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Exploring Inequality in Life Expectancy in the United Kingdom

Get rich or Die Young (BBC, Panorama 2018) explores the causes and consequences of low life expectancy in Teeside, in the North East of the United Kingdom. It focuses on the experiences of three people who are living through three of the main causes of low life expectancy: smoking and poor diet, drug addiction and mental ill health.

The documentary is hosted by the ever-reliable Richard Bilton, who seems to be the BBC’s go-to guy for these social injustice documentaries.

Teeside has the largest life expectancy gap in the country. Those in poorest boroughs of the region have a life expectancy of just 67, the same as Ethiopia. Those living just a couple of miles away in the wealthiest boroughs live until 85, 4 years above the national average.

This means that the life expectancy gap between the poorest and richest boroughs in Teeside is 18 years.

The inequalities are literally written on the gravestones, where in some graveyards, 60 years seems like a ‘good innings’

low life expectancy UK.png

Richard Bilton points out early on that most babies in the U.K are born healthy, but a baby’s health is shaped by what comes next, and a crucial variable which influences health and life expectancy is wealth, or lack of it.

He also suggests more than once that leading an unhealthy life is not simply a matter of individuals making poor choices. Rather, being socialised into poverty restricts the kinds of choices people can make, and in extreme cases results in stress which seems to literally take 10 years off an individual’s life.

The first of the three emotionally charged case studies focuses on a 46-year-old male whose life is nearly over. He has fluid on the lungs, sciatica, and type 2 Diabetes, among other things, and is dependent on breathing apparatus.

get rich die young.png

There’s quite a lot of footage of his 4/5 kids musing about how he hasn’t got much time left…. And I guess that’s the ultimate negative consequence of his dying in his late 40s: a partner left to bring up 4 distraught kids on her own

His Illnesses are down to smoking and poor diet: people are four times more likely to smoke than those from wealthy areas.

The second case study focuses on a gran mother who is bringing up her daughters two children because she seems to be a hopeless crack addict. We see an interview with the drug-addict daughter who just appears to have given up the will to look after her kids. (Possibly because she knows her mother will do it?).

Drug deaths in Stockton have doubled in a decade and nationally they are substantially higher in the more deprived areas.

The grandmother attends a support group for grandparents who look after their grandkids because their children are drug addicts…. And we can see clearly how the stress she’s under is reducing her own life expectancy.

Finally, the documentary visits a middle-aged woman suffering from depression and anxiety who has made multiple (unsuccessful) suicide attempts. Suicides are twice as common in the poorest areas.

One of the problems here is that mental health services have been cut. There’s nowhere for her to go. If it were not for a voluntary support group, she’d probably be another early death statistic.

So how do we tackle low life expectancy? 

This is a very short section towards the end of the documentary which visits a school in a deprived area. The headmistress of the Carmel Education Trust thinks she can turn things around. She doesn’t believe the poor-health life path of those in poverty is fixed.

She believes that therapies help kids to better at school, and if they do better at school, they get better jobs, and that seems to be the key to a healthier life…

NB the documentary doesn’t actually go into any depth about what these ‘therapies’ are. This section is very much tagged on the end of the gawp-fest.

Final critical appraisal of the documentary

What I like about the documentary is that it’s rooted in what you might call micro-statistics. It ‘digs down’ into the sub-regional variations in life expectancy in Teeside. It even distinguishes between life expectancy and health life expectancy.

If You rely on the Office for National Statistics own accessible data on life expectancy, you don’t even see these variations!

However, the documentary spends too much time ‘gawping’ at the poor sick poor people rather than analysing the deeper structural causes of poverty related health problems.

There’s no real mention of the longer term historical downturn in the North East of the U.K. which highlights the high levels of unemployment, for example.

I’m also not entirely convinced by the (too brief) look at the solutions on offer. Therapeutic interventions in schools was offered up as the solution. Relying on the education sector yet again to sort out this social mess of extreme in equality in life expectancy just isn’t practical.

Having said that, if the mission of the documentary was to alter us to the extent of the problem and shock us, I think it did a reasonable job overall.

