How has Increased Life Expectancy Affected the Experience of Childhood…?

Life expectancy in England and Wales has risen dramatically over the last 100 years, increasing from around 55 in 1920 to 80 today for men and from 60 to 83 today for women. …

This means that children who grew up in the 1920s and 1930s would, on average, not have had the experience of being around many people over the age 60, whereas today, on average, children will experience the company of people aged 60-85 as ‘the norm’.

I am talking here of course just about ‘averages’ – experiences will vary from family to family.

For those parents who have children at a younger age, say in their 20s, their children stand much more chance of experiencing a four generation family, something which would have been almost unheard of in the 1920s.

However, three generation families would still have been common 100 years ago because people typically had babies much earlier, meaning children would still have experienced grandparents, but those grandparents would have been younger, in their 50s rather than in their 70s which would be the case in the typical three generation family today.

I think with the increase in family diversity, the increase in life expectancy would mean different experiences with grandparents for children depending on the type of family… for those parents who have children young then children are far more likely to experience grandparents in good health for their entire childhood and maybe only have to deal with their death as older teenagers, whereas experiencing the death of a grandparent during childhood would have been much more common 100 years ago.

HOWEVER, for those parents who have children later, in their 40s, probably dealing with the death of a grandparent would be more likely.

A possible negative affect of the ageing population on the experience of childhood is that parents who have to care for their ageing parents may not have as much time for their children, especially if end of life care is dragged out for several months or years as can be the case with degenerative diseases which are more common in old age.

The experience of childhood may also have been indirectly affected by wider social changes brought about by the ageing population – as society has refocussed its resources towards caring for the old (some might even say pandering to the old) there are relatively fewer resources left for children, so funding in education suffers as does Higher Education with students now having to pay for it themselves.

So as children get older they may start to feel like society is set up for the old and they get very little back in return – other than facing a life of working for 50 years as young adults in order to pay for the ever increasing ratio of old to young (the ‘dependency ratio’).

We kind of saw this with the Covid-19 pandemic – society was focused on protecting the very old while schools just closed – the children suffered for the sake of the old – the experience of childhood here was one of blocked opportunities and increased fear and uncertainty caused, effectively by the government’s choice to put the over 70s first – had the Pandemic happened in the 1920s when there were hardly any over 60s alive anyway society wouldn’t have had to shut down to protect them, because the risk of dying from covid for the under 60s was significantly lower.

Relevance to A-level sociology

This question cam up in the June 2022 families and households paper two exam.

This is a response I free wrote in around 15 minutes to give students some ideas about how they might have answered it. NB it’s not formatted like an answer to a 10 mark question should be, but there is enough information in here to top band I would have thought – there are certainly TWO ways fleshed out!

Arguments for Polyamory….

Polyamory (having more than one long-term intimate sexual partner) is increasing in popularity in the UK, and it has many advantages compared to committing to monogamy, at least according to Ana Kirova, CEO of the FEELD app – which helps people interested in Polyamory find others with similar interests.

This interesting topic, very relevant to the families and households topic was explored recently on an edition of ‘Positive Thinking‘ BBC on Radio Four.

What is Polyamory?

Polyamory literally means ‘many loves’ and engaging in a Polyamorous relationship is certainly a challenge to the standard monogamous relationship with the idea of committing to one sexual parter at a time.

Ana Kirova who is herself polyamorous defines polyamory as an ‘Ethical non-monogamous’ relationship in which more than two people make up a ‘polycule’ (excuse spelling) – everyone within the polycule consents to everything everyone else is doing.

She describes polyamory as an open and explorative relationship which has at its core the concept of ‘Dynamic Consent’ – Communication is essential in this ‘contemporary’ form of polyamory – there has to be regular ‘checking in’ sessions to make sure that everyone is oK.

As an example of a Polyamorous relationship you might have two couples, and each couple is for most of the month a regular couple (even with children in some cases) but maybe once or twice a month they just swap partners.

