ is a left wing newspaper, as the above snapshot on how its readers vote handily shows us, and so it leads with a story about how The Sun is waning in influence, the kind of thing its readers will want to hear as they’re currently caught up in Tory-turmoil rapture, suggestion this is biased reporting designed to appeal to people’s emotions.
  • Finally, surely the real headline should be just how many Sun voters didn’t show up to vote – this seems to be a case of the working classes dissociating themselves from the formal political process rather than not voting Tory? Or more thrilling is the increase from 0% to 1% of Sun Readers voting Green, an infinite increase…!

Finally, having said all of this, I actually think The Sun today has less influence over its readers, but the evidence here isn’t sufficient to come to such a conclusion.

What the article should have done to prove this more conclusively is to compare the paper’s 2015 election content to it’s readership’s voting behaviour,  and then compared that to the 2017 relationship.

And doing that would require a more complex metholodogy which wouldn’t fit in with the newspaper’s publishing schedule.

 

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Milgram’s Obedience Experiment – Strengths and Limitations

Milgram’s obedience experiment is one of the most useful examples to illustrate the strengths and limitations of laboratory experiments in psychology/ sociology, as well as revealing the punishingly depressing findings that people are remarkably passive in the face of authority…

This post outlines details of the original experiment and two recent, televised repeats by the BBC (2008) and for Darren Brown’s ‘The Heist’ (2014).

The Original Obedience Experiment (1963)

Milgram (1963) was interested in researching how far people would go in obeying an instruction if it involved harming another person. Stanley Milgram was interested in how easily ordinary people could be influenced into committing atrocities for example, Germans in WWII.

The video below is quite long, but you can selectively watch it to get an idea of the procedure (which is outlined below)

Procedure

Volunteers were recruited for a lab experiment investigating “learning” (re: ethics: deception). Participants were 40 males, aged between 20 and 50, whose jobs ranged from unskilled to professional, from the New Haven area. They were paid $4.50 for just turning up.

At the beginning of the experiment they were introduced to another participant, who was actually an associate of the experimenter (Milgram). They drew straws to determine their roles – learner or teacher – although this was fixed and the confederate was always the learner. There was also an “experimenter” dressed in a grey lab coat, played by an actor.

Two rooms in the Yale Interaction Laboratory were used – one for the learner (with an electric chair) and another for the teacher and experimenter with an electric shock generator.

A diagram illustrating the Milgram Experiment

The “learner” was strapped to a chair with electrodes. After he has learned a list of word pairs given him to learn, the “teacher” tests him by naming a word and asking the learner to recall its partner/pair from a list of four possible choices.

The teacher is told to administer an electric shock every time the learner makes a mistake, increasing the level of shock each time. There were 30 switches on the shock generator marked from 15 volts (slight shock) to 450 (danger – severe shock).

The learner gave mainly wrong answers (on purpose) and for each of these the teacher gave him an electric shock. When the teacher refused to administer a shock the experimenter was to give a series of orders / prods to ensure they continued. There were 4 prods and if one was not obeyed then the experimenter read out the next prod, and so on.

  • Prod 1: please continue.
  • Prod 2: the experiment requires you to continue.
  • Prod 3: It is absolutely essential that you continue.
  • Prod 4: you have no other choice but to continue.
A respondent administering a shock for a wrong answer

Results

65% (two-thirds) of participants (i.e. teachers) continued to the highest level of 450 volts. All the participants continued to 300 volts.

Milgram did more than one experiment – he carried out 18 variations of his study. All he did was alter the situation (IV) to see how this affected obedience (DV).

Conclusion

Ordinary people are likely to follow orders given by an authority figure, even to the extent of killing an innocent human being. Obedience to authority is ingrained in us all from the way we are brought up.

People tend to obey orders from other people if they recognize their authority as morally right and / or legally based. This response to legitimate authority is learned in a variety of situations, for example in the family, school and workplace.

Despite the many ethical pitfalls of this experiment, some participants still believed the benefits outweighed the costs – below is the view of one participant…“While I was a subject in 1964, though I believed that I was hurting someone, I was totally unaware of why I was doing so. Few people ever realize when they are acting according to their own beliefs and when they are meekly submitting to authority… To permit myself to be drafted with the understanding that I am submitting to authority’s demand to do something very wrong would make me frightened of myself… I am fully prepared to go to jail if I am not granted Conscientious Objector status. Indeed, it is the only course I could take to be faithful to what I believe. My only hope is that members of my board act equally according to their conscience…”

More recent video repeats of the Milgram experiment:

The BBC did a documentary in 2008 in which 12 people were subjected to what seems to be the same experiment, and a similar results found. Vimeo link here.