Possibly most shocking of all is that men in the poorest boroughs have a life expectancy of just 64: the average man doesn’t even make it to retirement age. And this isn’t the only region in the UK where this happens. In the very poorest regions, men work hard, pay their National Insurance, and get nothing back for it. There’s something not quite right about that!

Ultimately, I agree with the message the documentary puts out, even if it gets somewhat lost in the emotionalism of the three case studies: the reasons people die young are complex, but the most common reason is poverty – low income limits your choices. There is also no reason why anyone should be getting a chronic illness and dying in their 40s. All of the likely soon-to-be deaths in the documentary are entirely preventable!

Relevance to A-level sociology

This documentary offers some us some qualitative insights into the causes, but mainly the consequences of low life expectancy in the poorest regions of the United Kingdom and so should be relevant to the ‘ life expectancy and death rates‘ aspect of the families and households module.

It’s also quite a useful reminder of how we need qualitative data to give us the human story behind the statistics.

If you want to find out more about variations in life expectancy in the UK, you might like this interactive map as a starting point.

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Carol Christ’s Feminist Spirituality

Carol P Christ is a feminist theologian and foremother of the Goddess movement. One of her best known works is her 1997 essay ‘[Why Women Need the Goddess]( http://www.iupui.edu/~womrel/Rel433%20Readings/Christ_WhyWomenNeedGoddess.pdf)’ in which she argues that feminine spirituality is rooted in the concept of a supreme Goddess.

Carol P Christ

Carol Christ is critical of any religion which is based on the idea of there being ‘one true God’ or ‘one true interpretation’ of what religious practices people should engage in.

And although the Enlightenment challenged the authority of the church, Carol Christ is also critical of Enlightenment thought.

In the Enlightenment, knowledge was held to be something independent of the individual, and thus objective and true. The Enlightenment also championed the ‘rational man’, someone who was dispassionate and detached from the process of uncovering true knowledge.

However, Carol Christ believes that detached, objective knowledge is not actually possible, as it is always tied up with the values, beliefs and interests of the person who creates that knowledge.

In at least two significant ways, the Enlightenment attitude towards knowledge is similar in that of traditional religious organisations’: they both believe that the source of ‘true knowledge’ is external to the individual and yet within both traditions, knowledge is basically created by men and reflects male values.

An alternative to both is what Carol Christ calls ‘embodied spirituality’ in which

‘we think through the body, we reflect upon the standpoints embedded in our life experiences, histories, judgments and interests…. Embodied thinking enlarges experiences through empathy… Empathy reaches out to others, desiring to understand the world from different points of view.” (1997).

Carol Christ argues that through such knowledge, traditional theology (in which men interpret religion) can be replaced with a new thea-ology, which means ‘reflection on the meaning of the Goddess’.

She believes that if embodied knowledge is the basis of spirituality, then we can overcome dualistic ways of thinking such as rational and irrational and mind and body because The Goddess is found all around, in everything, forming a web of life which integrates all things into a universal whole.

Historical Representations of the Goddess

Symbols and statues of the Goddess have been found in a wide variety of civilizations going back 25000 years.

Mythical stories which pay tribute to an Ancient Mother Goddess whose fertility and abundance give nourishment to a culture date back to prehistoric times.

Goddess Sprituality FeminismOne of the earliest examples, from the Paleothic era, is the ‘Venus of Willendorf. She is fat, showing her abundant life-energy, and representing the nurturing and support which mother-hood offers.

Later examples from the Mesopotamian era are the clay figurines of the Ishtar (circa 2000 BC) in her characteristic breast-offering pose which suggests her function as the Goddess of all nourishment and fertility.

A more recent example is found in the Macha Earth Goddess – a fertility goddess who was worshiped in ancient Ireland by the Picts before the arrival of the Celts and adopted by them. She is associated with war, horses, and independence.

How individuals can find the Goddess

Carol P Christ believes that people need to find their own spiritual paths through personal experience.

Christ had something of a traumatic time discovering the Goddess for herself. As a student of theology, she became increasingly frustrated with traditional interpretations of God as male, with God always being associated with the father, with Kings, and even with war. This all built up to a head one evening when she shouted out

‘I want you to know how much I have suffered because you let yourself be named in man’s image’, after which she heard a female voice in her head that said ‘In God is a woman like yourself. She shares your suffering.’  