Of course there are many other possible variations – the more people involved the more complex obtaining dynamic consent is going to be.

Kirova describes regular monogamous relationships as ‘static’ whereas Polyamorous relationships allow people to explore their sexualities and identities more fully than being committed to just one person.

Jealousy is an obvious problem that can arise with this type of relationship, but Ana says with her and her partner this was an early stage problem which they worked through and after that it was all fine, it’s just a matter of working through it!

Who is into Polyamory and why is it growing?

Anecdotally younger people in their 20s are most likely to adopt this type of relationship.

Ana Kirova suggests this is because younger people grew up with the internent which exposed them to a wider range of identities and possibilities.

The empowerment of women and LGBTQ plus people has also had a massive impact, as the later especially have had to redefine what a ‘good relationship’ looks for them.

35% on the Feeld App identify as different to heterosexual and most are in the 20 to 30 age bracket.

Evaluating Polyamory

The show had three ‘experts’ in to discuss Polyamory…..

  • Pam Spur – psychologist and relationship expert
  • Anita Cassidy – embraced a polyamorous life style, life coach 38
  • Andrew G Marshall- marriage therapist.

Together they made the following evaluative points:

Monogamy seems to work best for most people – there are many supposed advantageous of Monogamy which stand in contrast: Monogamy is…

  • More stable
  • More Secure
  • Easy to legislate
  • Religiously sanctioned.

HOWEVER, there is no suggestion from Ana that Monogamy isn’t an option, one of the panelists, herself polyamorous, was going through a phase of being ‘consciously monogamous’ while her parter had a ‘play partner’ he met up with once a month.

They seemed to agree that ‘Toxic relationship normality’ is a problem – having a concept of ‘normal’ can be harmful. IF we all think we have no choice but to stick with a monogamous relationship this might just lead to more abuse and affairs within that relationship. This inks to the dark side of family life uncovered by Feminists.

Furthermore, children may be better off with their parents NOT sticking to a dead monogomous relationship…

Kirova for example says her parents had fallen out of love after 20 or 30 years, and they were unhappy because they didn’t know how to live a life apart. She says she had stability but with parents who were not their best selves, and possibly having the option of polyamory may be better all round.

So what’s she’s saying is that it’s maybe even better for children to learn relatively early on that it’s OK to leave a monogamous relationship behind if it’s not working and find someone else, or more than one ‘someone’ else!

Loving more than one person – jealousy…. many people just can’t get one over it, it can be pathological. HOWEVER, maybe it’s better to learn from it than run away from jealousy, and with Polyandry that’s something you’re going to have to do.

NB there is maybe a problem that you will get a lot of bored people using the app – Polyamory isn’t an easy way out of a failing relationship!

Relevance to A-Level Sociology

The programme was clearly pro-Polyamory and seems most in line with the concept of the negotiated Family associated with Late Modernism.

It’s doubtful whether the New Right would agree with the concept of Polyamory, but they’d maybe have a difficult time arguing against it when monogamy is seen as an option and there’s little evidence of people being harmed by Polyamory!

Positive Thinking – BBC Radio 4.

Why is the Birth Rate in England and Wales Declining?

The latest statistics rom the ONS show that half of all women now remain childless until they are 30, which reflects a longer term trend of declining birth rates in England and Wales.

In fact, birth rates have been declining for around 10 years now, previous to which they had been increasing, but why is this?

This topic is an update relevant to the Families and Households module.

Why have birth rates been declining for the last decade?

Writing in The Guardian, Poly Toynbee identifies two main reasons to do with increasing economic hardship and Conservative austerity policies which fail to make work attractive for women with children.

She notes that the dip in the birth rate started when The Coalition government introduced their austerity policies in 2012, and this meant heavy cuts to child services, such as Sure Start, making it less appealing to have children.

But mainly this change seems to be about economic factors – people have fewer children when they think there are going to be tough economic times ahead – and our economies been creaking for years, especially if we look at the cost of housing.