‘Sorry, that’s the wrong answer, 450 volts’ (giggle)

Darren Brown also did a more recent re-run of the Milgram obedience experiment in order to test people’s responses to authority as part of his 2014 programme ‘The Heist’ – interestingly in this, one participant says they can’t carry on because they’ve heard of the experiment (even though they seem to have started it), while another who hadn’t heard of it comments that they needed more buttons on the shock machine.

Strengths and Limitations of Milgram’s Obedience Experiment

The above experiment illustrates many of the advantages and disadvantages of using laboratory experiments in psychology and sociology.

Some of the obvious advantages include the fact that it’s got excellent reliability, given the similar results gained on the two repeats, and it’s still a useful tool for waking us up to just how quiescent to authority many of us are, challenging theories such as the flight from deference.

It also illustrates many of the limitations of experiments – it is still extremely artificial, not true to real life because authority manifests itself in vastly different ways (as teachers, police and so on, not scientists), and the Hawthorne Effect is very nicely illustrate in the Darren Browne clip above (seriously has not EVERYONE heard of the Milgram experiment by now?!, or is that just my middle class cultural bias?), and then of course, there’s the ethics – Darren Browne actually comments that it took one of the respondents too long to recover from the experiment, so he doesn’t select her for the next stage of ‘The Heist’.

One of the original respondents showing signs of distress

References

Milgram’s Experiment on Obedience to Authority, which cites Milgram, S. (1974). Obedience to Authority: An Experimental View. New York: Harper and Row. An excellent presentation of Milgram�s work is also found in Brown, R. (1986). Social Forces in Obedience and Rebellion. Social Psychology: The Second Edition. New York: The Free Press.

 

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Surveys on Family Life in the UK

Social Surveys are one of the most common methods for routinely collecting data in sociology and the social sciences more generally. There are lots of examples of where we use social surveys throughout the families and households module in the A level sociology syllabus – so what do they tell us about family life in modern Britain, and what are their strengths and limitations….?

This information should be useful for both families and households and for exploring the strengths and limitations of social surveys for research methods…

Attitudes to marriage surveys

Headline Fact – in 2016, only 37% of the UK population believe people should be married before they have children.

Findings from NatCen’s 2016 British Social Attitudes survey suggests that the British public is reaching a tipping point in its views on marriage.

For the first time since NatCen started asking whether people who want to have children ought to be married, the proportion who disagree (35%) is almost the same as those who agree (37%).

Back in 1989, seven people in ten (70%) felt that people should be married if they want to have children, compared with less two in ten (17%) who disagreed.

It’s actually worth noting how quickly attitudes have changed since the previous survey in 2012, as demonstrated in the info graphic below – in 2016 it’s now down to 37%

Percentage of the UK population who agree that parents should be married before they have children

What are the strengths of this survey (focussing on this one question)?

  • I’m tempted to say the validity is probably quite good, as this isn’t a particularly sensitive topic, and the focus of the question is the ‘generalised other’, so there should be no social desirability.
  • It’s very useful for making comparisons over time – given that the same question has been asked in pretty much the same way for quite a few years now…
  • Representativeness seems to be OK – NatCen sampled a range of ages, and people with different political views, so we can compare all that too – no surprises here btw – the old and the conservatives are more likely to be in favour of marriage.

What are the limitations of this survey?

  • As with all surveys, there’s no indication of why belief in marriage is in decline, no depth or insight.
  • The question above is so generalised, it might give us a false impression of how liberal people are. I wonder how much the results would change if you made the questions more personal – would you rather your own son/ daughter should be married before they had children? Or just different – ‘all other things being equal, it’s better for children to be brought up by married parents, rather than by non-married-parents’ – and then likehert scale it. Of course that question itself is maybe just a little leading….

Housework Surveys 

Headline ‘fact’ – women still do 60% more housework than men (based on ONS data from 2014-15)

housework UK

Women carry out an overall average of 60% more unpaid work than men, ONS analysis has shown.

Women put in more than double the proportion of unpaid work when it comes to cooking, childcare and housework and on average men do 16 hours a week of such unpaid work compared to the 26 hours of unpaid work done by women a week.

The only area where men put in more unpaid work hours than women is in the provision of transport – this includes driving themselves and others around, as well as commuting to work.

This data is derived from the The UK Time Diary Study (2014-15) – which used a combination of time-use surveys and interviews to collect data from around 9000 people in 4000 households.

It’s worth noting that even though the respondents were merely filling in a few pages worth of diary, this document contains over 200 pages of technical details, mainly advice on how researchers are supposed to code responses.

