Some research suggests there is greater gender equality
Research by Gayle Kaufman consisting of interviews with 70 American fathers with at least one child under the age of 18 found that between 1977 and 2008 the average American man increased the amount of time spent on household chores and childcare by more than 2 hours per day on average each workday. Statistics suggest that increasingly men are performing a ‘second shift’ when they return home from work, spending on average 46 hours a week on on childcare and housework, which suggests that it is increasingly men rather than women who face the ‘dual-burden’.
Kaufman identified two new types of dad based on how they responded to the challenges of balancing work and family life.
‘New Dads’ which were by far the largest category placed a high priority on involvement with children and made some minor adjustments to their work practices – such as getting to work later or leaving earlier, or ‘leaving work at work’ or bringing work home with them, and trying to juggle that and family duties.
Superdads actively adjusted their work lives to fit in with their family lives – by changing careers, cutting back work hours or adopting more flexible working hours. These dads saw spending time with their children as the most important thing in their lives, with money and career as less important.
However, we are a long way from actual equality
Focusing on the UK, ONS data reveals that at the end of 2012 there were just over 6,000 more full-time, stay-at-home dads looking after babies and toddlers than there were 10 years ago, which is hardly a significant increase
Also, although fathers always say they want to spend more time with their kids rather than working, the evidence does not back this up – a third of men don’t take their two weeks paternity leave, 40% say they don’t intend to take the 6 months they are now entitled to and 90% say they wouldn’t take more than 6 months if it was offered to them.
The Emergence of ‘Intensive Motherhood’ suggests things might even be getting worse for some mothers…
According to Sharon Hays (1996) it is still mothers, rather than fathers who remain the target of most parenting advice, and today all mothers are expected to live up to a new norm of ‘intensive mothering’ – a style of mothering that is ‘expert-guided’ and child centred as well as emotionally absorbing, labour intensive and financially expensive, requiring a 24/7 focus on the child.
Hays suggests that intensive mothering has become the taken for granted ‘correct’ style of mothering , and the the focus is typically on the mother and not on the father.
Radical Feminists also remind us that 9/10 single parents are female.
You can clearly see the slow down in the increase in Life Expectancy for males and females in England in the two graphs below.
For both males and females the graph above shows a clear increasing trend from 2001 to around 2011, and then a much flatter trend from 2011 to 2017.
The above two graphs also highlight the clear correlation between deprivation and life expectancy, with the least deprived (or wealthiest) quintile of males and females enjoying around 6-8 more years of life than the most deprived (or poorest) quintile.
You can’t see it from the above graphs, but the poorest decile (the poorest tenth) of women actually experienced a slight decline in life expectancy in recent years. That is to say the very poorest women now die younger.
Declining healthy life expectancy
The report also highlights a small decline in healthy life expectancy, which I personally think is important to consider, given that it’s much more desirable to live a longer life in good health, compared to a longer life in poor health!
How do we explain the stalling of life expectancy?
The Marmot report says that an increase in deaths from winter illnesses such as flu in recent years can only explain about 20% of the decline in life expectancy.
The report also highlights funding cuts to health and social services as something which has ‘undermined the ability of local authorities to improve the social determinants of health’.
NB – note that the wording of the above is very careful, the report doesn’t say that funding cuts have caused a decrease in the rate of improvement of life expectancy, probably because the report doesn’t have sufficient data to infer a significant enough correlation between funding cuts and life expectancy trends.
So while the trends may be objective, we need to be careful about jumping to conclusions about why life expectancy is stalling!
One thing we can say is that inequality clearly hasn’t improved in the last 20 years, if we use differences as life expectancy as an indicator of this!
Global consumption figures have quadrupled since the 1970s: global population figures have doubled in that time, but the average amount of materials consumed per person has doubled.
The annual consumption of material goods now stands at over 100 billion tonnes per year, according to a recent report by the Circle Economy think tank, using data from 2017, the latest year for which data is available.
