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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.

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What should we do about 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:

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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AQA AS Level Sociology: Paper 2 – Research Methods and Topics (families): How I would’ve answered it…

Just a few quick thoughts on what I thought about this paper and how I would have answered some of the questions. You might also like this post:  How I would’ve answered the AQA’s AS Sociology 2018 paper 1: Education and Methods in Context.

Section A: Research Methods

Q01: Outline two problems of using questionnaires with closed questions in sociological research

Looks like a simple start although you will need to think a bit (it is an exam, after all!) to get beyond the ‘imposition problem’. You’ll also need to be careful to talk about just ‘closed’ questions.

I would have gone with:

Both will need expanding on, this is just a quick look!

  • The imposition problem – means respondents can’t express what they really feel.
  • Ethical issues with sensitive topics – closed questions may not allow people to express their feelings.

Q02 – Evaluate the disadvantages of using qualitative methods in sociological research

NICE!

Intro – outline what they are: primary = unstructured interviews, the two types of participant observation. Secondary = LOT – public and private documents. Also mention the sacred Interpretivism vs Positivism.

Then I would do the following with linked evaluations comparing different qualitative methods:

  • Lack of reliability
  • Lack of representativeness
  • Overall evs – good validity
  • A whole host of practical problems.
  • Evs – some are better than others.
  • Generally good ethics.
  • Conclude – they’re a real hassle, and have terrible problems with R and R, but Intp argue it’s all worth it because of the better validity!

 

Section B (Option): Families and Households

Q08 – Define the term primary socialisation

Possibly the easiest question in the history of AS Sociology! I won’t insult anyone by reproducing the answer here…. see this post on socialisation if you MUST double check the definition.

Q09: Using one example briefly explain how childhood might be a negative experience for some children in the UK today.

Also very easy – you could either pick up on something from toxic childhood or go via the increased control of girls/ poverty of the working classes, or just abuse?!?

Q06: Outline three reasons for the fall in the death rate in the United Kingdom since 1900

The AQA are being nice this year, aren’t they! Develop each of these points for an easy 6/6:

  • economic growth
  • medical advances
  • social policies

See this post on the decline in the death rates for how to develop each of the points. NB: you might want something more specific from within each general area!

Q11: Outline and explain two ways in which postmodernists argue that increased choice for individuals has affected patterns of family life (10)

OK so it’s about postmodernism, but it it’s quite general so you should be OK:

In terms of choice for individuals, there is more choice over:

  • whether or not we get married
  • when we leave home, IF we leave home (kidults)
  • whether or not we have children and when we have them
  • what the relationship looks like (pure relationship/ negotiated family)
  • sexuality and sexual identity

Any of the above, developed in terms of PATTERNS of family life – this might be family structures AND/ OR the life course…..

Actually well done the AQA, this is a good question, I likie!

Q12: Evaluate sociological views on the impact of government policies and laws on the role of the family.

The item refers to the functionalist perspective and how this suggests laws support the family, using welfare as an example.

Then it says the New Right believes policies such as the divorce act have undermined the traditional role of the family.

So…if you use the item, you’re basically being asked to focus on the extent to which welfare policies and the divorce act have undermined the ‘traditional role of the family’.

Personally I’d outline the Functionalist and New Right views, discuss the extent to which the policies mentioned in the item have undermined these functions, then focus on other social change factors and bring in postmodernism and feminism to evaluate.

I’d then generalise to other policies – civil partnerships/ maybe policies relating to childhood.

Hmm, you know what, in terms of a balanced and accessible exam paper…

I’m going to say…. 10/10 for this, spot on!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Men enjoy 2 years more leisure time than women, over the course of a working life

Men are enjoying more leisure time than they did 15 years ago, while women have less. according to the latest stats from the Office for National Statistics.

In 2015 Men spent 43 hours a week on leisure activities, up from 42.88 hours in 2000. In the same period, women’s leisure time fell to 38.35 hours, from 39.24 hours.

NB – it doesn’t matter what age group we’re taking about, men have more leisure time than women (unlike the pay gap, which ‘switches’ in the 20s and 30s.)

gender inequality UK

Over a 40 year period, this means that men have 9672 more hours of leisure time than women, or just over 600 days (calculated by diving the original time by 16 to reflect the number of waking hours in a day), or getting on for 2 years….

I want to blame this on the X box, but other surveys suggest that one reason for this is that women spend more time caring for adult relatives than men.

Related Posts

This is good evidence supporting the view that the gendered division of labour is still not equal, in fact it’s suggesting the trend towards equality is reversing!

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Examples of possible 10 mark questions for AQA A-Level sociology: families and households topic

There are two types of 10 mark question within the families and households section of the AQA’s A-level sociology paper 2: An outline and explain (no item) question and an ‘applying material from an item, analyse  question. Both questions will ask students to Outline or explain/ analyse using the item TWO ways/ reasons, consequences/ criticisms (the action words may vary)

In its ‘guidance on 10 mark questions’ (see link above), the AQA intimates that there is a strong possibility that both of these types of 10 mark question will ask students to link two areas from within the broader topic area.

For families and households, there are 5 main topic areas, as outlined below, and it is likely that any 10 mark question will ask to you show how one of these areas is related to another.

AQA Sociology specification Families Households.png

So typical example questions might ask you link perspectives on the family to birth rates, or social policies to childhood.

HOWEVER, according to the notes and guidance on 10 mark questions provided by the AQA does not say that a 10 mark question will necessarily ask students to link two topic areas: the guidance on  ’10 mark ‘outline and explain’ questions says linking two areas is one way students may be asked to show analyse, but it isn’t the only way; and for the 10 mark analyse from the item type questions, the guidance explicitly says you may be asked to link two elements from the same or different areas within the topic.

