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:
Benefits for single parents
Maternity and paternity pay
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
In 2001, Professor Frank Furedi wrote ‘Paranoid Parenting’, arguing that a ‘culture of fear’ pervades parenting today, with parents perceiving their children as vulnerable, and as being perpetually at risk from several threats: from strangers, traffic, toys, and from the threat of falling behind in their development.
Parenting today has become an ordeal in which parents obsess over every detail of their child’s development, one in which they try to assess the risks of every activity and try to reduce these risks through surveillance and control (preventing them from taking risks in the first place).
Parents are now reluctant to let their children do unsupervised activities, such as walking to school on their own, for fear of them being abducted by strangers, and they are scared to let them go on school trips which involve long journeys, because of fear of traffic accidents or the possibility of them having moments when they might evade adult-supervision.
When purchasing products for young children, the safety of those products is also a concern – what are the risks of the child being injured or choking when playing with a toy, for example.
Parents are not only scared for their children’s safety when they go outdoors, they are also scared when they go online -virtual spaces are perceived as places where children may be prone to pedophiles, for example.
The causes of Paranoid Parenting
The most obvious cause is the exaggeration of the extent of stranger-abductions, and anything negative which happens to children in the news.
A less obvious cause is the growth of an ‘expert culture’ which has grown up around childhood, so that now there are a multitude of child-development professionals. There is an increasing norm in which parents are expected to defer to the authority of experts, rather than find their own way to parent.
The problem is that many of these experts have contradictory and unclear advice about what good parenting looks like, hence it just increases parental confusion.
A final reason is because the increase in alienation of parents – they have less power in the world of politics and work, and their children have become the main place where they can construct their identities, project their power and their dreams onto – so they are precious indeed!
The consequences of Paranoid Parenting
The increased control and surveillance that comes with Paranoid Parenting is a reduction in the amount of opportunities for children to develop independently – thus children remain children for longer because they are not allowed the freedom to take risks and make indpenedent choices that are required for transition to adulthood.
Another consequence is that children become more afraid themselves – with the constant messages that the world is risky, they become risk averse – and more vulnerable and anxious – paranoid parents create anxious kids. They inadvertently harm them.
Evaluating Paranoid Parenting
It’s now 20 years since Furedi wrote Paranoid Parenting, but today it seems more relevant than ever.
The video below involves an interview with Lenore Skenazy, the author of Free-Range Kids, who was dubbed ‘America’s Worst Mum’ when she let her 9 year old ride the Subway on his own, and made a video piece about it.
Note that her son had been asking to do this, and was familiar with the subway, so this was a rational ‘learning task’ for her son to do on his own!
This led to lots of TV appearances in which Lenore got demonised as the worst mum in America – she says in the interview that the TV hosts would often ask her ‘but what would you have done if he had never come back?’ and points out that this isn’t really a question, because they know how she’d feel – what they are doing is reinforcing the view that being a parent today involves going to the ‘worst case scenario’ – imagining the worst thing that could happen to your child and then concluding that they must always be under supervision, because that’s today’s norm, to be ‘Paranoid Parents’.
In the video and in this article there are several examples in the United States of the Police being called because of kids being unsupervised – in one example a teenage boy was chopping wood in his own yard with an axe, someone saw it, called the police, and they confiscated the axe, returning it to his parents.
The message is to not let your kids do anything that might help them develop as autonomous human beings, instead they should be doing ‘more homework’, and most definitely under surveillance.
Below is a timeline of some of the social policies which changed childhood, from the early 19th century through to the present day.
Most people would adopt a ‘March of Progress view‘ and argue that these polices improved the lives of children, however there are some sociologists who see these policies as placing too many restrictions on children.
The main types of social policies which have changed children’s lives are those relating to work, education and child welfare and protection.
Made it illegal for textile factories to employ children under the age of 9, and they had to provide at least twelve hours of education a week for children aged between 9-13.
The 1867 Factories Act
Made it illegal for any factory to employ children under the age of 8, and they had to provide all children aged between 8-13 with at least 10 hours of education a week.
Thomas Barnardo also opened his first children’s home in 1867.
The 1870 Education Act
Mass Education for children aged 5-12 was introduced
This is effectively the introduction of national primary education in Britain, although it wasn’t made compulsory for all 5-12-year olds until 1880, and the quality of education could be very poor indeed in some areas until the Education Reform Act of 1944.
The 1878 Factories and Workshop Act
Banned the employment of children under 10 in Factories.