Breakdown of materials consumed by humanity:
50% – sand, clay, gravel and cement, used for
15% – coal, gas, oil
10% – metal ores
Most of the remainder – plants and trees used
for food and fuel.
Recycling in Decline…
According to more recent trends, the proportion of materials
being recycled is actually falling slightly – down from 9.1% in 2015 to 8.6% in
This 50-year increase in consumption is mainly due to rapid economic development in the most populous countries on earth, namely China and India. As these countries develop, so governments, companies and people spend more money on buildings, transport and consumer goods.
These figures remind us of the fact that western models of
development rely on increasing consumption of a range of natural resources, and
our level of consumption is increasing.
It’s difficult to see how this mode of development can continue
for much longer – given that there is already intense pressure on the Earth’s
natural resources – not only in form of deforestation and desertification, but
also in the simple fact that some resources, such as certain metal ores, are
scarce, which means they could be the source of conflict in future years, or at
the very least price rises, all of which could make sustained economic growth
and development challenging to say the least!
What happens to those many thousands of migrants who make it across the Mexican U.S. border, but are later sent back to their countries of origins?
This is the topic which Jeremy Slack, Professor of Geography at the University of Texas, addresses in a recent book: Deported to Death : How Drug Violence is Changing Migration on the US-Mexican Border.
This is a book about people how are out of place, about people trying to claim asylum or people who have been deported – the book aims to humanize these people and get into the experience of what its like for them.
The book uses in-depth qualitative research methods to find out ‘what happens next’ once mexicans have been deported, with Slack using in-depth interviews and hanging-out in places such as Migrant shelters on the Mexican side of the borders.
Slack found that one third of people he interviewed regarded the US as their home. Many of them had put down roots in the US – they had homes, young children, no close contacts in Mexico, and no understanding of the Mexican system, some had been living and working in the U.S. for over a decade.
These people are really victims of a hostile immigration environment in the U.S. Ever since Trump declared a national emergency back in 2019, authorities in the Southern States have ramped up their efforts to deport people.
The number one federal crime for being deported is now ‘immigration offenses’ itself (which doesn’t have to be illegal, or dealt with harshly), the second major reason for deportation is traffic violations – people get caught speeding, for example, the authorities realize they are illegal and they end up in a detention center and deported.
Once they’ve been deported, deportees enter a sort of ‘Grey Zone’ – they’re in Limbo, as they are regarded as criminals by the Mexican authorities while they try to challenge their deportation and gain the legal right to stay in the United States, which, following the introduction of the Orwellian named ‘Migrant Protection Program’ now has to be done from Mexico, rather than them staying in the States.
It seems like the chances of being granted legal access are slim – They don’t get access to third party rights A third of people interviewed didn’t have access to asylum, no lawyer if you can’t pay.
Some Mexican deportees from the United States become the targets of extreme drug related violence upon their return to Mexico.
Other migrants are subject to kidnappings by the police, with 7% reporting that they’ve been held against their will and subject to forced labour and torture.
Is life in the UK getting better or worse? In this post I evaluate this question by looking at a few official statistics.
Is life in the UK getting better or worse?
This post looks at a few economic and social indicators to see what they suggest about trends in desirable social goods such as economic growth, employment and happiness and less desirable social problems such as crime, mental ill-health and suicide.
The point of this posts is to showcase some of the official statistics we might use to judge the state of the nation. These are the kind of stats we can use to evaluate the Functionalist view that ‘everything in society is generally OK’, compared to other more critical perspectives such as Marxism, Feminism or even Postmodernism.
You should always be critical of the validity of statistics, especially since most of the stats below are official statistics – they are collected by government agencies…
A social or economic indicator might suggest life in the UK is generally getting better or worse, but this might not actually be the case when you scratch beneath the surface.
For example, an increase in recorded crime may not be because of an underlying increase, but rather because people are more aware of certain types of crime and more likely to report those crimes.
Similarly, a decrease in unemployment may just be because more people are fearful of claiming benefits, even though they need them, because of the increased hassle and stigma of claiming them.