Christ’s ideas on the Goddess were further developed by attending a workshop led by a woman called Starhalk who saw the Goddesss as Mother Earth, who was found in nature and in the spirit, emotions, mind and body of everyone.

Her understanding and spiritual awareness developed further in a women’s spirituality group called Rising Moon.

Carol Christ ultimately believes that personal experience has to be the starting point of valid knowledge. She believes that every woman on a spiritual path has a story to tell and their own spiritual journey to go on, but each finds a similar power through the Goddess.

In terms of Feminism, everyone can work together with other Feminists and valid spiritual knowledge can be co-created.

Evaluations of Goddess Religions

While it is hard to doubt the authenticity of Carol P Christ’s views (i.e. it is clear that she really believes what she saying), there are certain problems with this approach.

Firstly, It is difficult to evaluate an approach which rejects empirical research. It is difficult to assess its reliability or validity.

Secondly, it is difficult, if not impossible to make generalisations from personal approaches – for example, it is easy to find examples of religions which are not patriarchal.

Sources/ Find out More

Haralambos and Holborn (eighth edition) Sociology Themes and Perspectives

Faces and shapes of ancient mother goddesses

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Gender and Education: Good Resources

Useful links to quantitative and qualitative research studies, statistics, researchers, and news paper articles relevant to gender and education. These links should be of interest to students studying A-level and degree level sociology, as well as anyone with a general interest in the relationship between gender, gender identity, differential educational achievement and differences in subject choice.

Just a few links to kick-start things for now, to be updated gradually over time…

General ‘main’ statistical sites and sources

The latest GSCE results analysed by gender from the TES

A Level Results from the Joint Council for Qualifications – broken down by gender and region

Stats on A level STEM subjects – stats on the gender balance are at the end (70% of psychology students are female compared to only 10% of computer science students)

General ‘Hub’ Qualitative resources 

The Gender and Education Association – works to eradicate sexism and gender equality within education. Promotes a Feminist pedagogy (theory of learning).

A link to Professor Becky Francis’ research, which focuses mainly on gender differences in educational achievement – at time of writing (November 2017) her main focus seems to be on girls lack of access to science and banding and streaming (the later not necessarily gender focused)

Specific resources for exploring gender and differential educational achievement

Education as a strategy for international development – despite the fact that girls are outperforming boys in the United Kingdom and most other developed countries, globally girls are underachieving compared to boys in most countries. This link takes you to a general post on education and social development, many of the links explore gender inequality in education.

Specific resources for exploring gender and subject choice 

Dolls are for Girls, Lego is for Boys – A Guardian article which summarizes a study by Becky Francis’s on Gender, Toys and Learning, Francis asked the parents of more than 60 three- to five-year-olds what they perceived to be their child’s favourite toy and found that while parental choices for boys were characterised by toys that involved action, construction and machinery, there was a tendency to steer girls towards dolls and perceived “feminine” interests, such as hairdressing.

Girls are Logging Off – A BBC article which briefly alerts our attention to the small number of girls opting to do computer science.

 

 

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Nawal El Saadawi: The Hidden Face of Eve

In The Hidden Face of Eve (1980), Nawal El Saadawi considers the role of religion in perpetuating female oppression in the Arab World. She offers an Egyptian Feminist perspective on the role of religion and thus broadens our understanding away from the typically white female voices of feminism.

El Saadawi.pngEl Saadawi is a women’s rights activist, who has herself experienced oppression within Egypt. She has campaigned vigorously for women’s rights in the Arab world and has been imprisoned for her activism.

She was forced to undergo female circumcision as a young girl, without any warning or explanation and points out that male violence against women within the family is common in many Arab cultures. Young females are frequently the victims of violence at the hands of their fathers, uncles or brothers. In addition, women are also victims of forced prostitution and slavery which provide further evidence of patriarchal dominance of Arab men over Arab women.

However, despite the prevalence of female oppression across the Islamic world, El Saadawi does not believe that female oppression is caused by Islam.

She points out that male female oppression exists in many non-Islamic cultures and is in fact just as common in Christian cultures. A classic example of this is in the 14th century when the Catholic Church declared that women who treated those who were ill, without special training, could be executed as witches.