The 1880 Education Act
Schooling in Britain made compulsory for every child up to the age of 10. Local Education Authorities
1889 – The Prevention of Cruelty towards Children Act, commonly known as the Children’s Charter
This Act gave the State the right, for the first time, to intervene in relationships between parents and their children. The Police could now enter a private residence and make arrests if a child were being mistreated.
The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty Towards Children (NSPCC) was established in the same year.
This policy and new institution together laid the foundation for modern child welfare, and the idea that the state could intervene if parents were not being responsible.
The 1908 Children’s Act
This established juvenile courts, so that children would be prosecuted according to different standards from adults.
It also introduced a formal register of Foster Parents, formalising the idea of State approved Foster Parents taking over from ‘removed children’ who had suffered abuse from their biological parents.
The Punishment of Incest Act was introduced in the same year – this made sexual abuse within families a matter for state intervention and punishment, previous to this the Church had been responsible for dealing with this.
1918 – School Leaving Age Raised to 14
The 1944 Education Act
While students of sociology should be familiar with this date as the year in which the Tripartite System was introduced (and students probably familiar with criticising this act!), at the time this was a huge leap forward in the rights of children.
The 1944 Education act was the first time the State really took responsibility for education at a national level, rather than leaving education to Local Education Authorities. The act saw a huge increase in funding for education funding for education and a massive building programme of new secondary modern schools.
The School Leaving Age was also raised to 15.
The 1948 Children’s Act
This established a children’s committee and a children’s officer in each local authority and represents the emergence of ‘child protection and welfare’ being a major responsibility of each Local Authority.
A series of legislation throughout the 1960s and 1970s, often in response to high profile deaths of children at the hands of their parents or foster parents, consolidated children’s social services and safeguarding strategies in Local Authority in the UK.
1973 – School Leaving Age raised to 16
1989 – The Children’s Act
Gave children the right to protection from abuse and exploitation and put child welfare at the heart of everything the Social Services did. It also reinforced the central principle that children were best looked after, wherever possible within families.
1991 – The Child Support Act
This gave children protection in the event of Divorce – it emphasised that prime concern of family courts in a Divorce should be the welfare of the children.
2003 – Every Child Matters
This was a government report following the death of Victoria Climbie
It outlined five key principles that every child should have the right to:
enjoy and achieve
make a positive contribution
achieve economic well-being
The idea was that everyone working within children in any capacity should be ensuring these principles guided their interactions with children.
2013 – Children were required to remain in education or work with training until at least the age of 18.
The history of child labour, education and welfare legislation doesn’t stop here, there is more, but I am!
NB Safeguarding is now a big policy agenda, but to my mind it doesn’t really do anything new, it’s just refining and rebranding Every Child Matters and previous policies.
They analyse the divorce rate by looking at the different divorce rates by number of years a couple has been married.
One of their findings is that if a couple makes it to ten years of marriage, then they are just as likely to stay together if they got married in the 1960s, comapred to if they got married in the 2000s.
After ten years of marriage, the percentage going on to get divorced is 20%, this has been consistent over several decades.
What has declined drastically is the number of couples married less than 10 years getting divorced…
“Actual UK divorce rates among the most recent newlyweds are now down by 59% over the first three years of marriage from the peak, 47% over the first five years, and 27% over the first 10 years of marriage.”
Men: from sliders to deciders
The article points out that the high divorce rate in the 1970s-1980s among younger married couples was probably due to men going into marriage but not really being committed – that is they ‘slid’ into marriage, from social pressure, possibly encouraged into marriage due to the uncertainty of changing male roles during that period.
Meanwhile, women in the 1970s and 80s, experiencing positive gender-role changes had high expectations from men who hadn’t ‘decided’ to go into marriage.
The marriage of the two created a peak of divorces among newly married couples.
Now that there is less social pressure to get married, and cohabitation is more acceptable, men are more likely to ‘decide’ to get married rather than ‘slide’ into it, and so marriages are more likely to last the course!
The documentary explores the experience of being a single parent in the Victorian era, through the 1960s, into the 1990s, with the conservative championing of the married, nuclear family, and through to the the present day.
Jamelia makes an excellent host, she’s very empathetic with the women she interviews during the documentary, I guess given her experience of being a single parent, which she also talks about.
The documentary is well organised into the following general sections:
Single Mums in Victorian workhouses
It seems that this was the lot of single parents in the Victorian era – seperated from their children and both sent to workhouses. Grim!
Single Mums in the 1960s
Despite the ‘sexual liberation’ of the ‘swinging ’60s’ there was still a stigma attached to getting pregnant out of wedlock. This section features a heart-wrenching interview with a woman who got pregnant at 14 and was coerced by her parents to have her baby in a distant ‘hospital’ and immediately give it up for adoption.