Any statistics that use averages may also give us a misleading picture of the ‘health of the nation’. For example, average income can trend upwards, but this doesn’t tell us how that income is distributed – it may mean the top 1/10th getting a lot richer and the bottom 1/10th getting a lot poorer.
Averages can also hide wide variations in how social goods and harms are distributed by gender and ethnicity and age. The male suicide rate is around three times higher than the female suicide rate.
Employment is increasing, unemployment is declining
The employment rate is at a record high of 76.3%, while the unemployment rate has been declining for 6 years, and stands at a very low 3.8%
However, some types of crime have increased recently
Robbery and knife crime have increased recently, although there are very few cases of these types of crime compared to theft and fraud, and while the later has increased, the impact of fraud on victims is probably less harmful than for most other types of crime.
In 2018, the UK’s population reached 66.4 million people, with a growth rate of 0.6% and immigration being the main reason for population growth.
The population is increasing at roughly 350 000 people per year, just over 100 000 of these are due to ‘natural change’ (more births than deaths) while just over 200 000 are due to net migration (more people immigrating than emigrating.
Conclusion: Is life in the UK getting better or worse?
On balance I’d say that the official statistics above suggest that, on average, life in the UK is getting better:
Employment and poverty are both down.
Crime is generally down
Happiness is increasing and anxiety is stable
However, there has been a recent spike in the suicide rate and some types of violent crime are up.
It’s very difficult to say whether or not the increasing population is a positive or a negative: clearly the fact that this is driven mainly by immigration concerns a lot of people, but possibly we need migration to offset the increasing dependency ration associated with the aging population, so this might actually be a good sign!
Question: what other stats do you think should be included in the above?
Globlisation has undermined the capacity of governments to govern on behalf of their citizens, because governments have generally preferred to do the bidding of Transnational Corporations. This means most countries now have a reduced welfare state, they are able to do less for their citizens. This results in anti-immigration attitudes and policies
Globalisation has undermined the capacity of governments to govern on behalf of their citizens, because governments have generally preferred to do the bidding of Transnational Corporations. This means most countries now have a reduced welfare state, they are able to do less for their citizens.
This in turn has led to citizens demanding that governments tighten border controls to keep other people out, so the declining resources don’t have to be shared with more people.
This is the view of Nira Yuval Davis, Director of the research center on Migration, Refugees and Belonging at the University of East London, expressed in a recent episode of Thinking Allowed on Borders, which aired January 2020.
Davis starts off by pointing out that in the age of Imperialism, border regions were seen as fluid and shifting territories rather than fixed, which makes sense because imperial powers were always looking to expand their borders! The nation state gave birth to a concept of ‘homeland’ which went along with this ‘solidfying’ of borders.
She suggests that with globalisation the idea of borders became less important, with there being a dream of a border less world and global citizenship rights. However, this has never happened: there has always been global inequalities based on which country one originates from.
Governments have found it more and more difficult to govern on behalf of their citizens, but have become increasingly likely to negotiate with transnational corporations, doing the bidding of the international companies rather than acting on behalf of their own citizens.
This has led to a recent process of ‘rebordering’ – as governments can’t control Transnational corporations or the global economy, they shore up their borders to control people-flows, to ensure citizens that they have some measure of control over something!
The demand for governments to ‘defend the borders against foreigners came from below, from ordinary people. This was because neoliberalisation resulted in a shrinking of the welfare state, and hence a demand to limit the benefits to just those who ‘belong’.
As a result of the above borders have spread out both internally and externally:
Externally = when someone from India wants to come to the UK, they have their application processed in a UK office in India
Internally – with raids on employment offices to crack down on illegal immigrants.
Citizens as informal border guards
This section has interesting links to globalisatsion and the social control aspect of crime and deviance
There is now an increased expectation on citizens to be informal, unpaid, untrained border guards and keep an eye on ‘who really belongs’!
NB it’s very interesting to think about this in the context of Brexit!