You may think that the chosen social response to the Pandemic that was Lockdown would have encouraged people to have more children, as work has become more home-based, but the reality of this for women was having to balance home working and home schooling.

And now there’s more uncertainty than ever going forwards – about the Pandemic, about the economy, and, frankly, who can blame anyone for not wanting to bring children into this new post-pandemic world of ours.

NB…. this could have dire consequences ten years down the line for our ageing population, now there will be even fewer working age to retired people.

Sources/ Find out More.

I heard about the ‘half of all women are childless until 30’ stat on Radio Four this morning.

The latest ONS figures on birth and death rates.

Thinking about Divorce Might help marriages last longer!

Sociology students should be well aware that we live in age of persistently high divorce rates, with almost half of all marriages ending in Divorce.

While marriage is usually a result of romantic love, and the first months and even years might well be pleasant, eventually mere practical concerns such as money, career changes, and especially childcare can put a strain on marriage resulting in a divorce that neither partner wants.

Jeannie Suk Gersen is a Professor of Law at Harvard Law School who suggests that divorce lawyers should become marriage guidance counsellors and work with couples before they get married in order to get them to reflect on the kinds of things that lead to divorce, and to effectively agree on the kinds of practical questions that can put strain on a marriage which result in Divorce.

The idea is that IF couples think through the kind of problems which usually put strain on a marriage several years down the line, they’ll be better prepared to cope with that strain and divorce will be less likely.

There are three types of question/ issues that couples should work with pre-marriage counsellors to sort out before getting married:

  1. What are one or both of you giving up in order to get married and what should the appropriate compensation be?
  2. How are you going to sort out childcare? (There is no such thing as free childcare)
  3. What property do you want to keep as yours rather than it becoming ‘property of the marriage’?

These are the kind of things couples don’t usually think about when making the commitment to get married, which results in ‘hidden sacrifices; being made by one partner’ which can breed resentment over the years resulting in Divorce.

For example, one partner may give up or take a step back in their career to move to a new city where their partner maintains their career.

Most couples don’t appreciate just how much mundane labour is involved with childcare or how much it costs to arrange babysitters etc. This is something that couples REALLY need to think about before marriage if they intend to have children.

Finally, if they have investments they want kept separate, they need to sort this out in advance of getting married.

These are the three questions that most commonly have to be answered when couples file for formal divorce – and it’s certainly not a matter of romance at that point. Couples have to agree on an economic value of the money lost from the career one of them gave up when they moved or on the cost of the free childcare they’ve given, in relation to the income coming in from the other partner, for example.

Gerson came up with this idea from the course she teaches in family-divorce law. She says she’s received lots of emails from her ex-students telling her how useful knowing about these questions had been in their own relationships.

Her point is that trying to put an economic value on what one person has ‘given up’ and what their compensation should be BEFORE getting married – that should help prevent resentment because both partners are in agreement from day one, rather than there being unspoken about subjective differences in what each person is giving to the relationship, purely in practical and financial terms.

There is an interesting link here to arranged marriages – it is precisely these kind of things that the parents of two people in an arranged marriage will sort out – that there is a kind of ‘equality’ in practical terms and that the partners are a good match in this sense.

In non western cultures – this is considered – sorting out practical considerations about money are sorted out at the start of the marriage journey, then it allows room for romance to start 

The theory is this – if we can sort out the pragmatic arrangements of a marriage first, this should allow more room for fun and romance, and the marriage has more chance of success.

Relevance to A-level Sociology

This is a useful update for students studying the families and households option.

It’s especially relevant to Late Modern perspectives on the family:

This is the kind of social development that Anthony Giddens foresaw many years ago – experts becoming more involved in the running of people’s personal lives, it’s an extension of expert systems into people’s life-worlds.

It’s also the formalisation of the negotiated relationship mentioned by Ulrich Beck – kind of a development of it, spelling out the domains that should be negotiated – the kind of areas that couples don’t talk about – or maybe the fact that this is being suggested here tells us that couples over the last decades haven’t really been ‘negotiating’ their relationships that successfully!