The Conservative backlash against single mums in the 1990s
The documentary also explores some of the more recent moral panic over single parenting – there’s a very interesting section at the end where a statistician exposes the way stats on ‘problem children of single parents’ are reported in a misleading way.
This is just a brief summary. The documentary is from 2011 (originally it aired on BBC3), but it’s still a useful historical source, especially the section on the 1960s!
According to the F-Word, the charity refuge reported a 7000% increase in calls to its abuse helpline just three weeks into lockdown, and Karen Ingala Smith, who tracks the number of women killed by men, reports a near three fold increase in female by male deaths during lockdown compared to the same period in previous years.
Why did we see an increase in Domestic Abuse cases during Lockdown?
According to Feminist analysis (and in classic sociological style) this is the wrong question….
Being forced into lockdown intensifies any relationship, and so those relationships that are already abusive will become more so, it’s almost as if there’s nothing to explain here!
The problem, according to the F-word, with how some media outlets have reported the increased rates of DV is that they seem to use the virus as a mitigating factor, almost blaming it, rather than the violent men, for the abuse.
The fact is that most of those women who had to turn to support services, or were killed by men during Lockdown would already have been in an abusive relationship for several years – so Lockdown was just an exacerbating factor, not the cause, so using Lockdown, or the virus more generally as an explanatory factor is kind of letting men off.
This reminds us that we should remember that rather than something unusual, this spike is really providing us with a window – it is making more visible the violence that is already going on for the female victims unfortunate to be involved in it.
What we need to be thinking of is not so much reasons for the spike, but reasons why some men are violent in the first place, and of course holding them to account!
This post explores the similarities and differences in marriage and civil partnership between same sex and opposite sex couples in England and Wales. It has been written to fit in with the A-level Sociology families and households specification.
The introduction of the Civil Partnerships Act in 2005 saw a huge number of male and female same sex couples becoming civil partners, with the yearly number of civil partnerships stabilising at just over 6000 a year in the late 2000s.
The introduction of same-sex marriage in 2014 saw a further drop, so that now there are just under 1000 civil partnerships a year, with male couples slightly more likely to form them than female couples.
It seems that marriage is taking over from civil partnerships.
The ONS reported in 2017 that ‘A total of 4,850 marriages were formed between same sex couples in 2014. Of these, 44% (2,129) were between male couples and 56% (2,721) were between female couples.’
The median duration of marriage for same-sex couples who divorced in 2018 was 3.9 years for men and 3.5 years for women. (ONS, Divorces in England and Wales 2018). 80% of divorces are to female couples!
NB there is currently very little data to go on for same sex divorces, as there are so few marriages!
One obvious difference between same-sex and opposite sex couples when it comes to children is that same-sex couples don’t have the biological requirements to create their own children between them, so they have to seek alternative options.
The NHS outlines various different pathways for same-sex parents to raise children (the same options as for opposite sex couples who can’t conceive!) including using sperm donors, co-parenting, adoption and surrogacy.
Adoption is an increasingly popular option, and the number of adoptions to same-sex couples has been increasing recently, while the number to opposite sex couples has been in decline.
This means there are increasing numbers of same-sex families, relative to opposite sex families with children.
Are there differences in the way same-sex and opposite-sex families parent their children?
Psychologist Rachel Farr recently conducted a Longitudinal Study with 100 adopted families, and found no differences in outcomes of middle-aged children between same-sex and opposite-sex families. Generally, all children were well adjusted and saw being adopted as positive, irrespective of the sexuality of their parents. (Source, study from 2019.)
By ‘outcomes’ they mean the chances of having good mental health, good educational results, not becoming a criminal etc.
This Fact Check article in The Conversation on the topic goes back further and summarises yet more research that supports the consensus that same-sex parents are as ‘good’ as opposite-sex parents. However it also reminds us that there is considerable discrimination against same-sex parents, and there are some people who will selectively publish research which seems to paint same-sex parenting in a bad light, and reminds us that we should always scrutinise such research.
This recent blog post by Marina Everri from 2016 explores the experience of being a same-sex parent in Italy, and argues that while the outcomes of children are the same, problems arise for same-sex parents and children because of discrimination from outside the family circle – in schools for example.
This much more in-depth article shows how same-sex couples in eight European countries suffer from discrimination when trying to adopt. Discrimination can be an off-putting factor which may prevent some same-sex couples from going through with adoption.
Finally, there isn’t much qualitative research on the experience of being in a same-sex family, but I did find this from Stonewall, but it’s from 2009-10!