In recent decades the government has passed legislation that requires certain types of UK citizen to inform on people they think might be illegal immigrants – lorry drivers for example can be fined over £10K for bringing in illegals, and so are required to check their loads and get people off them before coming into the UK, and landlords are now required to inform the home office if they think illegals are renting from them, or face a fine of several thousands of pounds.
Negative consequences of tightening bordering controls
This requirement of informal policing has led to negative consequences – there has been at least one case of a restaurant being raided, illegals found, a huge fine imposed, and the restaurants reputation ruined, while the immigrants were later released.
And landlords are now discriminating by not renting to people who haven’t been born in the UK.
The irony/ paradox of this is that neoliberalisation requires the free-er movement of people for it to work, so there may even be a longer term economic consequence!
Sociological perspectives on HS2 – functionalism, marxism, interactionism, feminism and post-late modernism.
The conservative cabinet recently gave approval for the full HS2 rail line to be built, linking London to Birmingham, and later to Manchester and Leeds.
The estimated cost will be £100 billion, meaning the final cost will probably be nearer $200 billion. I know we live in a supposedly postmodern age, but the one certain thing is that private construction companies will find a way to go well over their budget when working on major public infrastructure projects.
I got to thinking what the green light for this project suggests about different sociological perspectives.
Functionalism and HS2
At a very basic level, you could argue this is a ‘functional’ project as it’s improving different connectivity across England, and supporters point to the economic benefits this project will bring to the economy: jobs in the short term and then more business (supposedly) to the North in the long term.
It’s also a very modernist project: it’s big, bold and done at the level of the nation state, and it’s about promoting economic growth.
Marxism and HS2
Marxists tend to argue that government policies which benefit the wealthy are more likely to get the go ahead than those that benefit the poor. Call be a Marxist cynic, but when I heard of a new high speed rail line between London and the North being built my first thought was ‘well that’ll be nice for city commuters’, now the can all cash in their 1M homes in the SE and buy a much larger home up north and a Monday -Thursday flat in London.
We could also be critical of this project in terms of the North-South divide – a lot of people in the North would rather we spent £200 billion over the next five-ten years on improving travel infrastructure just in the North.
A super fast rail line to a few cities up North isn’t going to benefit that many people (other than city commuters) if you can’t then get anywhere else because the local roads are still congested and the local public transport links are irrational?
I can’t imagine this project benefiting anyone in the bottom sixth of society, the kind of people who generally can’t afford to travel.
Feminism and HS2
I can’t see that much relevance in applying Feminism other than to mention that this project does seem to be very much a boys thing. I’m sure every single person I’ve seen talking in favour of it is a man.
I have, however, seen lots of women protesting against it, at various local sites where the rail is going to uproot local communities and destroy local woodlands.
Interactionism and HS2
I don’t think we can understand why this project is going ahead without taking into account the symbolic meaning of it for Boris Johnson and Brexit.
This isn’t just a physical infrastructure project, giving HS2 the green light at this point in British history is also a sign that ‘Britain can go it alone’, that ‘Britain’s building for the future’, that Britains ‘gearing up for business’ – and a whole load of other slogans are no doubt going to be attached to this by the political class for the next decade.
And it’s also a nice little personal legacy for the PM himself.
Postmodernism/ Late Modernism and HS2
On the surface there’s nothing postmodern about it this project – it’s very modern and ‘national’, however if you look into what companies are involved with constructing, and in the future running HS2, this will no doubt be a global effort.
HS2 is also a symbol of divisions in our late modern society – with half the population being against it, the other half being for it. This is hardly promoting value consensus!
One also has wonder whether building better travel connections ‘for business’ makes sense when work is changing so it’s more remote, with more people working from home.
It’s also a reminder of the challenges of politics in a Late Modern age – we simply don’t know whether this will end up being a good investment, but in the context of uncertainty politicians just have to make decisions and stick to them!
I’m sure HS2 is primarily being built so Boris Johnsons’s city buddies can have a better quality of life, it’ll make it feasible for them to buy a nice house up north and a flat in London and then do the Monday to Thursday commute, then go have a nice long weekend up North.