(Possibly our fixation with the oppression of women in Islamic cultures is a result of a broader anti-Islamic prejudice?)

For El Saadawi, the oppression of women is caused by ‘the patriarchal system which came into being when society had reached a certain stage of development’. It just so happened that Islam developed in those areas of the world which already had extremely patriarchal social structures. Over the centuries, Islamic doctrine was thus shaped by men and reflected their interests, with women’s voices being effectively unheard in this process.

Ultimately, El Saadawi believes that where religion evolves within patriarchal cultures, men distort religion to act in their own interests and to help justify their own privilege and the oppression of women.

The Origins of Oppressive Religion

El Saadawi argues that religion became patriarchal through the misinterpretation of religious beliefs by men.

She uses the Greek myth of Isis and Osiris as an example of this in which the evil Touphoun overpowers the male Osiris. His body is cut into small pieces and dispersed in the sea, and fish eats his sexual organ.

To El Saadawi, this story clearly implies female superiority, but men have interpreted it quite differently. They have emphasised the superiority of Osiris because he was created from the head of the god Zeus, who was greater than Osiris, according to Homer and other writers, because he was more knowledgeable.

However, the above is a narrow interpretation which conveniently leaves out the next link in the ‘creation chain’: all male gods were created by or given the ability to move by the greatest deity of them all, the goddess Isis.

Similar distortions have entered the story of Adam and Eve. Males usually portray Eve as a temptress who created sin in the world. However, if we read the original story as described in the Old Testament, it is easy for us to see clearly that Eve was gifted with knowledge, intelligence and superior mental capacities, whereas Adam was only one of her instruments, utilized by her to increase her knowledge and give shape to her creativity.

Monotheistic Religions and Female Oppression

El Saadawi argues that forms of religion that were oppressive to women developed as monotheistic religions (believing in a single god). Such religions were interpreted in the context of patriarchal societies, primarily by men. For example, male representatives of early Judaism interpreted Abraham as a patriarchal figure which served to justify the patriarchal family in which wives and children came to be under the uncontested power of the father.

Islam similarly developed patriarchal doctrines because it was established in the context of a patriarchal social structure: Authority in Islamic society belonged ultimately to the political ruler (the Khalifa) or the religious leader (the Imam), and then down through a small male minority who had power due to their ownership of herds of horses, camels and sheep, and finally down to the level of the lifeworld via the male head of household.

As a result, the enforcement of many laws in Islamic culture remains highly unequal. For example:

  • Although the Qur’an states that both men and women can be stoned to death for adultery, this fate rarely befalls men.
  • Men are permitted many wives, but women are not permitted many husbands
  • Husbands can divorce their wives instantaneously.

Fighting back against religions which oppress women

El Saadawi concludes that female oppression is not essentially due to religion, but due to the patriarchal system that has long been dominant. She is not hostile to religion, but only to the domination of religion by patriarchal ideology.

‘The great religions of the world uphold similar principles in so far as the submission of women to men is concerned. They also agree in the attribution of masculine characteristics to their God. Islam and Christianity have both constituted important stages inn the evolution of humanity. Nevertheless, where the cause of women was concerned, they added a new load to their already heavy chains. (El Saadawi,1980.)

She believes that the only way for women to free themselves from oppression is to themselves fight for their own liberation.

Thankfully, there is a long tradition of religious radicals doing precisely this, probably the best-known example being Jesus Christ himself who El Saadawi describes as a revolutionary leader who opposed oppression. She also points out that early Christianity tended to have codes which enforced the equal treatment of men and women.

Finally, El Saadawi believes that revolutions are generally beneficial to women and so can thus be regarded as a Marxist Feminist as much as a Radical Feminist.

Sources

Adapted from Haralmabos and Holborn 8th edition 2013

Find out More

El Saadawi (2015) The Hidden Face of Eve: Women in the Arab World (new edition)

 

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Nudge Politics: a sociological analysis

It’s been 10 years since economist Richer Thaler and law professor Cass Sunstein published ‘Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth and Hapiness‘.

Nudge book.jpgThe idea behind ‘Nudge’ was that by exploiting traits of ‘human nature’ such as our tendencies to put of making decisions, or to give into peer pressure, it was possible to ‘nudge’ people into making certain decisions.

