The Social Construction of Chilhoood

When sociologists say that ‘childhood is socially constructed’ they mean that the ideas we have about childhood are created by society, rather than being determined by the biological age of a ‘child’.

Some of the aspects of childhood which are influence by society include:

  • The length of childhood and the moment a child becomes an adult
  • The status of children in society – their rights and responsibilities, what legal protections/ restrictions we place on them
  • The general ideas we have about children – for example whether we think they are innocent and in need of protection, or resilient and in need of freedom to explore and develop by themselves as far as possible.

This post explores some of the evidence for the view that ‘childhood is socially constructed’.

 

Is Childhood Socially constructed

 

What is Childhood?

Childhood, ‘the state of being a child’ is often defined in contrast to adulthood.

For example, the Cambridge English dictionary defines a child’ as ‘a boy or girl from time of birth until he or she is an adult’.

More usefully (IMO) The Oxford English dictionary defines a child as a young human being below the age of puberty, or below the age of a legal majority.

Taken together these two definitions show us that childhood can be either biologically determined, ending when someone reaches their biological age of puberty, or it can be socially determined, simply ending an age when society says someone is an adult.

In Modern Britain, it is society that determines when childhood ends an adulthood starts, and that age is currently set at 18, when an individual reaches the age of ‘legal entitlement’.

However, children do not just suddenly become adults at the age of 18. In Britain there is also a very lengthy transition from childhood, through adolescence, into adulthood, with children gradually picking up certain ‘legal entitlements’ as they progress through their teenage years.

For example, children can work from the age of 14, the age of sexual consent is at 16, and the age at which they can drive is 17.

The fact that society determines the age at which childhood ends is part of the reason why sociologists argue that ‘childhood is socially constructed’ – ‘socially constructed’ simply means created by society (rather than by biology).

Ideas associated with childhood

There are a lot of ideas associated with childhood, and how it differs from adulthood. In Modern Britain we tend to think of children as being dependent, naive, innocent, vulnerable, and in need of protection from adults.

We tend to see children as having insufficient experience and knowledge (because they are still learning and evolving) to be able to make good decisions, and thus we also tend to see them as not necessarily being responsible for their own actions.

The separation of childhood and adulthood

There seems to be near universal agreement that there are some fundamental differences between adults and children. For example people in most societies seem to agree that

1. Children are physically and psychologically immature compared to adults
2. Children are dependent on adults for a range of biological and emotional needs – Children need a lengthy process of socialisation which takes several years.
3. In contrast to adults, children are not competent to run their own lives and cannot be held responsible for their actions

In contrast to the period of childhood, one of the defining characteristics of adulthood is that adults are biologically mature, are competent to run their own lives and are fully responsible for their actions.

However, despite broad agreement on the above, what people mean by childhood and the position children occupy is not fixed but differs across times, places and cultures. There is considerable variation in what people in different societies think about the place of children in society, about what children should and shouldn’t be doing at certain ages, about how children should be socialised, and about the age at which they should be regarded as adults.

For this reason, Sociologists say that childhood is socially constructed. This means that childhood is something created and defined by society:

The social construction of childhood in modern British society

Part of the social construction of childhood in modern Britain is that we choose to have a high degree of separation between the spheres of childhood and adulthood. Add in details to the headings below

1. There are child specific places where only children and ‘trusted adults’ are supposed to go, and thus children are relatively sheltered from adult life.
2. There are several laws preventing children from doing certain things which adults are allowed to do.
3. There are products specifically for children –which adults are not supposed to play with (although some of them do).

All of the above separations between adults and children have nothing to do with the biological differences between adults and children – children do not need to have ‘special places’ just for them, they do not need special laws protecting them, and neither do they need specific toys designed for them. We as a society have decided that these things are desirable for children, and thus we ‘construct childhood’ as a being very different to adulthood.

The Social Construction of Childhood – A Comparative Approach

A good way to illustrate the social construction of childhood is to take a comparative approach – that is, to look at how children are seen and treated in other times and places than their own. Three fairly well-known examples of how childhood can vary in other countries include:

  • Child Labour – In some cultures children are seen as an ‘economic asset’ and expected to engage in paid work – In Less developed countries children are often seen as a source of cheap (free) labour on the farm, in the home or in sweat shops where the wage can help boost the family income.
  • Child soldiers – In conflict, typically young teenage boys may be recruited to fight, effectively taking on very serious adult responsibilities several years younger than they would do in ‘western’ societies.
  • Forced Marriage – In some countries, young teenage girls are sometimes coerced into arranged marriage without their consent, taking on the duties of a wife or mother at a young age. This is well-documented in India and Ethiopia, for example.
  • 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’.