So if you’re looking for an investment, buy a house in Birmingham, Manchester or Leeds now! This isn’t financial advice!
Whether or not we regard Poverty as a social problem depends on:
how we define and measure ‘poverty’
the extent to which we think individuals are responsible for their own poverty
our perspective on what we think the consequences of other people’s poverty will be for society as a whole
Whether we ‘care less’ about other people’s poverty.
In this post I’m going to focus on one definition of poverty: ‘destitution’, as defined by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (source below)
Is destitution problem in the UK?
The JRF defines destitution as when an individual cannot afford the basic material essentials which are necessary to leading a secure life. These essentials include housing, food, weather appropriate clothing and footwear, heating, electricity and basic toiletries.
According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, 1.5 million people in the UK were in ‘destitute’ at some point in 2017, the latest figures available.
It’s worth noting briefly that nearly everyone who was (and probably is currently) destitute was either homeless or in temporary or sheltered accommodation.
Destitution in the UK is a social problem…
If you believe that everyone has the right to the basic material necessities of life, then you’d probably regard the fact of such a huge number of people being destitute as a social problem. This certainly seems to be the view of those at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.
If you watch the video below in which the JRF define destitution there are lots of references to how it’s not acceptable for people to be destitute today.
If you’re the kind of person that’s upset by other people’s suffering, then you’d probably also regard this number of people as being destitute as a social problem – it doesn’t take that much empathy to realise that the state of destitution is extremely unpleasant.
Not only can being destitute involve being hungry and cold and being excluded from many aspects of social life (because you’ve got no money!), it can also mean living in a state of anxiety over the future if you can’t afford to pay the rent, and maybe depression that your situation has no end in sight.
Destitution today might also be the breeding ground for future problems for individuals and society – a hungry child not concentrating in school will get lower educational outcomes and be less employable in the future; someone living in a cold damp house now is more likely to develop long term chronic health problems – both situations which could mean those people being a long term drain on the nation’s resources in the future.
A further reason you might regard destitution as a problem is because of the non-necessity of it! We clearly have the resources in the UK to ensure that every single individual at least has the basic necessities of life, and yet there are 1.5 million people who lead lives so insecure that they’re not having their basic needs met!
People are probably more likely to think destitution is a problem if the reasons for it are not the fault of the individuals experiencing it – if they have fallen into destitution because of ill-health, a relationship breakdown, abuse, losing a job, or even something as basic as a high cost of living (rent, bills etc.). In such situations, maybe it is desirable that the benefits system kicks in and acts as a safety net.
The extremes of destitution existing alongside extremes of wealth might bother some people because of the social injustice of it, especially if they believe that destitution exists because of the means whereby the rich have got wealthy.
Finally, destitution might well lead to crime and social unrest. If people are hungry they might turn to crime to feed themselves, and if they collectively come to perceive their situation as one that is not fair or just, social unrest may be the result.
So it would seem that there several reasons, emotional and rational for why you might perceive destitution as a social problem!
Destitution in the UK is NOT a social problem…
Firstly, if you’re being hard-nosed about it you might point out that 1.5 million people is not that many – it’s only 2.5% of the population. And according to the JRF 2018 report into destitution, this number is declining.
The definition/ measurement of destitution used by JRF is quite ‘soft’ – someone only had to go without two of those basic needs above for a month in 2017 and they were counted in the statistics. You might think it’s not that bad going hungry for one month in a year, it’s not starvation, it’s unlikely to lead to long term malnutrition.
Then there’s the fact that you simply might not believe in individual rights. You might believe that individuals are not ‘entitled’ to anything, and if they fall on hard times it’s tough luck.
Or you might believe in radical individual responsibility and think that if individuals are destitute, for whatever reason, it is their job to lift themselves out of it, in which case the problem of destitution isn’t a social problem, it’s an individual problem, although this particular view point is quite anti-sociological, in fact it’s possibly the very opposite of the sociological imagination.