Ultimately it also shows us an example of reflexivity in society – and is a criticism of Postmodernism – in this example we see that MOST of us agree that divorce is desirable and we take conscious steps to actively reduce the likelihood of it happening – which suggests Giddens’ idea of the late modern society is more appropriate than postmodernity, which suggests there is no such thing as truth anymore. This isn’t the case here – the agreed upon truth is that ‘divorce is bad’ and there’s an attempt to refine a solution.

The problem – is there’s no demand for this kind of pre-marriage service!

When you’re about to get married, you’re in love – the last thing you want to think about is codifying and quantifying that relationship into a points system which is what is being suggested here.

Also many millennials just aren’t that pragmatic – they’d rather tell the story of romantic love than this cold and calculated approach to a relationship.  

AND, will this work – in the early days of a relationship you are in the phase of ‘showing what you show’, and ‘hearing what you want to hear’ – either partner could easily over-promise.

And in England at least, talking about money is vulgar – it’s not appealing.

Finally you can’t plan for every future eventuality with children – they have this habit of being…. unpredictable at times!

Find out More

I summarised the above from an excellent radio 4 episode of Positive Thinking – you can listen to it here.

Changing Family Values in the UK

Attitudes to family life in the UK and Europe have become more liberal in the last decade

Attitudes towards family life have become more ‘postmodern’ and less conservative between 2006/07 and 2018/19.

According to the latest British Social Attitudes Survey which measures ‘family values’ by five questions about whether individuals approve or disapprove about different aspects of family life:

  • remaining childless (disapproval fell from 8% to 6% in the last ten years)
  • cohabitation (disapproval fell from 14 to 8%)
  • having children while cohabiting (out of marriage) (21 to 12%)
  • Being in full time work with children under three (20 to 11%)
  • Divorce with children under 12 (disapproval fell from 28% to 16%)

What this shows us is that individual values about family life have become more Post/ Late Modern over the last decade – many of these indicators suggest more individualisation, more support for freedom of choice and (surprisingly) divorcing even with children.

There is also a clear shift away from New Right views with increasing support for cohabitation (rather than marriage) being a suitable family arrangement for raising children.

Older generations dying explain this shift in values

The British social attitudes survey analyses their findings by comparing family values across five generations – split as follows:

  • Born 1901-1927 – the Greatest Generation
  • Born 1928-1945 – the Silent Generation
  • Born 1946-1964 – the Baby Boomers
  • Born 1965-1980 – Generation X
  • Born 1981-1996 – Millennials
  • Born 1997-2012 – Generation Z

Unfortunately this shift towards more liberal family values hasn’t occurred because of (older) people changing their minds and become more tolerant of family diversity, rather it’s because the older generations have died and their traditional family values have died with them.

This is best illustrated if we compare the family values of the oldest and youngest generations:

In the 2006/07 survey there were still large numbers of the ‘Great Generation’ alive (those born between 1901 and 1927) who had VERY conservative values about the family, however by the 2018/19 survey the youngest member of this generation would have been 91 and the oldest 117, resulting in insufficient numbers for a representative sample, hence this generation disappears from the survey results by 2018/19.

While for Generation Z who would have been too young to take part in the survey ten years ago, they now appear in the latest results, albeit in small numbers (because some would still be too young!) and these have much more liberal attitudes.

You can also clearly see the shift towards more liberal values more generally in the chart above.

One final thing to think about is the changing attitudes to working with young children – more people probably think this is OK because they know people increasingly HAVE to work to pay the bills, so it’s not as if this is a matter of choice for most parents with younger children!

Changing European Family Values

The report also compares changing attitudes to family life to changes in other countries in Europe:

Family values are getting more liberal in EVERY European country except Sweden (but that had VERY low disapproval ratings to start with!), suggesting this is a regional trend, although other countries started from a ‘higher base’ of more conservative family values.

