Sociological Perspectives on ‘Renting a Womb’  

Kim Kardashian and Kayne West are apparently expecting a fourth child, employing a surrogate mother to carry their fertilised eggs. This will be the second surrogate child, following the birth of their first surrogate child, ‘Chicago’, born in January 2018.

Paying someone to be a surrogate mother, or ‘renting a womb’ is legal in the United States, but in the United Kingdom, surrogacy is legal, but parents are only allowed to pay the surrogate expenses related to the pregnancy, rather than paying them a fee for actually carrying the child.

The reason Kim Kardashian and Kayne West have opted for surrogates recently is because Kim has a medical condition which means that becoming pregnant again carries a higher than usual risk of her dying, so this isn’t just a lifestyle choice, but an interesting ethical/ sociological question is whether or not paid for surrogacy should be legal in the U.K. (NB – there’s a chance that it will be, as the surrogacy law is currently under review.

This topic is clearly relevant to families and households and especially social policy, and it’s quite useful to use it to explore different Feminist perspectives on the family….

Liberal Feminism

From a liberal feminist point of view, renting a womb should be acceptable because it would enable career-women to avoid taking time off work to pregnancy and child birth, and thus prevent the kind of career-breaks which put them at a disadvantage to men.

In fact, as far as the couple hiring the surrogate are concerned, this puts them on an entirely equal footing in relation to the new baby, meaning that it would be practically possible for them to share maternity/ paternity leave equally, rather than it ‘making sense’ for the woman to carry on taking time off after she’s done so in order to give birth.

Paid for surrogacy also provides an economic opportunity for the surrogate mothers, an opportunity only available to women.

Marxist Feminism

From a marxist feminist point of view renting a womb is kind of paying women for their labour in one sense, however it’s a long way off providing women a wage for ‘traditionally women’s work’ within the family, such as child care and domestic labour.

Ultimately renting a womb does little to address economic inequality between men and women because it’s only available to wealthier couples, meanwhile on the supply side of the rent a womb industry the only women likely to enter into a surrogacy contract are those that are financially desperate, i.e. they have no other means to make money.

Radical Feminism

From a radical feminist perspective renting a womb does nothing to combat patriarchy more generally. If paid for surrogacy was made legal in the UK, the only consequence would be to give wealthy couples the freedom to pay poor women to carry their children for 9 months.

This does nothing to combat more serious issues such as violence against women.

In conclusion…

While it’s an interesting phenomenon, renting a womb, rather than just voluntary surrogacy, will probably do very little to further the goal of female empowerment. However, it will obviously be of benefit to potentially millions of couples (in the long term) who are unable to have children.

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The Sex Map of Britain

The Sex Map of Britain is a very interesting recent documentary series which ‘meets people for whom sex, sexuality and having children is far from straightforward.

The series covers the following topics:

  • The reality of being a ‘cheap prostitute’ – selling sex for as little as £4.
  • Why some people choose a career in porn.
  • Asexuality – why some people just don’t want sex.
  • Transgender escorts and parenting urges.
  • The journey of freezing eggs and ‘alternatives’ to IVF.
  • And a trip behind the scenes of a sexual health clinic.

Unfortunately the episode on polyamory has disappeared.

Relevance to A-level sociology

This is a terrific series to get students to explore the wonderful diversity of relationships and sexuality in postmodern society, and taken together, this collection clearly illustrates the postmodern view of modern family life – that there’s no longer such a thing as a ‘normal’ family or relationship!

There are nine available episodes available on iplayer for the next 10 months, and, suitably for a documentary series which explores the diversity of family life in postmodern society, they are all nice and short, so perfect for postmodern students with postmodern attention spans (i.e. short ones).

Exploring Inequality in Life Expectancy in the United Kingdom

What are the causes and consequences of low life expectancy in the UK?

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.

Explaining the rapid decline in the teen pregnancy rate

Why is the teen pregnancy
rate declining? What are the possible sociological explanations for this dramatic trend?