Even if you’re more left-wing and believe that the individual is NOT entirely responsible for their own poverty, but rather it’s something to do with the system, then it’s not poverty as such that’s ‘the real problem’ – it’s whatever you believe has caused poverty.
Finally, even if there are identifiable correlations between destitution and crime/ social unrest, it might be that with more measures of control (e.g. harsher penalties, more police, as right realists suggest) we might still be able to mitigate the worst effects of destitution.
Whether you think destitution in the UK is a social problem very much depends on your values.
If you’re leaning towards the left you’re more likely to believe that povert has social causes and that more equality is good, so are more likely to perceive destitution as a social problem with social solutions.
If you’re more right leaning, you’re more likely to frame destitution as an individual problem, have less of a problem with higher levels of inequality and think that individuals and society can and should adapt to cope with a certain degree of destitution, which individuals largely bring on themselves.
Finally, whether you think it’s a problem or not depends on your definition and measurement of it, and TBH with the soft definition used by the JRF I’m actually finding myself leaning to the view that destitution in the UK is NOT a serious social problem.
This certainly seems to be justified as the number of UK confirmed cases has recently doubled from 4 to 8, and the virus does seem to spreading in South East Asia and beyond.
There’s no doubt this virus is very contagious and the consequences of catching this virus are severe
Based on it’s R0 score (interesting article that, and worth a read!) scientists believe this viurs is more infectious that SARS or Ebola, so there is a high risk of catching it if you come into contact with someone whose got it.
And given the death toll is now approaching 1000, out of 40000 confirmed cases, the stats suggest that you’ve got a a 1/ 4o chance of dying from it, a chance I wouldn’t like to take!
Measures of control as a response
You’ve no doubt heard of the Chinese authorities putting Wuhan in lock-down, and borders being closed, and people being placed in quarantine on return from China to the UK.
All of this is a great example of the continued power of the Nation State to control people’s lives in response to ‘risks to public health’.
A global threat
It’s obvious by now that this is a global threat with global consequences, especially as people are stopped from moving between countries, as are goods, which means there are possibly sever health and economic consequences.
Apparently it’s having a very negative effect on the global education market, the Chinese are big consumers of education, especially in the UK!
Social media, uncertainty, misinformation and fear
This article in the conversation reports on how rumors about the virus have spread, even in China where there are penalties for reposting non-official content about the virus.
But then there’s the fact that we know we can’t trust the Chinese authorities reports on how many people have contracted the virus – it was the Wuhan province authority underplaying the extent of the virus in the first place which led to its rapid spread.
So despite its very ‘real’ nature, the lack of certainty surrounding its spread of tmakes the Coronavirus a very post-modern phenomenon.
Links to some contemporary sociology which students can use in their A-level sociology exams!
Links to some of the contemporary news items, documentaries and research studies which I’ve blogged about in 2019-2020, which are relevant to the sociology of education.
According to the AQA sociology specification, students are expected to be able to use contemporary examples to illustrate the points they make in their sociology exams.
Links to relevant blog posts….
gender ethnicity and your chances of getting into university – Free School
Meals students are still about twice less likely to make it university compared
to those not in receipt of free school meals. Meanwhile the gender gap
continues to increase, and white students lack behind nearly every other ethnic
group when it comes to university entrance.
to break into the elite – a documentary looking at numerous case studies of
how employers want cultural capital in their employees, and so how lack of
cultural capital prevents working class kids from getting the top jobs.
the school cuts crisis – a documentary looking at how funding cuts to
education are leading to schools cutting SEN provision, Useful to evaluate New
Right education policies.
Privacy & Cookies Policy
Necessary cookies are absolutely essential for the website to function properly. This category only includes cookies that ensures basic functionalities and security features of the website. These cookies do not store any personal information.
Any cookies that may not be particularly necessary for the website to function and is used specifically to collect user personal data via analytics, ads, other embedded contents are termed as non-necessary cookies. It is mandatory to procure user consent prior to running these cookies on your website.