Signposting and Related Posts

This post has primarily been written for students of A-level sociology and is relevant to the families and households module.

It seems to be valid evidence showing a shift towards postmodern values and away from new right views on the family and it is also relevant to marriage and divorce and family diversity topics as these trends help explain the decline in marriage and increase in divorce – they show that more people think it’s acceptable to not be married before starting a family and OK to divorce even if you have younger children.

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Sources/ Find out More

The full BSA report on the family is worth a read!

Why some women choose not to have children

Birth rates have been falling for decades, in practically every country on earth. But not only are women having fewer children, more women are remaining childless for their entire lives.

15% of women in the United States now remain childless into their late 40s.

However, this choice to remain child-free isn’t one that comes easy.

The Guardian newspaper recently released some videos of interviews with women of various different ages who have chosen to remain childless reveal the fact that they often have to battle against the social norm that they should become mothers.

All of the women in this video explain that they were brought up with the norm that ‘normal’ women wanted children and would at some point have children.

They say that most of the subtle pressure to have children comes from their families, their own mothers and female relatives, but also their female friends and work colleagues.

If they tell a work colleague that they don’t want kids, the typical response back is that ‘you’ll want them one day’, as if the already-mothers or ‘pro-mums to be’ brush off their ‘not wanting kids’ attitude as temporary insanity, and thus to be disregarded.

One of the interviewees talks about how not having kids was never presented as a choice to her during early socialisation – it wasn’t until she was a teenager that she came across the idea that remaining childless was a legitimate choice for women.

An argument for not having children

In a recent piece written for the Guardian entitled ‘Why I don’t have a child: I cherish my freedom‘ Ann Neumann argues for the benefits of not having children.

She starts off pointing out the obvious freedoms that come with being childless – such as being able to pick up and move and switch jobs/ set up businesses/ go travelling whenever she likes, but she also says she has found freedom in a more profound sense – the freedom to be creative and to pursue and to develop her own career as she sees fit.

Finally, Neumann says that having remained child-free until her menopause has given her a fresh perspective on the whole status of childless women, and she presents a broadly radical-feminist that sees becoming a mother as the main event that locks women into traditionally gendered carer-roles , chained because they are mothers.

She also reminds us that all other things being equal it is much easier to free yourself form an abusive relationship if you have your own income, which is much more likely if you are not a mother!

There is a cost to remaining childless:

Women who remain childless have to pay for it:

  • Quite literally pay for contraception, and possibly abortions (she’s had two)
  • You have to be mentally disciplined enough to stick to a contraceptive routine.
  • You have to put up with the ‘too-personal inquiries’ in to why you’ve never had children (our female bodies are never our own),
  • And you have to suffer the loss of social status that comes with being motherless, as ‘mothers are the moral future of the nation’.

Relevance to A-level sociology

This would fit right in with the ‘Feminist theory‘ of the family, and is also of relevance to changing family patterns (declining birth rates) in the sociology of the family.

A-level sociology families and households: course summary, schemes of work and lesson plans

I’ve been consolidating my A-level sociology planning recently, and I’ve concluded it’s useful to have several different versions of module summaries and schemes of work, as below:

  • A mind map overview/ summary
  • A Power Point overview/ summary
  • A brief scheme of work
  • A long scheme of work
  • Detailed individual lesson plans.

All of these are based on the AQA’s specification, for the families and households topic.

Mind map overview of education

This is mind map number 1, the Borg equivalent of Unimatrix Zero. There are many other mind maps which branch off it – each colour thread itself becomes the central focus for more mind maps!

Power Point overview of education

Should need no explanation, about as brief as it can get.

Brief education Families Scheme of Work

A very brief version to be displayed in classrooms, an at a glance’ version so students can see where they are in the course and what’s coming next.

Long education Families Scheme of Work

This is a grid consisting of sub-topics, concepts, research studies, assessment and resources for each sup-topic. This more in-depth version follows the AQA specification rigidly and should include everything students need to know.