NB this isn’t to suggest that any of these conceptions are ‘equal’ to our conceptions of childhood in the west – it is purely to illustrate that there are plenty of cultures where adults DO NOT think children are ‘in need of protection’ and so on, and many hundreds of millions of adults who believe that childhood should end a lot younger than 16-18.

Philippe Aries – A Radical View on The Social Construction of Childhood

The historian Philippe Aries has an extreme view on childhood as a social construction. He argues that in the Middle Ages (the 10th to the 13th century) ‘the idea of childhood did not exist’ – children were not seen as essentially different to adults like they are today.

  • Aries uses the following evidence to support his view…
  • Children were expected to work at a much earlier age
  • The law often made no distinction between children and adults

Works of art from the period often just depict children as small adults – they wear the same clothes and appear to work and play together.

In addition to the above Edward Shorter (1975) argues about parental attitudes to children in the Middle ages were very different from today…

  • High infant mortality rates encouraged indifference and neglect, especially towards infants
  • Parents often neglected to give new born babies names – referring to them as ‘it’ and it was not uncommon to eventually give a new baby a name of a dead sibling.

Aries argues that it is only from the 13th century onwards that modern notions of childhood – the idea that childhood is a distinct phase of life from adulthood – begin to emerge. Essentially Aries is arguing that childhood as we understand it today is a relatively recent ‘invention’

If you like this sort of thing then you might like this – over 50 pages of accessible, user friendly, exam-focused notes for only £0.99* – from iTunes, Barnes and Noble and Kobo.

Sociology Revision Notes

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Related Posts

The March of Progress View of Childhood

The Social Construction of Childhood (from the Open University)

The Social Construction of Childhood (from the Junior University)

Gender equality in the domestic division of labour

Who does the housework? Men or Women?

Do men and women do equal amounts of housework and child care today or is there evidence of a dual burden for women? What do the trends suggest about women’s empowerment? 

Before reading this post, you might like to read this preceding post: Conceptualizing Gender Equality, which covers some of the concepts sociologists have developed over the years to describe trends towards gender equality in domestic life.

A useful resource for exploring ‘raw survey data’ on who does the housework is the Understanding Society UK Longitudinal Study.

The domestic division of labour has become more since the 1950s.

  • Numerous surveys carried out since the 1950s show a narrowing of the gender gap in the domestic division of laobur.
  • Liberal Feminists and Young and Wilmott would argue that this is because more women are in paid work and families become more symmetrical.
  • Another reason for this is the ‘commercialisation of housework’ – New technologies such as washing machines, hoovers and fridge-freezers (think ready meals) have reduced the amount of housework that needs doing and narrows the gender divide in the domestic division of labour.

Lockdown narrowed the Gendered Division of Labour Gap

A 2020 study from the ONS found that before Lockdown, in 2104-15, women did 1 hour 50 minutes more housework and childcare per day than men, which reduced to 1 hour and 7 minutes per day during Lockdown.

Historic Evidence of gender inequality in the domestic division of labour

Despite the quite dramatic changes with lockdown, historically there is considerable evidence that the Gendered Division of Labour shows a persistent pattern of women doing a lot more housework and childcare than men!

A 2019 study UCL study based on interviews with 8 500 opposite sex couples found that:

  • Women do 16 hours of household chores every week, men do closer to six.
  • Women did the bulk of the domestic chores in 93 per cent of couples .
  • There was a 50-50 split of domestic chores in 6% of couples
  • Only 1% of couples had men doing more domestic work than women.

This work is summarised in this Independent article.

Housework – Gendered Variations by Ethnicity

A 2016 study showed that while women do almost twice as much housework than men in White British and Black British households, women do three tims as much housework than men in Indian households, and four times as much in Pakistani and Bangladeshi households.

The study found that gender attitudes and lack of education were predictors of housework imbalance – more educated women in all ethnic groups did proportionately less housework.