How has childhood in the UK changed since the 19th Century, and have these changes been positive?
There have been several changes to the lives of children since the early 19th century, and we can break these down as follows:
Work – Policies which regulated and restricted child labour, leading to the eventual exclusion of children from paid work
Education – The introduction of compulsory education and the increase in both funding of education and the raising of the school leaving age.
The Medicalisation of childbirth and early childcare – Rather than high infant mortality rates, the NHS now provides comprehensive maternity and early childcare to mothers and children.
Legislation has emerged to exclude children from a whole range of potentially harmful and dangerous acts
Children now have more money spent on them than ever – a range of specialist products and services have emerged and increased which are specifically aimed at children and child development. Link in money here.
Parents now spend more time with their children, actively engaged with ‘parenting’.
Child Welfare – The introduction of child protection and welfare legislation, and its expansion into every aspect of child services through recent Safeguarding policies.
The recent growth of the idea of ‘rights of the child’ has given children more of a voice in society.
Most people see these changes as representing a ‘March of Progress’ – they see such changes as gradually improving the lives of children by giving them more protection for the stresses of adult life. It seems that we have moved towards a ‘child centred society’.
However, there are sociologists who point to the downsides of some changes, especially in the last 50 years.
This post mainly adopts a March of Progress perspective, with the critical perspectives dealt with in my other posts on ‘Toxic Childhood’ and ‘Paranoid Parenting’. It has been written primarily for students studying the Families and Households option for A-level Sociology.
Childhood in Victorian Times
During the early 19th Century, many working-class children could be found working in factories, mines, and mills. They often worked long-hours and in unsafe conditions, which had negative consequences for their health, and could sometimes even result in children being injured or dying at work.
At home, children were also often required to take on adult-work, doing domestic chores and caring for sick relatives.
Social attitudes towards children started to change in the middle of the 19th century, and childhood gradually came to be seen more as a distinct phase of life, separate from adulthood, with children needing protecting from the hardships of adult life, especially work and provided with more guidance and nurturing through education.
These attitudes were reflected in the introduction of several social policies related to work and education, and the establishment of institutions dedicated to child welfare gradually changed the status of children
The changes below have happened over a very long period of time – from the 1830s, with the first factor acts restricting child labour, right up to the present day, with the emergence of the ‘rights of the child’, spearheaded by the United Nations.
Changes to childhood since Victorian Times: A March of Progress?
There were several ‘factories acts’ throughout the 19th century, which gradually improved the rights of (typically male) workers by limiting working hours, and many of these acts had clauses which banned factories from employing people under certain ages.
The 1833 Factories Act was the first act to restrict child labour – it made it illegal for textile factories to employ children under the age of 9, and required factories to provide any children aged 9-13 with at least 12 hours of education a week.
The 1867 Factories Act extended this idea to all factories – this act made it illegal for any factors to employ children under the age of 8 and provide children aged 8-13 with at least 10 hours of education a week.
The 1878 Factories Act placed a total ban on the employment of children under the age of 10, fitting in nicely with the introduction of education policies.
Today, children can only work full-time from the age of 16, and then they must do training with that employment. Full adult working rights only apply from the age of 18.
Children aged 13-15 can work, but there are restrictions on the number of hours and the types of ‘industry’ they can work in. Babysitting is one of the most common jobs for this age group.
The 1870 Education Act introduced Education for all children aged 5-12, although this was voluntary at the time.
In 1880 it was made compulsory for all children to attend school aged 5-12, with the responsibility for attendance falling on the Local Education Authorities.
The next century saw the gradual increasing of the school leaving age and increase in funding for education:
1918 – The school leaving age raised to 14
1944 – school leaving age raised to 15 (also the year of the Tripartite system and massive increase in funding to build new secondary modern schools)
1973 – The school leaving age increased to 16.
2013 – Children were required to remain in education or work with training until 18.
Today the UK government spends almost £100 billion a year on education, and around 500 000 people are employed in the child-education sector.
Children are expected to attend school for 13 years, and their attendance and progress is monitored intensely (some may say over-monitored) during that time, with extra support being provided depending on students’ ‘individual learning needs’.
The scope of education has also increased – the curriculum has broadened to include a wide range of academic and, later on, vocational subjects, as well as there being a focus on personal well-being and development.
The Medicalisation of childbirth and early childcare
Rather than high infant and child mortality rates as was the case in the Victorian era, the NHS now provides comprehensive maternity and early childcare to mothers and children.