10 years on, it seems that government all over the world have applied ‘nudge theory’ to achieve their desired outcome. They have managed to implement some relatively ‘small scale’ social policies and make huge savings at little cost to the public purse.

In the U.K. for example, David Cameron set up the Behavourial Insights Team (or Nudge Unit) which seems to have had some remarkable successes. For example:

  • Reminder letters telling people that most of their neighbours have already paid their taxes have boosted tax receipts. This was designed to appeal to the ‘heard instinct’.
  • The unit boosted tax returns from the top 1% (those owing more than £30K) from 39% to 47%. To do so they changed their punitive letter to one reminding them of the good paying taxes can do.
  • Sending encouraging text messages to pupils resitting GCSEs has boosted exam results. This appeals to the well-recognised fact that people respond better to praise.
  • Sending text messages to jobseekers reminding them of job interviews signed off with ‘good luck’ has reduced the number of missed interviews.

As with so many public-policy initiatives these days, the Behavourial Insights Team is set up as a private venture, and it now makes its money selling its ‘nudge policy’ ideas to government departments around the world.

The Limitations of Nudge Politics 

Methodologically speaking there are a at least three fairly standard problems:

Firstly, the UK’s nudge unit hasn’t been in place long enough to establish whether these are long-term, ’embedded success’.

Secondly, we don’t really know why ‘nudge actions’ work. The data suggests a correlation between small changes in how letters are worded and so on and behaviour, but we don’t really know the ‘why’ of what’s going on.

Thirdly, I’m fairly sure there aren’t that many controlled trials out there which have been done to really verify the success of some of these policies.

Theoretically there are also quite a few problems:

The book and the ‘team’ above both talk in terms of ‘nudging’ people into making the ‘right decisions’… but who decides what is right? This theory ignores questions of power.

It also could be used towards very negative ends… in fact I think we’ve already seen that with the whole Brexit and Trump votes….. I’m sure those campaigns used nudge theory to manipulate people’s voting outcomes. It doesn’t take a massive swing to alter political outcomes today after all!

Finally, I cannot see how you are going to be able to ‘nudge’ people into making drastic changes to save the planet for example: I can’t imagine the government changing the message on its next round of car tax renewal letters to include messages such as: ‘have you ever thought about giving up the car and just walking everywhere instead? If you did so, the planet might stand a chance of surviving!’.

Final thoughts: the age of the ‘nudge’?

I think this book and this type of ‘steering politics’ are very reflective of the age we live in. (The whole theory is kind of like a micro-version of Anthony Giddens’ ‘steering the juggernaut’ theory.) This is policy-set very much favoured to career politicians and bureaucrats who would rather focus on ‘pragmatic politics’. It’s kind of like what realism is to Marxism in criminology theory: not interested in the ‘big questions’.

I just cannot see how this kind of politics is going to help us move towards making the kind of drastic social changes that are probably going to be required to tackle the biggest problems of our times: global warming, militarism, inequality, refugees for example.

Relevance to A-level sociology

The most obvious relevance is to the social policy aspect of the theory and methods specification.

Find out more…

Image sources 

Nudge book cover

This post will also be published to the steem blockchain. 

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Feminist Perspectives on Religion: Karen Armstrong

Feminist Karen Armstrong argued that women were central to many spiritual traditions in early history.

She pointed out that in early history, there were very few effigies of male gods, while symbolic representations of the ‘Great Mother Goddess’ were numerous. In the Middle East, Asia and Europe, for example, archaeologists have uncovered numerous symbols of the Mother Goddess. One common representation is of the mother goddess as a naked pregnant women, which seems to place fertility as central to early spirituality.

Armstrong argues that female figures began to be written out of religion with the acceptance of monotheism. She suggests that this process originated with Yahweh, the god of Abraham, and writes…

‘[this] God of Israel would later become the God of the Christians and the Muslims, who all regard themselves as the spiritual offspring of Adam, the father of all believers’. 

Evaluation

This type of Feminist analysis seems to suggest that it is not necessarily religion itself that is patriarchal. Thus, unlike Marxist perspectives,  we do not need to eradicate religion in order to achieve female liberation. Rather, we, need to ‘get back’ to more female centered spiritual traditions and develop a female-focused spirituality.