A 2014 survey by the BBC’s Women’s Hour found women devote well over the equivalent of a working day each week to household chores – double the amount undertaken by men. The poll for BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour suggests that women spend an average of 11-and-a-half hours doing housework by their own estimation, while men complete just six.

Source – Chore Wars Poll

Similar findings were revealed in a survey of almost 1,000 users of the Mumsnet website.

  • Changing lightbulbs, taking the bins out and DIY were the only three of 54 common domestic tasks done in more than half of cases by men, with 15 roughly shared and the rest chiefly carried out by women.
  • Most often done by female partners were organising playdates, health appointments, childcare and birthday parties – as well as cleaning and laundry. Parents evenings, school plays and bedtime stories are most often seen as shared activities.
  • Justine Roberts, CEO of Mumsnet said: “One in three working mums is the main family wage earner, a rise of one million over the last 18 years… But despite this, women are still busting a gut back home, responsible for the vast majority of chores and domestic responsibilities. It’s not surprising we still talk about glass ceilings and the lack of women at the top. Most of us are just too exhausted to climb the greasy pole.”

According to a 2011 survey by the Social Issues Research Centre, The Changing Face of Motherhood, there has been hardly any change in domestic division of labour over the last 20 years (since the mid 1990s):

  • In 1994 it emerged that for 79 per cent of couples the woman did most or all of the laundry, with the role being shared in only 18 per cent of cases. The latest survey (in 2011) showed that the proportion sharing the role has only risen by two percentage points. In 70 per cent of houses laundry is still seen as women’s work.
  • In the kitchen, there has been virtually no change in the last 10 years. Women still do the lion’s share of the cooking in 55 per cent of couple households.
  • When it comes to tasks such as shopping for groceries, women’s workload has increased slightly the early 1990s. The picture was similar when people were asked about cleaning and caring for sick family members.
  • By contrast, DIY is still seen as virtually the sole preserve of men in 75 per cent of households – exactly as it was almost 20 years ago

Source.


Analysis – Who does the Housework? Men or Women?

  • Looking at the above statistics it seems reasonable to conclude that Radical Feminist concepts such as the dual burden and the triple shift still apply.
  • We can also conclude that women going into paid work has not yet resulted in total equality in the domestic division of labour.
  • It also seems reasonable to assume that there may be social class differences in the gendered division of labour – the top 10% of households will be in a position to hire cleaners and child care thus reducing the dual burden on middle class, professional women.
  • Another way in which middle class women will be advantaged compared to working class is that because of their husbands’ hire earning power, they will be more able to take time off work to be full time stay at home mums – meaning that they may do more domestic labour, but at least they don’t suffer the dual burden and triple shift.

Related Posts

To what extent are gender roles equal?

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

How has women going into paid work affected equality in relationships?

Evidence that women going into paid work has resulted in greater equality in relationships

  • It seems obvious that women going into paid work has resulted in greater equality. As most women are now in paid-work this means they have more financial independence than ever before.
  • Statistics (see the next topic, link below) clearly show that the gendered division of labour has become more equal since the 1950s

To what extent is the domestic division of labour characterised be equality?

Evidence that women going into paid work has not resulted in greater equality

However, Radical Feminists argue that paid work has led to the dual burden and triple shift

One argument used to support this view is that paid work has not been ‘liberating’. Instead women have acquired the ‘dual burden’ of paid work and unpaid housework and the family remains patriarchal – men benefit from women’s paid earnings and their domestic labour. Some Radical Feminists go further arguing that women suffer from the ‘triple shift’ where they have to do paid work, domestic work and ‘emotion work’ – being expected to take on the emotional burden of caring for children.

Family diversity by ethnicity in the UK

How does family life vary by ethnicity in the UK today?

This brief update explores the extent to which family life and attitudes to family-life vary across some of the different ethnic groups in the UK. It looks at such things as marriage, divorce, birth rates, household types, equality and household structure.

It has been written mainly for the A-level sociology specification, families and households topic.

Data from the latest (2011) census shows that 86% of the UK population are classified as ‘white’, 7.5% as ‘Asian’ or ‘Asian-British’, 3.3% as’ Black’, 2.2% as ‘Mixed’ and 1% as ‘other’.

(NB – This represents a signficant increase in ethnic minorities compared to the 2001 census. In 2011, 14% of the population were non-white, compared to 9% in 2001.)