NB this is slightly different to the overview and lesson plans as some ‘lessons’ go beyond the specification or fuse different areas of it together.

Detailed Lesson Plans  

These are really for teachers only, and contain detailed minute by minute lesson plans with aims and objectives, resources and extension ideas.

New Resource: Families and Households teaching bundle for A-level sociology

All of the above are available as part of my ‘sociology of education teaching bundle’. One downloadable bundle including fully modifiable teaching resources in Microsoft Word and PowerPoint. Only £49.95, or as part of a monthly subscription package for £9.99 a month!

The bundle includes:

  • A detailed scheme of work covering the entire AQA specification for the families and households topic 
  • 24 detailed lesson plans (topics below)
  • Seven student work packs on Perspectives, class, gender, ethnicity and education policies. 
  • PowerPoints to accompany most lessons. 
  • Activities such as role play games, sentence sorts, gap fills. 

NB I have had to remove most of the pictures from these materials for copyright reasons, but the idea is that you can always add these in yourself to beautify them!

Lessons covered:

  1. An introduction to the sociology of families and households
  2. The Functionalist perspective on the family
  3. The Marxist perspective on the family
  4. The Marxist/ Feminist perspectives on the family
  5. The Feminist perspective on the family
  6. The New Right view of the family
  7. The Postmodern and Personal Life Perspective on the family
  8. Consolidation Families and households Assessment Lesson – focussing on evaluation skills and essay writing.
  9. Exploring and explaining trends in marriage
  10. Exploring and explaining trends in divorce
  11. Evaluating sociological perspectives on marriage and divorce
  12. Exploring and explaining increasing family diversity – ‘organisational diversity’
  13. Exploring family diversity by social class, ethnicity, and sexuality
  14. Evaluating the view that families are becoming more diverse
  15. Power in relationships: housework and childcare
  16. Power in relationships: perspectives on domestic violence
  17. Is Childhood Socially Constructed?
  18. Evaluating the March of Progress View of Childhood
  19. Is Childhood Disappearing?
  20. Birth and Death Rates
  21. The challenges of the Ageing Population
  22. Migration and family life
  23. Social Policies and family life 1
  24. Social Policies and family life 2

Good videos showing the social construction of childhood

Below are some relatively recent examples of documentary video evidence which demonstrate how attitudes to children vary across cultures, supporting the view that childhood is socially constructed.

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

Child Brides

In India, teenage girls aged 14-15 are sometimes pressurized into marrying by their family against their will, often due to financial reasons. The video below explores this, but looks at how teenage female victims try to avoid getting married when they do not want to…

In the less Developed United States of America, it appears that the agents of the State are sometimes less willing to protect child victims of rape and coerced marriage than they are in India.

The video below documents a girl whose family coerced her into getting married after she was raped and made pregnant by her 24 year old ‘boyfriend’. 

For reasons that I don’t fully understand and aren’t really explored in the video, the 24 year old child rapist wasn’t prosecuted.

Instead he was legally allowed to marry his by then 15 year old pregnant ‘girlfriend’, with further violent abuse continuing after the marriage.

As I say, I don’t understand how the State can legally sanction violence against children, but that’s life in an underdeveloped country such as America I guess!

Ritualised Violence against girls

In the Hamar Tribe in Ethiopia,

When boys reach the age of puberty they have to go through a ritual to become men. The main event in this ritual (for the boys at least) involves jumping over some cattle four times. Once a boy has done this, he is officially a man.

However, before they jump the cattle, young teenage girls beg to to be whipped with sticks by the boys about to undergo the ritual – the more they are whipped, the more ‘honour’ they bring on their families.

NB this isn’t play whipping, some of the blows these girls receive are serious, as you can see from the scars in the video still below, the whipping often opens up quite significant wounds which take time to heal, and with healing comes scaring.

Towards the end of this video you get to see an example of this ceremony – the girls are quite willing volunteers in this ritualized violence, which seems to be a normal part of childhood for girls in the Hamar Tribe.