There are several more, as outlined in this child friendly version of the document…
A Child Centred Society
Changes such as those outlined above seem to suggest that our society has become more child centered over the last century or so, with children occupying a more central role than ever, with more money and time being spend on them than ever, and with children being the ‘primary concern’ of many public services and often the sole thing that gives meaning to the lives of many parents.
According to Cunningham (2006) the child centered society has three main features (which is another way of summarising what’s above)
Childhood is regarded as the opposite of adulthood – children in particular are viewed as being in need of protection from the adult world.
Child and adult worlds are separated – they have different social spaces – playground and school for children, work and pubs for adults.
Childhood is increasingly associated with rights.
If we look at total public expenditure on children, there certainly seems to be evidence that we live in a child centered society! (Source below)
Criticisms of the March of Progress View of childhood
The common sense view is to see the above changes as ‘progressive’. Most people would argue that now children are more protected that their lives are better, but is this actually the case? The ‘March of Progress’ view argues that yes, children’s lives have improved and they are now much better off than in the Victorian Era and the Middle Ages. They point to all the evidence on the previous page as just self-evidently indicating an improvement to children’s’ lives.
Conflict theorists, however, argue against the view that children’s lives have gradually been getting better – they say that in some ways children’s lives are worse than they used to be. There are three main criticisms made of the march of progress view
1. Recent technological changes have resulted in significant harms to children – what Sociologist Sue Palmer refers to as Toxic Childhood.
2. Some sociologists argue that children today are too controlled. Sociologists such as Frank Furedi argue that children today are overprotected, or too controlled – We live in the age of ‘Paranoid Parenting’.
3. There are significant inequalities between children, so if there has been progress for some, there certainly has not been equal progress.
This post explores the long and short term trends in marriage, divorce and cohabitation in the United Kingdom.
It has been written as an introduction to the ‘marriage and divorce’ topic which is usually taught as the second topic within the AQA’s families and households A-level sociology specification.
Marriage and Divorce Trends: An Overview
There was a long term decrease in the number of marriages per year since the late 1960s when there were just over 400 000 marriages every year, until around 2008, when the number hit around 230 000.
There has been a slight increase since then and there are now around 240 000 marriages every year in the UK, and this number has been relatively stable since 2008.
The number of Divorces per year increased rapidly following the Divorce Reform Act of 1969, and then increased steadily until the early 1980s. In the late 1950s, there were only around 20 000 Divorces per year, by the early 1980s this figure had risen to 160 000 per year (quite an increase!)
It then stabilised for about 10 years and then started to decline in 2003, the number of divorces per year is still decline. There are currently just under 90 000 divorces per year in England and Wales.
There has been a long term decline in the number of marriages in England and Wales.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s there were over 400 00 marriages a year, by 2017 there were just under 250 000 marriages a year.
Although the decline seems to have slowed recently, since 2008.
The marriage rates (unsurprisingly) mirror the above – but you see a more obvious slowing down of the decline since the 2000s here.
What is the average age of Marriage?
The average age of marriage has increased from 25 for women in the 1960s to 36 for women in 2017, the average age for men is slightly higher.
The 36 average figure might be a bit misleading, the median age is slightly younger as shown by the chart below – late 20s and early 30s are when most women get married!
The Decline of Church Weddings
The above chart shows the drastic decrease in religious marriages, down to only 22% of all marriage ceremonies by 2017.
90% of couples cohabited before marrying in 2017, up from 70% in the late 1990s.
The Divorce Rate was extremely low in the late 1950s, at only 2.5 per 100 000 married couples.
The Divorce Reform Act of 1969 led to this increasing rapidly to 10 per thousand in just a few years, by the early 1970s.
The Divorce Rate continued to increase until the early 1990s, when it hit almost 15 per thousand married couples. Since then it has been falling and currently stands at 7.5
NB – The Divorce Rate shows a slightly different trend to the ‘number of divorces’ – this is relative to the number of married couples!
What percent of marriages end in divorce?
It depends on the year of marriage! If we look at the ‘peak year’, 43.9% of people who got married in 1987 were divorced by 2017, the latest figures available. NB this rate might well be going down, as marriage has been declining since 1987.
How long does the average marriage last?
The length of marriage is increasing. For marriages which end in divorce, the median length of a marriage stands at around 12.5 years.
Privacy & Cookies Policy
Necessary cookies are absolutely essential for the website to function properly. This category only includes cookies that ensures basic functionalities and security features of the website. These cookies do not store any personal information.
Any cookies that may not be particularly necessary for the website to function and is used specifically to collect user personal data via analytics, ads, other embedded contents are termed as non-necessary cookies. It is mandatory to procure user consent prior to running these cookies on your website.