A brief history of South-Asian Family Life in the UK

Ballard (1982) noted that most South-Asian families had a much broader network of familial-relations than a typical white-British family and one individual household might be only one small part of a complex global network of kin-relations.

Ballard argued that in order to understand South-Asian family life in the UK in the 1980s, you had to look at the ideal model of family life in Asia which is Patriarchal, being based on tight control of women, collectivist (the group is more important than the individual) and obsessed with mainting family honour (primarily through not getting divorced/ committing adultury or having children outside of wedlock) because maintaining honour was crucial to your being able to do business in the wider community.

Ballard also stressed the importance of Honour and its Patriarchal nature….. The complexity of the question of the asymmetry of the sexes is nowhere better illustrated than in the concepts of honour, izzat and shame, sharm. In its narrower sense izzat is a matter of male pride. Honourable men are expected to present an image of fearlessness and independence to the outside world, and at the same time to keep close control over the female members of their families. For a woman to challenge her husband’s or her father’s authority in public shamefully punctures his honour. To sustain male izzat wives, sisters and daughters must be seen to behave with seemly modesty, secluding themselves from the world of men.

One of the key questions A-level sociology students should ask themselves is the extent to which the above research is true today, or the extent to which things have changed!

Household type by Ethnicity, UK Census 2011

According to the UK 2011 Census, we had the following variations by ethnicity:

Some of the most obvious differences of ethnic minority households (compared to white) households include:

  • Asian households are three times less likely to be cohabiting, and have higher rates of marriage
  • Asian households have half the rate of Lone Person households compared to white households.
  • Black and mixed households have twice the rate of lone parent households.
  • Black, Asian and mixed households have incredibly low levels of pensioner couple households compared to White households, and much higher rates of ‘other households’ (could be ‘multigenerational?)

Source here.


British Asians have more conservative views towards marriage and sexuality.

According to a poll in 2018, British Asians are twice as likely to report that ‘sex before marriage’ is unacceptable than ‘all Britons’, they are also more likely to be against same-sex relationships.

Source: BBC News report, 2018

A previous UK National Statistics report showed that the highest proportions of married couples under pension age, with or without children, are in Asian households. Over half of Bangladeshi (54%), Indian (53%) and Pakistani (51%) households contained a married couple, compared with 37% of those headed by a White British person. Demonstrating the importance of marriage for the Brit-Asian communities.


Divorce today is now much more common among Asian couples

Divorce has traditionally been seen as something shameful in Asian culture, with children under pressure to stay in loveless marriages in order to uphold the family’s honour and prevent shame falling on the family.

However, for today’s third and fourth generation Asians, things are much different.. According to this article there is a soaring British Asian divorce rate now that young Asian men and especially women are better educated and increasingly going into professional careers.


Forced Marriages are more common among Asian Families

There is also a dark-side to Asian family life, and that comes in the number of Forced Marriages associated with Asian communities.

In 2018 the British authorities dealt with 1500 cases of Forced Marriage, with there being over 1000 cases a year for most of the last decade.

Nearly half of all cases involve victims being taken to or originating from Pakistan, with Bangladesh being the second most involved country.

Only 7% of Forced Marriages take place entirely in the UK, so there’s an interesting link to (negative) Globalisation and family life here.

Source: ONS Forced Marriage Statistics


Immigrant women have higher fertility rates

The fertility rate for UK born mothers is 1.63, compared to 1.99 for non UK born mothers. This means the birth rate for non-UK born mother is about 25% higher.

The percentage of babies born to women from outside the UK has increased considerably over the last 20 years, but has recently leveled off and could now be declining.

Around 28% of births are to women who were born outside of the UK in 2018.

Source: ONS statistics: Births by Parents Country of Birth

The number of interracial relationships is increasing

The fact that interracial relationships are increasing might make it more difficult to make generalisations between ethnic groups in the future…..

Overall almost one in 10 people living in Britain is married to or living with someone from outside their own ethnic group, the analysis from the Office for National Statistics shows.


But the overall figure conceals wide variations. Only one in 25 white people have settled down with someone from outside their own racial background. By contrast 85 per cent of people from mixed-race families have themselves set up home with someone from another group.


Age is the crucial factor with those in their 20s and 30s more than twice as likely to be living with someone from another background as those over 65, reflecting a less rigid approach to identity over time.