Child slavery in West Africa

In West Africa, thousands of girls and women have been enslaved by a practice called ‘trokosi’. Girls as young as seven are given away by their family to pay for the sins of family members. They get forcibly shipped to a shrine, possibly in a foreign country, stripped of their identity, and are forced to work as ‘servants of God’.

In the documentary below, one victim of trokosi revisits her home country of Ghana to find out why this happened to her.

She was lucky enough to get out because an American negotiated her release  and became her adopted father, which kind of suggests this religion is pretty flexible!

Further examples of how childhood is socially constructed

You can probably also find videos on child labour and child soldiers, two other good examples.

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Britain’s Ageing Population – Is it a Problem?

This post provides an overview of statistics on Britain’s ageing population before looking at some of the problems associated with this trend, including the increased strain on health services and increased burden on young people. It also asks whether the ageing population is actually a problem or not?

Statistics on the Ageing Population

  • In 1998, around one in six people were 65 years and over (15.9% of the population )
  • In 2020, approximately in five people are aged 65 years and over
  • By 2038 it is protected that around one in every four people (24.2%) will be aged 65 and over.

Population Pyramids

These are a nice way of demonstrating Britain’s changing population structure:

The UK’s Age Structure in 1998

The UK’s Age Structure in 2038 (projected)

If you look at the above two population pyramids, you can clearly see a ‘bulge’ around age 30 in 1998, which has disappeared in 2038.

The age structure in 2038 is a much more even, and less like a pyramid.

This is simply a result of people getting older and fewer babies being born (the declining birth rate over the last few decades).

The Dependency Ratio

The Dependency Ratio refers to the number of people of working age in relation to the number of people of non-working age. The later group includes children and people of pensionable age, in 2020 that means everone aged over 65. In the 1990s there used to be

The Office for National Statistics uses this measurement, which is the number of people of pensionable age in relation to those aged 16-64 (working age) per thousand.

The old age dependency ratio was 300:1000 (3.3 workers to each pensioner) in 1992 , it is project to increase to 400:1000 (2.5 workers to each pensioner) by 2067.

The problem of the increasing dependency ratio

Every pensioner in the UK is entitled to a state pension and a range of other ‘free at the point of use’ public services, mainly health-care. These are paid for by taxes on the income of current workers, and the fewer workers to pensioners, the more each worker has to be taxed to pay for pensions and services used by pensioners.

All other things remaining equal, taxes are going to have to increase by 25% based on the above change in the dependency ratio.

One possible way of combating this problem is for more people of pensionable age to work, and in fact this is already happening – the economic activity levels of the over 65s has doubled in the last few decades:

An increased strain on public services

Increasing numbers of pensioners puts a strain on the NHS because pensioners use health services more than younger people.

With increasing numbers of pensioners ‘sucking money’ out of the welfare state’ there is less left for everything else – services for the young are being cut to compensate

This is because healthy life expectancy is not keeping pace with life-expectancy, and there are increasing numbers of people in their 80s who spend several years with chronic physical conditions such as arthritis, and also dementia both of which require intensive social care.

While the ageing population presents problems, there are solutions – such as improving education about how to stay healthy in later life, changing ideas about working so that people are able to work for longer could be part of the solution.

Problems for younger people

People in their 50s have become a ‘sandwich generation’ – they are now caught between having to provide care for their elderly parents, while still having their 20 something children living at home.

However, things are even worse for today’s teenagers – the retirement aged has now been pushed back to 68 – young people today are going to have to retire much later than their current grandparents.

While the ageing population presents problems, there are solutions – such as improving education about how to stay healthy in later life, changing ideas about working so that people are able to work for longer could be part of the solution.

Arguments against the view that the ageing population is a problem

We ned to be careful not to exaggerate the extend to which old people are a ‘burden’ on society, these often come from stereotypical ways of thinking about age. Not all old people are incapable or in poor health! Most older people live healthy lives into old age and increasing numbers of the over 65s are economically active.