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.

On the hypocritical parenting of tech billionnaires

Given the trend towards toxic childhood, it should come as no surprise that young children are being increasingly exposed to technologies such as iPads as part of very early socialisation, and it should be no more surprising that such exposure is having an effect on children’s behaviour.

Some small children have been spotted by teachers trying to turn book pages by ‘swiping left’, according to teachers from the National Education Union, while paediatric occupational therapist Sally Payne blames technology for the fact that some small children are starting school never having learnt to hold a pencil.

Whether such technology led socialisation practices end up being detrimental to those children who are exposed to them remains to be seen, but what’s interesting is that so many of the techno-elite are taking steps to limit their own children’s exposure to such technologies. Below are just a few examples:

Tech Billionnaires children.png

So what’s going on here?

It seems that our technological elites have an intuitive feeling that the products they have created are maybe harmful for children, in the sense that they are addictive, and so take active steps to limit their own children’s use of such products.

At the same time, however, they are more than happy to take the billions of dollars they’ve made from these products and run companies which actively seek to addict more and more people, including children, to the precise same products they want to protect their own children from.

This kind of hypocrisy really speaks volumes about neoliberal silicon valley culture: such a morality is surely only possible in a hyper-individualised culture? A culture which allows people to innovate and take absolutely no responsibility for the social cost, as long as they’ve got enough time and money to protect their own nearest and dearest from the negative consequences of their bread and butter.

Sources:

The Week Issue 1170

Pic Source – http://waldorfpeninsula.org/

What makes a good life? Lessons from a longitudinal study

The Harvard Study of Adult Development may be the longest continuous longitudinal study in the world.

For 75 years it has tracked the lives 724 men, year after year asking them about the their health, their home-life and the their work, with around 50 of the original participants still alive, now in their 80s, and continuing to study their more than 2000 children.

Since 1935 they studied two groups of men: one group from Harvard University and another groups from the poorest sectors of Boston, who typically lived in Tenements in the 1930s.

On of the key findings is that being in close relationships is the best predictor of leading a long, happy, health, life.

The findings of the study are many varied, but the video above outlines some of the most interesting which are relevant to the families and households modules in A-level sociology.

Key Findings from the Harvard Study

The lessons are not about fame, or wealth, or working harder and harder, the clearest message of this 75 year study is that it’s mainly good relationships which keep us happy and healthier.

Firstly, social connections are really good for us and loneliness kills: those people who are more socially connected to family, friends and family are happier, physically healthier, and they live longer than those who are less well connected. People who are more socially isolated than they want to be are less happy, their health declines earlier in mid-life, as does their brain function, and they die younger.

The sad fact is that at any given time, 1 in 5 Americans will report that they are lonely.

Secondly, it’s the quality of the relationships you have that matter, not the type of relationship or the number of relationships, it’s the quality of your close relationships that matters most. Healthy longevity is not (surprisingly?) associated with being in a committed relationship, or having lots of friends,

In fact, being in a ‘toxic relationship’ where you’re constantly facing conflict is perhaps worse for your health than getting divorced! And living in the midst of warm relationships is protective of health.

The level of satisfaction with one’s relationship at age 50 is a better predictor than cholesterol levels of being in good physical and mental health at the 80: those who were most satisfied in their relationships at age 50 were the ones most likely to go to become healthy octogenarians.

Good close relationships also seem to buffer us from physical problems related to ageing: those who experienced physical pain in their 80s reported better mood levels if they were in good quality relationships.

A third lesson is that good relationships don’t just protect our bodies, they protect our brains. People in close relationships have sharper memories, and vice versa for those experiencing

A couple of qualifications

Being in a ‘good relationship’ doesn’t mean couples don’t argue and bicker, that’s just part of any relationship!

All of the above only applies to people who want relationships.

Just for emphasis – in the above study, a ‘good relationship’ doesn’t exclusively mean being in a committed long term relationship with one person: it might mean having close friends.