Source: The Guardian, 2015

Other stuff

This is interesting: When will we stop blaming single black mother households.

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

Evaluating the view that the nuclear family is in decline (part 3/3)

Some commentators argue that the extent of ever increasing family diversity has been exaggerated

Robert Chester – The Neo-Conventional Family

Robert Chester (1985) recognises that there has been some increased family diversity in recent years. However, unlike the new right, he does not regard this as very significant, nor does he see it in a negative light. Chester argues the only important change is a move from the dominance of the traditional or conventional nuclear family, to what he describes as the ‘neo conventional’ family.

The Conventional Family – (declining) The Traditional nuclear family with ‘segregated conjugal roles’ – Male breadwinner and female homemaker.

The Neo-Conventional Family (the new norm) – a dual-earner family in which both spouses go out to work – similar to the symmetrical family of Young and Wilmott

Chester argues that most people are not choosing to live in alternatives to the nuclear family (such as lone parent families) on a long term basis and the nuclear family remains the ideal to which most people aspire. He argues that many people living alone have been or one day will be part of the nuclear family. Chester identifies a number of patterns that support his view:

  • Most children are still reared for most of their lives by their two natural parents
  • Most marriages still continue until death.
  • Cohabitation has increased, but for most couples it is a temporary phase before marrying.
  • Some ethnic groups are very likely to live in nuclear family households – Pakistani and Bangladeshi especially.

Pat Thane – A Historical Perspective on the ‘myth of the nuclear family’

This is a slightly different criticism to Chester – rather than criticising the idea that the nuclear family is in decline, Pat Thane challenges the idea that the nuclear family was ever the ‘norm’ in the first place. 

Family diversity was the norm up until world war two, then there was a brief period of thirty years from the 1940s -to the 1970s where nearly everyone got married and lived in nuclear families, and now we are returning to greater family diversity.

If we look at Marriage and Divorce – the decades after the end of the Second World War were an abnormal period, with much higher marriage rates than usual. Previously, in the 1930s for example, 15 percent of women and 9 percent of men did not marry. Similar numbers had long been normal.

If we look at lone parenthood –  In the early 18th century, 24 percent of marriages were ended by the death of a partner within ten years. As a result, a mixture of lone-parents, step-parents and step-children were commonplace in Britain.

Explaining the increase in family and household diversity (part 2/3)

4. Feminism: Changing Gender Roles

Liberal Feminists and Late Modernists would point to the increasing number of women going into work as one of the most important underlying structural shifts in Late Modern Society.

Rather than needing to depend on men for their financial independence, women are now much more likely to focus on building a career before ‘settling down’ and starting a family. This goes some way to explaining the increase in single person households. The increased earning power of women also explains the growth of the number of never-married women who choose to have babies on their own. While this only accounts for a relatively small proportion of single parent households, such numbers are increasing.

Women’s increased financial independence has also led to relationships becoming more fragile and thus helps explain the increase in single parent households and single person households following divorce.

Evaluation: It is important not to overstate the extent of ‘women’s liberation’ – In 2012, women accounted for 91 per cent of lone parents with dependent children and men the remaining 9 per cent. These percentages have changed little since 1996. Women are more likely to take the main caring responsibilities for any children when relationships break down, and therefore become lone parents.

5. Social Policies

There are two important policies which lie behind many of the above changes – the 1969 Divorce Act and the 1972 Equal Pay Act.

In addition to the above, The New Right believe that overly generous welfare benefits have created an underclass in the UK, and a subsection of this underclass consists of teenage girls who choose to get pregnant in order to get a council house and live a comfortable life on welfare.

Evaluations (of the New Right): In reality, only 2% of single parents are teenagers, which is hardly a significant proportion compared to the overall numbers.

Also, it is not so much the benefits system which is to blame – The money is simply not enough to encourage someone to have a child to get housed – If you are on benefits, whether you have a child or not, you get enough to exist rather than to have a comfortable life. (The current weekly Jobseekers allowance is under £60/ week).

6. Late Modernism

Late Modern Sociologists argue against Postmodernists. The increase in family diversity is not simply a matter of individuals having more freedom of choice and choosing to live alone or become a single parent, people are forced into these options because of structural changes making life more uncertain.