 

 

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Mary Daly’s Perspective on Religion

Feminist Mary Daly argued that Christianity was a set of patriarchal myths. She was heavily inspired by Simon de Beavoir.

Mary Daly theorised that women were part of a ‘planetary sexual caste system’ which was patriarchal and exploitative of women. She saw this religious patriarchy as being maintained in a number of ways:

The early Catholic church systematically eliminated religions in which female gods were equal to or more powerful than male gods. It also ‘demoted’ the role of female figures in the historical record: for example, Mary Magdalene, who in reality played a large role in the spread of Christianity, is given less significance than is appropriate, according to Daly.

Churches have also tended to support a type of sex role segregation in society in which women are given a ‘derivative status’. This means that women derive their status not from their own contribution to society, but from their husband. Daly further argued that early socialisation of women into subordinate roles meant that women willingly consented to their inferior status.

Patriarchal religious ideology teaches that patriarchal religious institutions are bestowed by God. This ideology also teaches that the subordinate status of women is God’s will, and that it is virtuous for women to accept such positions.

Much like Simon de Beauvoir, Daly also believed that women encouraged false consciousness. It taught them that the way to redemption was through prayer, rather than concrete struggle against religious authorities in society.

Daly placed particular attention on the role of imagery and language in perpetuating male control and female subordination. For example God is often portrayed as male ‘ which serves to alienate women and places them in an inferior position to men.

In order to liberate themselves from religious oppression, women needed to abolish the male-centered language used by mainstream religions and replace it with a different language. Daly also believed that ultimately women needed to stop relying on ‘religion from above’, and should instead seek ‘spirituality from within’.

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Why do so few women work in Silicon Valley?

Women today make up less than a third of the work force in the largest technology companies. For example, only 39% of Amazon’s workforce are female, while for Microsoft the figure is down at 26%!

women tech companies.png
2017 data, published March 2018, based on company reports.

Why is it that women are so under-represented in the tech-industry? 

Is it just because women, on average, are less interested in becoming computer programmers and software engineers than men? More than 80% of computer science and engineering graduates in the US are male, while women receive 75% of psychology degrees. Women have made progress in many traditionally male-dominated fields, but perhaps in this case, their lack of representation in tech is just a matter of personal choice?

Or is it that the male-dominated tech-profession is simply unpleasant for women? This might be the case in Silicon Valley: the land of ‘nerd-kings’ and ‘brogrammers’, which the BBC defines as.. ‘A more recent stereotype: the macho, beer swilling players who went to top schools and are often hired by their friends or former fraternity brothers in the technology industry’.

Then there’s the fact that Apple’s new headquarters has a 100, 000 square foot fitness and wellness centre, but no childcare centre…?’

There have also been very serious cases of women serving lawsuits for sexual harassment on some companies. On example of someone who did so is Whitney Wolfe, the co-founder of Tinder. In 2014 she claimed that Tinder  “represent[ed] the worst of the misogynist, alpha-male stereotype too often associated with technology startups”.

Explore the issue further….

Sources

Statista

 

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Simone de Beauvoir: Religion and the Second Sex

Simone de Beauvoir theorized that religion oppresses women in much the same way as it oppresses the proletariat in Marxist theory.

‘There must be a religion for women as there must be one for the common people, and for exactly the same reason’ (Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex, 1949).

According to de Beauvoir, religion is used by men to oppress women and to compensate for them for the second-class status.

De Beauvoir argued that historically, men, who have traditionally controlled most institutions in society, also control religion. It is men who control religion beliefs, and they use God to justify their control of society.

De Beauvoir writes:

‘For the Jews, Mohammedans, and Christians, among others, men is master by divine right; the fear of God will therefor repress any impulse towards revolt in the downtrodden female.’

Religion Simone de Beauvoir.png

However, in modern societies, religion is more of a tool of deception than of direct control. Religion deceives women into thinking that are equal to, or even better than men, despite their inferior status in reality.