Relevance to A-level sociology

This is great material to evaluate various aspects of the families and households module.

You could also use it to criticise the obsession some of us have with gaining followers on social media…. judging by this study, this doesn’t seem like such a good way to achieve health, happiness and longevity.

What should we do about childhood obesity?

Some arguments for the government’s recent policy proposals to tackle childhood obesity.

The governments new plans to tackle childhood obesity hit the headlines this weekend, but how much of a ‘problem’ is childhood obesity, and is the government right to try and tackle this at all?

1 in 3 children in the U.K. is either overweight or obese by the time they leave primary school, with those from deprived areas twice as likely to be affected.

childhood obesity UK 2018.png

There are some pretty obvious downsides to childhood obesity to both the individual and society – such as the increased risk of obesity related illnesses such as diabetes, and estimated annual cost to the NHS of > £billion/ year.

The government today announced a set of measures designed to halve the number of children suffering from obesity by 2030, which included

  • A ban on the sale of energy drinks to children.
  • A uniform calorie labeling system to be introduced in all restaurants, cafes and takeaways.
  • Shops are to banned from displaying unhealthy food at checkouts and entrances
  • Shops are to banned from including unhealthy food in special offers.
  • Primary schools would be asked to introduce an “active mile” to encourage children to be more active, including daily running sessions and an emphasis on walking and cycling to school.

The plan forms the second chapter of the government’s childhood obesity strategy. The first chapter was criticized for being too weak when it was published two years ago.

Given the increase in childhood obesity, this seems to be like a timely intervention:

childhood obesity stats UK.png

Arguments for banning advertising junk food to children

There is strong evidence that children who are more exposed to advertising are more likely to eat more junk food, which is a starting point argument for banning the ads.

Even if you argue that is is the parents’ responsibility to control what their kids eat, the fact that in reality, it is simply impossible for parents to regulate every aspect of their children’s lives: kids are going to go online and be exposed to whatever’s there: better that junk food adverts are not.

This move ‘fits into’ the general movement towards more child protection. In fact, I think it’s odd that junk food manufactures have been exempt from doing harm to children (by pushing their products onto them) for so long.

It might help make childhood a little less ‘Toxic’, and help reduce pester power, making adult-child relations a little more harmonious.

Arguments against…

Those of a liberal persuasion would probably be against even more state intervention in the lives of families, however I personally don’t see these policies as ‘intervening’ in the lives of families, they are more about forcing companies to restrain their marketing of unhealthy food to children, so personally I can’t think of any decent arguments against these government policies…… suggestions welcome in the comments!

Sources:

How I would’ve answered the AQA A level sociology topics exam, June 2018, section A: families and households

How I would have answered the AQA’s families and household option on A-level sociology paper 7192/2, June 2018.

Answers to the AQA’s A-level sociology (7192/2) ‘topics’ exam: families and households section A only. Just a few thoughts to put students out of their misery. (Ideas my own, not endorsed by the AQA)

I won’t produce the exact questions below, just the gist…

Q04: Outline and explain two ways in which government policies may affect family structure (10)

Very easy…..

Simply select two policies and try to discuss their effects on as many different types of family structure as you can, without overlapping!

I would have gone for….

  • The 1969 Divorce act, and linked this to reconstituted families, single parent families, the negotiated family, divorce extended families… and contrasted the New Right and Postmodernism.
  • The 2013 Civil Partnership Act and linked this to changing gender relations, gender roles, equality and children in the family, and childless/ adopted families. I also would have applied and contrasted the New Right with Radical Feminism

I would have gone for two very basic ‘topic based’ areas to start: something about aid and improving women’s health and the knock on effects, and then something about women’s education, linked to work.

Q05: Applying materal from item C, analyse two ways in which demographic trends since 1900 may have affected the nature of childhood in the United Kingdom today.

Using the item, you need to use the following:

  • Life expectancy increasing and more generations of the family being alive – here you need to discuss the bean pole family, sandwhich parents, extended families maybe (and the modified extended family)
  • People having fewer children – probably most of your marks will come from this…. contrast march of progress with paranoid parenting/ cotton wool kids.