Firstly, most people don’t choose to live with their parents until they are 30, and most people don’t choose to live in a multigenerational household, they do so because they have to out of economic necessity.

Secondly, most people still want to get married and have children, but fewer people do so because of an increase in ‘risk consciousness’ – There is more uncertainty about what a ‘normal relationship’ is. Changing roles of men and women and changing expectations of relationships and family life result in young people being more reluctant to settle down in a classic long term relationship.

Thirdly, Ulrich Beck also talks about indivdualisation – a new social norm is that our individual desires are more important than social commitments, and this makes marriage less likely. People are more likely to go through a series of monogamous relationships (serial monogamy) – which means cohabiting for a few years and then back to living alone again and then so on.

Finally, Anthony Giddens argues that the typical type of relationship is the ‘pure relationship’… it exists solely to meet the partners’ needs and is likely to continue only so long as it succeeds. Couples stay together because of love, happiness of sexual attraction rather than for tradition or for the sake of the children. In short, we have increased expectations of marriage, and if it doesn’t work for us, then we get a divorce, increasing the amount of single person and single parent and then reconstituted families.

6. Other Factors Explaining the Increase in Family and Household Diversity

  • Fewer people today are living in couples; there has been a big rise in the number of people living alone, and in 2006 almost three in ten households contained only one person. Half of all one person households are people of pensionable age. Many women in their 70s and 80s live alone simply because there are too few partners available in their age group – women marry men who are older than them and men die younger.
  • The massive expansion in higher education has seen the number of undergraduate students triple since 1970, from 414,000 to 1.27 million – this means more young adults are not in work and economically dependent on their parents for longer.

Evaluating the idea that there is increasing family diversity (part 3 of 3)

Explaining the increase in family diversity (part 1/3 )

This is part 1 of 3 posts outlining the underlying factors which explain the increase in household diversity

Explaining the long term increase in family diversity

1. Changing patterns of marriage, divorce and cohabitation

The increase long term decline or marriage and increase in cohabitation and divorce can explain many of the above trends:

The fact that people are getting married later explains why there are more Kidult and single person households (for those who can afford it).

Any divorce which involves children is very likely to create one single parent household and one single person household for a period of time, and then many of these people will go on to form reconstituted families.

Relationship breakdown is more common amongst cohabiting rather than married families, and the cohabiting family household is the fastest growing family type in the UK.

Higher rates of divorce might also explain the increase in multigenerational households – as single mothers move back in with their parents, thus forming a multigenerational household.

2. Postmodernism and Postmodernisation

Postmodernists argue that the increase in the diversity of family household structures reflects the fact that we live in a diverse, tolerant society in which people are free to choose any type of family.

More people choose to stay single and hence there is an increase in Single Person Households Kidult households and because people are more tolerant it is easier than it was to be a single parent today because there is less stigma associated with being a single parent.

Another related factor here is that people are freer to choose non-nuclear families because of the decline of tradition and religion – there is much less social pressure to get married, have kids and stay married, so all other options become more viable.

Evaluation: Other perspectives argue that people do not simply choose to go into ‘alternative family structures’ – For example, Burghes and Browne’s 1995 research with 31 single parents found that not one of them had planned to become single parents, and all of them arributed their single parent status to the fact that their male partners had been either violent or too immature for parenthood

3. Economic Factors

The long term increase in wealth and overall rising standards of living explains the long-term increase in single person households. Generally wealthier countries have a higher proportion of single person households, and it is only wealthy countries where significant numbers of people can afford to live alone because it is expensive compared to two adults sharing the cost of a mortgage, bills, and food. It seems that when people can afford to do so, they are more likely to choose to live alone.

However, not everyone has benefitted from increasing wealth in the UK because at the same time as increasing wealth, the cost of living, and especially the cost of housing has increased. This explains the recent increase in multigenerational households and Kidult Households: at the lower end of the social class scale there are millions of people who cannot afford to buy or even rent their own houses, and so they stay living with their parents.

Explaining the increase in family diversity part 2 of 3

Trends in Family and Household Diversity

Trends in Reconstituted Families

  • In 2011 there were 544,000 step families with dependent children in England and Wales.
  • This means that 11% of couple families with dependent children were step families.
  • The Number of step families has increased since the 1950s.
  • However, the number of step families has declined recently dropping from 631,000 in 2001 to just 544,000 in 2011.
  • If there is only one biological parent in the step-family, that parent is the mother rather than the father in 90% of cases.