What are the strengths of this survey?

  • The usual ease of comparison. You can clearly see the differences in hours between men and women – NB the survey also shows differences by age and social class, but I haven’t included that here (to keep things brief).
  • It’s a relatively simply topic, so there’s unlikely to be any validity errors due to interpretation on the part of people completing the surveys: it’s obvious what ‘washing clothes’ means for example.
  • This seems to suggest the continued relevance of Feminism to helping us understand and combat gender inequality in the private sphere.

What are the limitations of this data? 

  • click on the above link and you’ll find that there is only a 50% response rate…. which makes the representativeness of this data questionable. If we take into account social desirability, then surely those couples with more equal housework patterns will more likely to return then, and also the busier the couple, the less likely they are to do the surveys. NO, really not convinced about the representativeness here!
  • this research tells us nothing about why these inequalities exist – to what extent is this situation freely chosen, and to what extent is it down to an ‘oppressive socialisation into traditional gender norms’ or just straightforward coercion?
  • given all of the coding involved, I’m not even convinced that this is really that practically advantageous…. overall this research seems to have taken quite a long time, which is a problem given the first criticism above!

Surveys on Children’s Media Usage

Headline Fact: 5 – 15 year olds spend an average of 38 hours a week either watching TV, online or gaming.

It’s also worth noting that for the first time, in 2016, children aged 5-15 say they spend more time online than they do watching television on a TV set.

This is based on research conducted In April/ May/ June 2016, in which 1,375 in-home interviews with parents and children aged 5-15 were conducted, along with 684 interviews with parents of children aged 3-4. (OFCOM: Children and Parents: Media Use and Attitude Report)

Strengths of this Survey

  • It makes comparisons over time easy, as the same questions are asked over a number of different years.
  • Other than that, I think there are more problems!

Limitations of this Survey

  • There are no details of how the sample was achieved in the methodology – so I can’t comment on the representativeness.
  • These are just estimations from the children and parents – this data may have been misrepresented. Children especially might exaggerate their media usage when alone, but downplay it if a parent is present.
  • I’m especially suspicious of the data for the 3-7 year olds, given that this comes from the parent, not the child… there’s a strong likelihood of social desirability leading to under-reporting… good parents don’t let their kids spend too much time online after all!

Further examples of surveys on the family

If you like this sort of thing, you might also want to explore these surveys…

The Working Families Parenting Survey – which basically shows that most parents are too busy working to spend as much time with their kids as they want….

The University of Manchester’s Online Parenting Survey (which takes 20-30 minutes)

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Why Do Voting Opinion Polls Get it Wrong So Often?

Surveys which ask how people intend to vote in major elections seem to get it wrong more often than not, but why is this?

Taking the averages of all nine first and then final polls for the UK general election 2017, the predictions for the Conservatives show them down from 46% to 44%; and Labour up from 26% to 36%.

voting intention 2017 general election

The actual vote share following the result of the general election shows the Conservatives at 42% and Labour at 40% share of the vote.

2017 election result share of vote UK

Writing in The Guardian, David Lipsey notes that ‘The polls’ results in British general elections recently have not been impressive. They were rightish (in the sense of picking the right winner) in 1997, 2001, 2005 and 2010. They were catastrophically wrong in 1992 and 2015. As they would pick the right winner by chance one time in two, an actual success rate of 67%, against success by pin of 50%, is not impressive.’

So why do the pollsters get it wrong so often?

Firstly, there is a plus or minus 2 or 3% statistical margin of error in a poll – so if a poll shows the Tories on 40% and Labour on 34%, this could mean that the real situation is Tory 43%, Labour 31% – a 12 point lead. Or it could mean both Tory and Labour are on 37%, neck and neck.

This is demonstrated by these handy diagrams from YouGov’s polling data on voting intentions during the run up to the 2017 UK general election…

Voting Intention 2017 Election 

Statistics Margin Error.png

Seat estimates 2017 General Election

Seat Estimates

Based on the above, taking into account margin for error, it is impossible to predict who would have won a higher proportion of the votes and more seats out of Labour and the Tories.

Secondly, the pollsters have no way of knowing whether they are interviewing a representative sample.

When approached by a pollster most voters refuse to answer and the pollster has very little idea whether these non-respondents are or are not differently inclined from those who do respond. In the trade, this is referred to as polling’s “dirty little secret”.

Thirdly, the link between demographic data and voting patterns is less clear today – it used to be possible to triangulate polling data with demographic data from previous election results, but voter de-alignment now means that such data is now less reliable as a source of triangulating the opinion polls survey data, meaning pollsters are more in the dark than ever.