For example, the role of mother is given divine status in most religions, and thus encourages women to accept the role of ‘mother’ in society. Religion also provides psychological rewards for women who content themselves with being ‘good mothers’: simply being a ‘good mother’ is ‘divine’, and this effectively carries its own psychological and status rewards for women who accept this role.

However, according to radical feminist theory more generally, the motherhood role is one of the most oppressive for women: it means that women become financially dependent on men and end up doing a lot more work in society, especially in reproducing the next generation.

In fact, de Beauvoir says that those women who accept their religiously sanctioned roles as mother actually benefit religious institutions. This is because they socialise them into religious belief: thus reproducing power inequalities.

Finally, for de Beauvoir, the compensations women receive from traditional religious institutions for accepting their inferior status are not adequate.

Sources

Adapted from Haralambos and Holborne: Sociology Themes and Perspectives, edition 8.

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Explaining the rapid decline in the teen pregnancy rate

There was a 50% decline in the ‘teen pregnancy’ rate in England and Wales between the 6 years 2010 to 2016.

Teenage pregnancy stats England.png

The rate declined from around 40 conceptions per 1000 15-19 year olds to less than 20 per 1000. Similar trends in the 15-19 conception rate occurred in both Northern Ireland and Scotland.

This means that the UK’s teen pregnancy rate has gone from being one of the highest in Western Europe, to much closer to the average. This trend has been heralded as one of the most significant public health success stories of our times.

These statistics were highlighted this week in a report published by the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS). The charity commissioned YouGov to collect a combination of qualitative and quantitative data, using the the following mixed-methods approach:

  1. A diary task in which participants documented their day-to-day lives over the course of 4 days (including one weekend.)
  2. Four online focus groups with 16-18 year olds drawing on the diary notes (inNovember 2016)
  3. The results of the focus groups were then used to inform a demographically weighted quantitative survey of 1,004 16-18 year olds which was conducted online in February 2017.

In this this blog post I selectively summarise some of the findings of this research. I focuses on the reasons why the teenage conception rate has fallen so dramatically in the last six years.

Why is the teen pregnancy rate declining?

The conclusion to  the report highlights the importance of three factors:

  1. importance of good quality sex education
  2. The use of contraception
  3. The rise of what the authors call ‘generation sensible’: today’s teenagers are basically more risk averse and responsible than you may think.

To my mind this final analysis is typical of a charity looking to influence social policy. The first two factors are things the government can control, and the link between them and the decline in teen pregnancy is fairly obvious.

Of far more interest is the significance of social factors which the government cannot control: the social factors which lie behind the rise of so-called ‘generation sensible’…

The rise of ‘generation sensible’ and the decline of teen-pregnancy

Just over half of teenagers feel negative about the state of politics in the UK. The report finds that teenagers are worried about their future prospects. They feel that the current older generation in charge isn’t creating the kind of society in which they can prosper. In this context, teens are more likely to knuckle down and study to improve their future prospects.

Teenage views politics.png

Many of today’s teens have a dim view of those who engage in risky drug-related and sexual behaviors, and such behaviours have declined.

Teenagers are not that promiscuous: only a third of teenagers admitted to having had sex, and half of those had only had sex with one person. Some of the responses in the focus groups were that they were too busy for relationships.

Sexting seems to be replacing body-body sex: nearly 80% believe sexting can be a legitimate part of a relationship. Half of teenagers admitted to having received a sext, with a third admitting to having sent one.

Almost half of 16-18 year olds don’t drink at all, or drink only once a month or less. Only 13% drink more than twice a week. Moreover, many teenagers have a negative view of binge drinking and don’t like the risks associated with being ‘out of control’. Today’s teenagers have even more negative attitudes towards drugs.

Teenage drinking.png

Sociological relevance

This study provides a really interesting insight into how risk society and the perception of lack of opportunities in the future have changed the world-views of today’s youth.

It also seems to suggest support for the view that today’s youth have become ‘responsibilised’. They are taking responsibility for their own futures by not engaging in risky behaviour which might reduce their life chances. Foucault would be nodding his head furiously I imagine.

Despite the ‘policy’ feel of the report, I also think it’s an important reminder that social policies are quite limited in their ability to steer human behaviour. It seems that the other social factors are just as important here.

What’s of further interest is just how rapidly this change has occurred.