Trends in Lone Parent Households

  • There were nearly 2.0 million lone parents with dependent children in the UK in 2012, a figure which has grown significantly from 1.6 million in 1996.
  • In 2012, women accounted for 91 per cent of lone parents with dependent children and men the remaining 9 per cent. These percentages have changed little since 1996.

Trends in Single Person Households

  • In the UK, 34% of households have one person living in them.
  • According to Euromonitor International, the number of people living alone globally is skyrocketing, rising from about 153 million in 1996 to 277 million in 2011 – an increase of around 80% in 15 years.

Trends in ‘Kidult’ Households

  • According to the Office for National Statistics, in 2011, nearly 3.0 million adults aged between 20 and 34 were living with a parent or parents, an increase of almost half a million, or 20 per cent, since 1997.
  • This means that nearly 1/3 men and 1/7 women in the UK now live with their parents.

Trends in Multigenerational Households

  • The ONS doesn’t collect data on ‘multigenerational households’, but it does collect data on ‘concealed families’, a closely related concept.
  • The latest census analysis reveals there were 289,000 concealed families in 2011, making up 1.8% of all families (15.8 million) in England and Wales. A concealed family is a family living in a multi-family household, in addition to the primary family.

Related Post

Explaining the increase in family diversity – part 1 of 3

Explaining the long term decrease in the death rate

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Explaining the long term decrease in the death rate

What are the Trends?

  • The death rate has halved in the last century, declining from 19/1000 to 10/1000 today.
  • In the first part of the century,most of this decrease was due to fewer children dying of infectious diseases, later on in the century, the continued decline is due to people living longer into old age.
  • The major causes of death have changed – from mainly being due to preventable, infectious diseases in the early part of the century to ‘diseases of affluence’ such as heart disease and cancers today.
  • There are considerable variations in life expectancy by gender and social class – people in the poorest parts of Glasgow die before 60, in the wealthiest parts of the UK (e.g. Kensington) life expectancy is nearer 90.

Explaining the decrease in the death rate

1. Economic growth and improving living standards

There are number of ways in which this had led to a decline in the death rate:

  • better food and nutrition (which in turn is related to better transport networks and refrigeration) which has meant that children are better able to resist infectious diseases, reducing the infant and child mortality rates. This is estimated to account for 50% of the decline in the death rate.
  • Better quality housing – Better heating and less damp, means less illness.
    Smaller family sizes – as people get richer they have fewer children, which reduces the chances of disease transmission.
  • More income = more taxation which = more money for public health services.
  • Evaluation – It’s worth noting that not all people have benefited equally from the above advances. The wealthy today have longer life expectancy than the poor, who still suffer health problems related to poverty.
  • Evaluation – In terms of food and nutrition, obesity is now becoming a serious problem – more food doesn’t necessarily mean better nutrition.

Medical Advances

  • Mass immunisation programmes limited the spread of infectious diseases such as measles.
  • Important in improving survival rates from ‘diseases of affluence’ such as heart disease and cancers.
  • Only really significant since the 1950s.
  • Evaluation – It’s easy to fall into the trap into thinking that modern medicine is the most important factor in improving life expectancy, it isn’t – economic growth, rising living standards and improvements in public health are more important.

Social Policies

  • The setting up of the NHS
  • Health and safety laws – which legislate so that we have clean drinking water, food hygiene standards and safe sewage and waste disposal
  • The clean air act and other policies designed to reduce pollution
  • Health and Safety laws at work.
  • Evaluation – These are largely taken for granted, but they are important!

Other factors

  • There is greater knowledge and concern about health today
  • The decline of manual work means work is less physical and exhausting and less dangerous.

Overall conclusion/ analysis points

  • 3/4s of the decline between the 1850s and 1970 was due to the reduction of infectious (fairly easily preventable) diseases such as Cholera, and improved nutrition accounts for half of this reduction. In these early years
  • More recently, the decrease in the death rate has been due to improving survival rates from heart disease and cancers.
  • The declining death rate is not necessarily all good – in the last decades we have witnessed a declining death rate and a declining birth rate – and so we now have an ageing population, which requires society to adapt in order to meet the different demands of differently structured population.

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