So, for these reasons I’ve also included the ‘core themes’ in the diagram above, because to my mind, linking any of the above topic areas to any of the core themes might be another way the AQA might get you to analyse in an outline and explain type question.

Finally, you also need to be prepared for a more in depth question, where the 10 mark applying from the item questions are concerned, one which only asks you to discuss material from within one bullet point above.

The guidance above should apply equally as well to 10 mark questions on paper 1 (Education with Theory and Methods) and paper 3 (Crime and Deviance with Theory and Methods), as well as, of course, section B, the other option on the topics paper 2.

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Applying material from Item A, analyse two changes in the position of children in society over the last 100 years.

Applying material from Item A, analyse two changes in the position of children in society over the last 100 years (10)

  • Hooks

Item A

Parents today spend a great deal of time and money trying to make sure that their children enjoy a comfortable upbringing. They want their children to have opportunities that they themselves never had. ‘March of progress’ sociologists argue that these changes in family life have led to an improvement in the position of children in society.

How to answer this question?

It’s pretty obscure (IMO) but the item gives you TWO obvious ‘hooks’:

  1. Time/ money/ comfortable upbringing which is pointing to ‘improving living standards’
  2. Improved opportunities – education being the most obvious!

The above two should be your two points, analysed in both cases from the March of progress view (how have these improved the position of children), and to my mind this question is also screaming for you to evaluate each of these points (unlike the not item outline and explain 10 mark questions, you do get marks for evaluating in these ’10 mark with the item’ question.

You might like to review these two posts before attempting this question:

The Mark scheme

applying-item-question-10-mark-scheme

 A brief model answer..

I advise developing each of the points below still further!

Point 1: As it says in item A, one change in children’s position in society is that parents spend more time and money on them, and so they have a more comfortable life… the average child now costs about £250K to raise, much more than 100 years ago.

Development – this is because of economic growth over the last 100 years, parents now earn more money and so are able to spend more on children’s toys and ‘educational experiences’ which can further child development; as well as more nutritional food, which means children are healthier.

Further development – parents are also more involved with the socialisation of their children; this is especially true of middle class parents who invest a lot time ‘injecting cultural capital’ into their children.

Further development – lying behind all of this is the fact that children are no longer seen as economic assets: they no longer have to work, but rather there has been a cultural shift in which children have rights and should be allowed a lengthy childhood in which they are cared for.

Evaluation – However there are critics of this ‘march of progress view’ – not all parents are able to afford products for their children (lone parents for example) which can create a sense of marginalisation; also there is a sense in which parents spend time with their kids because they are paranoid about their safety in a risk society – Frank Furedi for example argues that this might stifle child development by preventing them from becoming independent.

Point 2: The second social change which can be said to have improved the lives of children is improved opportunities for children – such as with the expansion of education.

Development – 100 years ago (early 19th century) schooling was only compulsory up until about the age of 14, and this was gradually extended through the decades until today children are expected to be in education or training until the age of 18.

Further Development – From a functionalist point of view, education is meritocratic today and so provides opportunities for all children to achieve qualifications and get jobs appropriate to their skills. Children also benefit from the secondary socialisation schools provide, which many uneducated parents may not be able to provide effectively. We now have National Curriculum which ensures all children learn maths English and a broad range of other subjects

Further development – The expansion of education has been combined with the expansion of child welfare more generally – so schools are about improving child well being and safety more generally, meaning children have more opportunities to escape abuse than in the past.

Evaluation – However, from a Marxist point of view, not everyone has the same opportunities in school, and from a Feminist perspective gendered socialisation and stereotyping in school means that girls do not have equality of opportunity with boys.

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.
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Applying material from item C analyse two ways in which the nuclear family might perform ideological functions (10)

Applying material from item C analyse two ways in which the nuclear family might perform ideological functions (10)

  • Hooks

Item C

Marxist sociologists have long argued that the traditional nuclear family performs ideological functions for capitalism, through for example, socializing children into thinking that hierarchy normal and inevitable.  

However, radical Feminist sociologists argue that the main function of the nuclear family lies in maintaining inequalities between men and women through promoting patriarchal ideology.

 A brief model plan…

Point 1: One ideological function = socialising children into thinking inequality is normal, this is done through ‘age patriarchy’ – children are expected to be obedient to parents.

Development – much like the correspondence principle in education this gets children ready to be obedient to their bosses in work and also to accept inequalities in broader society, class inequalities which exist between bourgeois and proletariat for example.

Further development – According to Marxist Feminists, traditional gender roles further encourage obedience to the rules at work – if man thinks he is ‘the provider’ and women are dependent at home, the male worker is less likely to go on strike because it undermines his provider role.

Further development – According to Marxists the family might also passify children by acting as a unit of consumption – they are taught to ‘find their identity’ in the products they consume, not in thinking and questioning, thus this might contribute to ideological control.

Evaluation – a problem with this specifically performing functions for capitalism is that ‘age patriarchy’ within families typically occurs in pre-capitalist societies.

Point 2: Radical Feminists argue the traditional nuclear family normalises gender inequality

Development – women stay at home look after the kids, men go to work, women are thus financially dependent on men in this situation

Further Development – This can also be reinforced by the way dads tend to police daughters more than sons (differential gender socialisation)

Further development – the privatised nuclear family also allows male violence against women to go unnoticed

Evaluation – HOWEVER, liberal fems and postmodernists would point out that gender norms are changing and the above is all much more likely in the age of the negotiated family and the pure relationship.

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.