Effective long-term planning and forward-looking social policy changes today can help reduce some of the problems associated with the dependency ratio, such as raising the state pension age.

Marxists think attitudes to old age are influenced by capitalism. Marxist suggest that age groups are defined by the capitalist system. For example, adults are people of working age, and the elderly are told old to work. Philipson (1982) capitalism views the elderly as burden on society. This is because their working life has ended, and they usually have less spending power. Therefore, old age become stigmatised in society.

Postmodernists argue attitudes to age are changing. Magazine, advertisers and the media generally often portray “youthful” old age – old people enjoying holidays, sport, wearing fashionable clothes etc. People can also mask their old age through plastic surgery. The strict identity of old age no longer exists.

Sources

Related posts

The aging population is a consequence of the declining death rate, and the increasing dependency ratio is a consequence of this plus the declining birth rate. Hence these two posts might be worth reviewing:

For some extension work, you might like this: The consequences of an ageing population – summary of a Thinking Allowed Podcast from 2015 which focuses on the challenges of a future in which increasing numbers of people will be aged over 70.

Please click here to return to the main ReviseSociology home page!

Social Policy and the family in Global Context

How do policies on family life vary from country to country? This post explores some of the cross national variations in policies on the following aspects of family life:

  • Marriage
  • Divorce
  • Benefits for single parents
  • Maternity and paternity pay
  • Gay marriage

This post should be relevant to the social policies topic within the A-level sociology families and households module, and there’s also some possible relevance to the religion module too, as some of the variations in family-policies are due to religious traditions.

International Variations in Marriage

Marriage policy seems to be the one which varies least – the majority of countries have 16 as the lowest legal age for marriage, with a few countries having set the age at 15.

There seems to be a problem (from the Western perspective) in Iran which has a policy of allowing temporary marriages – which several families use to marry off children much younger than 16 years of age.

Iran seems to be an issue!

Source: Wikipedia

International variations in Divorce Law

The Philippines remains the only country on earth where divorce is illegal

The worst affected people here are the victims of domestic violence, who are mainly female, who can only escape an abusive marriage through a legal separation, a status which prevents them from remarrying should they so wish.

Japan is also an interesting case in relation to equality, because women have to wait six months after divorce to get remarried, whereas men can get remarried immediately after a divorce.

(source)

International variations in Maternity and Paternity Pay

There is significant variation across the developed world in the number of weeks of full-time paid maternity and paternity leave new mothers and fathers are entitled to – ranging from over 80 weeks to less than 10 weeks – and in the case of the United States of America, women are entitled to no weeks of mandatory paid maternity leave at the Federal level – that’s left to individual states and employers.

NB – with 12 weeks of full maternity pay and only 2 paid weeks for paternity, the UK comes very near the bottom for its quality of state support for new parents.

Source: Unicef: Are the World’s Richest Countries Family Friendly?

International variations in Gay Marriage

30 countries allow same sex marriage

72 Countries still have laws against gay relationships

NB: The above map is taken from a blog called ’76 crimes’ – 76 must have been the number of countries where there were laws against homosexuality at the time the blog was initially set up – however now there are only 72 countries.

I guess this shows progress, it also shows you how not to name a blog!

Sources:

International Variations in Child Benefit

Most Northern European countries pay parents for having children, through ‘universal child benefit’ – parents get paid no matter what their income. Payments vary from around $2000 in France to over $8000 in Luxembourg.

The United Kingdom is one of the few countries which means-tests its child benefit, so higher income households do not get it.

Most less developed countries such as the United States have no child benefit allowance for new parents.

Source: Vox

Some Questions to consider:

  • To what extent do family policies vary from country to country?
  • Which countries have the most ‘progressive policies’? (You’ll need to say what you mean by progressive!)
  • Which countries have social policies which are the most oppressive to women and children?
  • Why do policies vary from country to country?

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