Fourthly, a whole load of other factors affected people’s actual voting behaviour in this 2017 election and maybe the polls  failed to capture this?

David Cowley from the BBC notes that…. ‘it seems that whether people voted Leave or Remain in 2016’s European referendum played a significant part in whether they voted Conservative or Labour this time…. Did the 2017 campaign polls factor this sufficiently into the modelling of their data? If younger voters came out in bigger numbers, were the polls equipped to capture this, when all experience for many years has shown this age group recording the lowest turnout?’

So it would seem that voting-intention surveys have always had limited validity, and that, if anything, this validity problem is getting worse…. after years of over-estimating the number of Labour votes, they’ve now swung right back the other way to underestimating the popularity of Labour.

Having said that these polls are not entirely useless, they did still manage to predict that the Tories would win more votes and seats than Labour, but they just got the difference between them oh so very wrong.

The problem of obtaining representative samples (these days)

According to The Week (July 2017) – the main problem with polling these days is that finding representative samples is getting harder… When Gallup was polling, the response rate was 90%, in 2015, ICM had to call up 30 000 numbers just to get 2000 responses. And those who do respond are often too politically engaged to be representative.

 

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Why Did Labour Gain Seats in the 2017 General Election?

In the recent June 2017 General Election, Labour won more votes than it did in 2001, 2005, 2010 or 2015, proving almost all the forecasts and commentators wrong.According to this Guardian article there are three main reasons for this…

It motivated young people to get out and vote.

A lot’s been made of the historically high turnout by 18-24 year olds…. It looks like in key constituencies – from Harrow West to Canterbury (a seat that has been Conservative since 1918) – the youth vote was vital. Labour showed it cared about young people by promising to scrap tuition fees, an essential move to stop the marketisation of higher education, and it proposed a house-building programme that would mean many more could get on the property ladder.

This is in stark contrast to the two other major parties – the Lib Dems in 2010 under Nick Clegg lied to them, and the Conservatives have attacked them – cutting housing benefits for 18- to 21-year-olds, excluding under-25s from the minimum wage rise and slashing the education maintenance allowance. At this election, Theresa May offered nothing to young people in her manifesto. Their message was: put up with your lot. Under the Tories, young people have been taken for granted and sneered at as too lazy to vote.

The NUS reported a 72% turnout by young people, and there is a definite thread in the media attributing the swing towards Labour as down to this.

However, this is contested by Jack Sommors in this article who suggests that it was middle-aged people who swung the election result away from the Tories.

‘Lord Ashcroft’s final poll, which interviewed 14,000 people from Wednesday to Friday last week, found people aged 35 to 44 swung to Labour – 50% voted for them while just 30% voted for the Tories. This is compared to 36% of them voting Labour and 26% backing the Tories just two years ago’.

A further two reasons which might explain the swing, let’s say among the younger half of the voting population, rather than just the very youngest are:

Labour offered localised politics, not a marketing approach

Labour rejected the marketing approach to politics in favour of a strong, localised grassroots campaign… this was not simply an election May lost; it was one in which Corbyn’s Labour triumphed. Labour proposed collectivism over individualism and a politics that people could be part of.

Labour offered a genuine alternative to neoliberalism…

Labour offered a positive agenda to an electorate that’s been told its only choice is to swallow the bitter pill of neoliberalism – offering a decisive alternative to Tory austerity in the shape of a manifesto packed with policies directly challenging what has become the economic status quo in the UK. Labour no longer accepted the Tory agenda of cuts (a form of economics long ago abandoned in the US and across Europe): it offered investment in public services, pledged not to raise taxes for 95% of the population, talked about a shift to a more peaceful foreign policy, promised to take our rail, water and energy industries out of shareholders’ hands and rebalance power in the UK.

So how is this relevant to A-level Sociology…?

  • In terms of values…It seems to show a widespread rejection of neoliberal ideas among the youth, and possibly evidence that neoliberal policies really have damaged most people’s young people’s (and working class people’s) life chances, and this result is a rejection of this.
  • In terms of the media… It’s a reminder that the mainstream media doesn’t reflect public opinion accurately- just a thin sliver of the right wing elite. It also suggests that the mainstream media is losing its power to shape public opinion and behavior, given the negative portrayals of Corbyn in the mainstream. .

Value-Freedom and explaining election results…

The above article is written with a clearly left-leaning bias. Students may like to reflect on whether it’s actually possible to explain the dramatic voter swing towards Labour objectively, and how you might go about getting valid and representative data on why people voted like they did, given that there are so many possible variables feeding into the outcome of this election?!

