Globalisation and changes to family life

Globalisation has changed family life in the UK: birth rates have declined, families are smaller, childhood is more toxic and families are more unstable.

Last Updated on September 4, 2023 by Karl Thompson

Globalisation has changed family life in the UK in several ways:

  • Family size has declined and there are more childless families. There are also more single person households. These trends are correlated with increase economic growth due to globalisation.
  • There is greater ethnic diversity and more families stretched across national borders. This is because of increased migration.
  • There are more pure relationships, negotiated families and higher divorce rates. All of these are related to the increased sense of risk and uncertainty which is part of globalisation.
  • There are more family-like global friendship networks and childhood is more toxic today, because of the globalisation of media flows.
  • There is more equality between men and women in relationships and more childless couples. This is linked to increased gender equality is an aspect of globalisation.
  • There is more experience of inequalities relating to the family and more relative social exclusion. For example poorer families can’t afford an annual holiday abroad.
mind map on how globalisation has changed family like in the UK

The relationship between globalisation and family life is one of the more difficult topics within the families and households module. In the blog post below I look at different aspects of globalisation and how these may have changed family life in the UK.

Aspects of globalisation you could consider include:

  • economic globalisation: increased trade and economic growth.
  • Increased migration: more people coming to the UK from other countries.
  • Globalisation of media: more global media flows penetrating family life.
  • Increased risk and uncertainty. These are also part of of postmodernisation.
  • Greater gender equality is also a global trend.

Aspects of family life you could consider:

  • Impacts on the structure of the family: what types of family are more common because of globalisation?
  • Relationships between men and women within family life.
  • How globalisation may have changed childhood and the relationships between parents and children.
  • How government policies on the family has responded to globalisation.

Globalisation and family life: analysis points

Two things to consider here:

  • what affects are more immediate and direct, which are indirect and more gradual?
  • What consequences are negative and positive. This relates to optimist and pessimist views of globalisation.

Economic globalisation and family life

Global optimists argue that economic globalisation has resulted in increasing trade which in turn has resulted in huge economic growth and rising prosperity.

Economic growth is correlated with declining birth rates and increasing life expectancy. This in turn means the average household size in the UK is smaller today. There are more one child households than ever and very few households with three or more children.

Increased life expectancy also means there are more multigenerational families with four generations alive. The number of beanpole families has also increased: long and thin families where three generations have only one child each, for example.

Property price speculation by global investors has driven up prices in the UK, especially in London. The basic costs of maintaining a family household had doubled in the last 30 years relative to inflation. This means many people today can’t afford to buy houses which puts some people off having children, so there are more childless couples and more people having families in later life.

The above trend also helps explain why so many young adults today ‘choose’ to live with their parents.

There seems to be a globalisation of ‘single person households’. There seems to be a global trend of increasing numbers of people choosing to live alone (not necessarily not being in relationships). This trend is positively correlated with economic growth: the richer a country the more people choose to live alone.

Increasing inequality is also a consequence of globalisation. For example the norm in Britain is for families to have a summer holiday abroad. However many families can’t afford this which may increase a sense of social exclusion.

Increasing immigration and family life

Increasing migration to the UK is part of globalisation.

Increasing migration to the U.K. means there is increasing cultural diversity and diversity of family structures.  There are more families where British born people have had children with migrants from other countries.

Increased migration means more families are stretched across national borders and have family members living abroad, which in turn reinforces globalisation as more families maintain contacts through media and physical visits.

Immigrant families to the UK have on average higher birth rates than non-immigrant families. A positive effect of this is that it reduces the dependency ratio, however a claimed negative consequence is an increased strain on public services, mainly schools.

Part of globalisation is people displacement following conflict, which sometimes results in the breaking up of families, U.K. policy has focused (to an extent) on taking in orphan refugee children, meaning more ‘global step/ foster families’.

Globalisation of media flows and family life

Cultural globalisation means more people create global friendship groups based on shared interests online. Many people regard these friendship networks as ‘family’, if we follow analysis from the Personal life perspective.

Globalisation also means more media flows. Children more active users of media, more exposed to global media events can have negative effects:

  • More difficult for parents to prevent radicalisation (e.g. Shamima Begum).
  • More exposure to global media events (mass shootings in USA, natural disasters, terrorist attacks, war and conflicts) children are more risk conscious – anxious kids, more mental health issues. (More ‘toxic childhood’.)
  • Parents are more paranoid, more restrictive parenting, less outdoor play.
  • In general you can argue more globalisation leads to childhood becoming more toxic.

Increased risk and uncertainty

Globalisation has resulted in more diversity, choice and uncertainty, resulting in decline of people committing to long term relationships. It is also more difficult to maintain long term relationships. Hence we have much higher rates of divorce in our global age.

Globalisation and postmodernisation are closely related. The new family norms are the pure relationship and the negotiated family.


This post has primarily been written for students studying the families and households topic for A-level sociology.

Students may also like to read this broader introduction to Globalisation.

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