They DO like asking about childhood, don’t they!Q06: Evaluate Dependency theory essay

Evaluate the view that individual choice in personal relationships has made family life less important in the United Kingdom today (20)

The item basically directs you to discuss postmodern perspectives on the rise of individualisation and the decline of the family and to evaluate this.

Not an easy question, but workable…

General points you could use:

  • Outline the postmodern view….. Allen and Crow and Beck-Gernsheim are the two ‘extreme individualisation’ theorists – lots you could discuss here.
  • Maybe dramatise this with the increase in divorce, rise of single person households.
  • Discuss Giddens’ idea of the Pure Relationship – higher rates of family breakdown are now more likely because of this!
  • Discuss Beck’s idea of the Negotiated family – similar to Giddens.
  • Criticise PM with the Personal Life Perspective…. which finds that family life is still important, it’s just that family life has changed – people now effectively regard pets etc. as part of their families.
  • Criticise with the ‘criticisms’ of increased family diversity…. most people still have families, nuclear family still the most common, etc….

This is the kind of question you may have had to think about for some time.

All in all, quite a nice section of the paper!

Related posts

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.

Evaluate the view that the growth of family diversity has led to a decline in the nuclear family (20)

An example of a top band answer (17/20) to a possible question on the AQA’s 7192/2 topics in sociology paper (families option, section A)

This is an example of a 17/20 top band answer to the above question, as marked by the AQA.

In the pictures below, I’ve highlighted all of the candidate’s evaluations in red to show you the balance of knowledge and evaluation required to get into the top mark band!

This is also a good example of a borderline Band 4-Band 5 answer… it just wants a little more evaluation to go up even higher.

The mark scheme (top two bands)

Sociology essay mark scheme

Student’s Response (concepts highlighted in blue, evaluation in burnt orange)

NB It’s the same response all the way through, I’ve just repeated the title on the two pages!

 

Family diversity essay 2018

A-level sociology essay full marks

 

KT’s commentary

This is a bit of a bizarre essay, but this is a good example of how to answer it.

Without the final paragraph it would be floundering down in the middle mark band!

 

Source 

AQA specimen material 2016

Outline and explain two ways in which changing gender roles within the family may have affected children’s experience of childhood (10)

How to score 10/10!

This is the 10 mark (no item) question which appeared on the 2017 Families and Households paper.

In this post I consider a ‘top band’ answer (provided by the AQA here) which achieved 8/10.

The Question

Outline and explain two ways in which changing gender roles within the family may have affected children’s experience of childhood (10)

The Mark Scheme:

10-mark-question-sociology-mark-scheme-families

Note: there are no marks for evaluation on the 10 mark no item questions (there are for the ‘analyse with the item’ 10 mark questions!)

Student Response:

Highlighted to show the different stages of development.

One way is with the changing roles of women in society, where women are more likely to want to pursue a career before starting a family, with less stigma attached to them, women have taken on more aspects of the instrumental role which Parsons had said traditionally rested with men. This has meant a decrease in family size since the 1970s from 3.2 children to 2, as women in full time employment have children later in life. It has also led to a mono-child society and a ‘fuller experience’ of childhood as parents have more money to spend on one child.

As second change is associated with Young and Wilmott’s symmetrical families – couples have moved from segregated to joint conjugal roles where they share leisure time and chores much more equally than before. This is also related to the rise of the new man who offers more emotional support. This means children are no longer socialised into traditional gender roles and will not experience canalisation like Oakley suggested – e.g. boys are less likely to be given typical boys toys sjuch as guns and socialised into typical traditional male traits such as aggression.

Examiner Commentary: (8/10 marks)

outline-explain-10-mark-question-sociology-families.png

 

Source:

Student responses with examiner
commentary
AS AND A-LEVEL
SOCIOLOGY
7193

Reproduced here for educational purposes!