Sources

Young people voted because labour didn’t sneer at them. It’s that simple

General Election 2017: Young turn out ‘remarkable’

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AQA A-Level Sociology Paper 2: Families and Households Section – Exam Advice

Hints and tips for answering the AQA’s Sociology A Level Paper 2: Topics in Sociology (7192/2): families section only.

Families Households Sociology AQA Paper 2

AQA A-Level Sociology: Topics in Sociology Exam: Advice for answer the families and households section 

  • Paper 2 is a 2 hour paper, out of a total of 80 marks.
  • You get a booklet of questions, split into two sections (A and B), you write your answers into a separate answer booklet.
  • You answer one topic from each section (whichever two topics you’ve studied), one topic from section A, one from section B.
  • There are three 3 questions per topic (10/10/20)
  • So across the two topics, you answer a total of 6 questions
  • You have 1.5 minutes per mark.
  • This blog post only refers to section A, families and households option!

AQA Families and Households Specification

  • the relationship of the family to the social structure and social change, with particular reference to the economy and to state policies
  • changing patterns of marriage, cohabitation, separation, divorce, childbearing and the life course, including the sociology of personal life, and the diversity of contemporary family and household structures
  • gender roles, domestic labour and power relationships within the family in contemporary society
  • the nature of childhood, and changes in the status of children in the family and society
  • demographic trends in the United Kingdom since 1900: birth rates, death rates, family size, life expectancy, ageing population, and migration and globalisation.

The 10 Mark ‘outline and explain’ (no item) question 

Modified from the AQA’s advice on 10 mark questions sheet…

  • These ask about two elements from one or more bullet points within the specification topic (e.g. the nature of childhood in relation to demographic trends).
  • It will generally ask about the links or relationships between these two elements.
  • For example: ‘Outline and explain two ways in which the decline in birth rates has affected the position of children in society’ (10 marks)
  • Students don’t need to evaluate. Analysis is specified in the mark scheme for assessment objective 3.
  • Using PEEL (Point, Explanation, Evidence, Link) is useful for developing sufficient analysis.
  • Expressing each of the two ways in at least two separate paragraphs is useful tool.

Two examples of outline and explain families and households questions

Modified from the AQA’s advice on 10 mark questions sheet…

  • Outline and explain two ways in which women’s going into work has affected relationships (10)
  • Outline and explain two ways in which changes to gender roles have affected diversity of family structures (10)

10 Mark Analyse using the item questions 

  • These have an item which is linked to the question. It encourages linking two elements from the same or different bullet points in the specification.
  • The first part of the item contains a number of points about the first of these elements.
  • These points provide possible hooks, designed to be developed into an explanation of the relationships between the two elements.
  • The second part of the item links these points back to the question.

Example of a 10 mark ‘analyse from the item’ question

Read item A then answer the question below

Item B
Many commentators seem to agree that the ageing population is a problem for society – as it leads to an increasing strain on public services, and results in a greater burden being put on the younger generation to care for the elderly.

However, some claim that such problems have been exaggerated, and are based on stereotypical views about the elderly.

Applying material from Item B, analyse two consequences of the ageing population for British society (10 marks)

20 Mark Essay Questions 

  • Allow yourself enough time – 1.5 minutes per mark = 30 minutes.
  • Read the Question and the item, what is it asking you to do?
  • Do a rough plan (5-10 mins) – initially this should be ‘arguments and evidence’ for and ‘against’ the views in the question, and a few thoughts on overall evaluations/ a conclusion. If you are being asked to look at two things, you’ll have to do this twice/
  • your conclusion should bring the two aspects of the essay together.
  • Write the essay (35 mins)– aim to make 3-5 points in total (depending on the essay, either 3 deep points, or 5 (or more) shallower points). Try to make one point at least stem from the item, ideally the first point.
  • evaluations – don’t repeat yourself, and don’t overdo this, but it’s useful t tag this in before a conclusion.
  • Conclusion (allow 2 mins minimum) – an easy way to do this is to refer to the item – do you agree with the view or not, or say which of the points you’ve made is the strongest/ weakest and on balance is the view in the question sensible or not?

General Structure 

  • Introduction
  • Point (relate to question)
  • Explain
  • Expand
  • Criticise
  • (repeat 3-5 times)
  • Overall Evaluations
  • Conclusion (refer to item)

Some possible examples of 20 mark families and households essay questions…

  • Assess the view that the main aim of the of the family is to serve the needs of capitalism (20)
  • Assess the view that the family has become more child-centred (20)
  • Assess the reasons for changes in the birth rate and family size (20)

And repeat for section B!!!