The Marxist Perspective on the Family: Revision Notes for A-level Sociology

The Marxist Perspective on the Family: Key points and criticisms for A-level sociology in four pictures:

1. The Marxist Perspective on Society (A Reminder!)

Marxist Perspective Society

2. Engel’s Theory of how The Nuclear Family Emerged with Capitalism (and Private Property)

Engels Family Capitalism Private Property

3. Three Ideological Functions of the Contemporary Nuclear Family

ideological functions family marxism

4. Three Criticisms of the Marxist View of the Family

Criticisms Marxism Family

The Marxist Perspective on the Family: More Detailed Sources

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Japan’s Declining and Ageing Population

Last year Japan’s population declined by 300, 000, to 126 million, and and its population is predicted to decline to 87 million by 2040.

Japan also has an ‘ageing population’ – it is already one of the world’s oldest nations, which a median age of 46, and its predicted that by 2040 there will be three senior citizens for every child under 15, the opposite of the situation in 1975.

ageing population sociology

ageing population Japan

This is an interesting case study relevant to the ‘ageing population‘ topic within A-level sociology’s families and household’s option (AQA 7192/2).

Why is this happening?

Excluding Monaco, Japan has the highest life expectancy of any country in the world – 83.7, and a very low fertility rate of 1.45. However, these figures are not too dissimilar from some European countries, so what really explains Japan’s declining population is it low immigration rate – only 1.8% of Japanese are foreign, compared to 8.6% in the UK for example!

What will the consequences be:

Nicholas Eberstadt argues that we already seeing some of the consequences:

  • Labour shortages, especially in care work, hospitality, construction and agriculture.
  • 400 school closures a year.
  • The emergence of ‘ghost towns’ as the population decreases
  • Increased burden on elderly welfare – by 2060 36% of its population will be 65 or older.

Eberstadt suggests that Japan’s future has only been imagined in Science Fiction (perhaps Kim Stanley Robinson can offer some help?).

Why is the Fertility Rate so Low?

It’s basically a combination of two factors:

  • Economic problems – 50% of the population are in precarious jobs, and economic insecurity is a key reason for not having children. Also, if couples were in a position to have children childcare is too expensive for both partners to remain in work, so this may scupper the desires of even those in permanent jobs!
  • Traditional gender values remain intact – Japan is the 114th most gender unequal country in the world – traditional and patriarchal values remain in-tact – women don’t want children out of wedlock or with men with no economic prospects – which is about half of all men in Japan!

Why is Migration so Low?

Japan is geographically remote and culturally homogeneous. Japan has long discouraged immigration – they see it as a threat to Japans’s culture and low crime rate – in fact they point to migration across Europe as an example of its negative impacts.

How is the government going to tackle the crisis?

There are a range of measures…

  • Government sponsored ‘speed dating’ services.
  • By providing longer maternity leave and childcare
  • To offset the shrinking labour force through a ‘robot revolution’.

Is there an Upside?

Well, there’s more land per head, and because Japan is the first to transition into what will likely become a global trend, it’s an opportunity for it to become a world leader in technologies that can assist an ageing population.

Sources:

Adapted from The Week 2nd December 2017.

From Parenting to Sharenting

In a recent poll, 42% of parents said they happily engage in the practice of ‘sharenting’ – or posting pictures and images of their adorable children online.

No doubt this brings joy to parents and relatives alike, but this practice can become obsessive…

A 2010 survey showed found that 92% of children in America had an online presence by the age of two; the digital records of many began even before birth, with 34% of parents posting ultrasound pictures online.

In some extreme cases, this can take the hyper-obsessive form a family documenting their entire (santized) lives on YouTube – as with the example of ‘Family Fizz‘…. in which two parents commodify their children (or encourage their children to commodify themselves)  in order to avoid working for a living…

The problem with such postings is that they present an idealised version of childhood, a narrative minus the vomit, shitty nappies, and screaming tantrums.

Then of course there’s a deeper problem – why waste time recording parenting online in a vain effort to capture the moment as it never really was, why not just throw yourself into it and fully enjoy the experience, actually in the moment?!

Neoliberal Policies harming Children

In 2005 New Labour liberalised the gambling the laws, ending the ban on T.V. advertising, which is in line with neoliberal policies of decreasing state regulation of private companies.

12 years later and we have a situation where endless T.V. adverts glamorise gambling and hook new converts, and where online gambling companies such as 888 Sport and Paddy Power are targeting children with their online gambling games – exploiting a loophole in the law in which allows online games to advertise to children, but not casinos etc.

Toxic Childhood.png

According to the industry’s own regulator, the Gambling Commission, around 450 000 children, or one in six of all those aged 11-15 now gamble at least once a week.

It seems that in this case, the right of gambling companies to make a profit trumps the well being of our children (*), and there’s also a nice example of Toxic Childhood here…. not only do our kids now have to deal with information overload, the contradictions of staying thin while being surrounded by junk and the pressures of over-testing, they’ve now got to deal with a potential life time of gambling addiction.

*Come on, that was good.

The ‘Postmodern’ Tech Companies Embarking on ‘Modernist’ Projects

Technology Transnationals such as Apple, Google and Facebook have effectively embedded themselves into the lifeworlds of billions of people the world over through weaving their products and services into the fabric of daily life.

While in many ways these tech firms are quintessentially postmodern, there are some ways in which they seem to harken back to the modernist era.

Firstly, some of these tech giants are employing top architects to build massive buildings for them, spectacular symbols of their immense global power. While the design of these buildings is ‘obviously’ (?) postmodern, personally I think the sheer scale, cost, and the ultimate profitability-function of them  screams ‘modernism’.

The building that commands the most attention is the Apple/ Foster circle – so big that it’s said to be visible from space. It’s built on 150 acres, and is designed to cater for 12 000 workers. It’s something like a permanently landed space ship with a garden area in the middle.

Inside this building, you’ll discover a world of whiteness, greenery and silver, with a 100 000 square foot cinema, a cafe that can serve 4000 at once, which has sliding class doors 4 stories high, each weighing nearly 200 tonnes.

There is also a 1000 seat Steve Jobs cinema, surmounted by a 165 ft wide glass cylinder, for Apple’s famous product launches, and with a landscape designed to emulate a national park.

The doorways have perfectly flat thresholds because, according to a construction manager reported by Reuters, ‘if engineers had to adjust their gait when entering the building, they risked distraction from their work’.

Writing in the Financial Times, George Hammond also suggests that Facebook is ‘going back to the 19th Century’, more evidence of the modernist turn these postmodern companies are taking….

Facebook us trying to combat soaring rents in Silicon Valley by building new houses, which marks a revival of the 19th century concept of the ‘company town’: its new Willow Campus includes plans for 15% of the 15000 houses to be made available at below market rates, for example.

Hammond is sceptical about whether such a scheme will work, noting that there was a mixed record of success in the 19th century – Cadbury’s Bournville in Birmingham dramatically improved conditions for workers, but Henry Ford’s Fordlandia in Brazil was a spectacular failure.

Whether these massive-buildings and ‘city projects’ are successful or not, they certainly demonstrate the huge power these companies have alter the physical environment in which we work and live in addition to their power to influence the way we access information.

What next for Corporate Power? 

Sources:

The Week (5 August 2017 and 29 July 2017)

 

How many people are single?

According to the Office for National Statistics, for the population in England Wales aged 16 and over, as of 2015

  • there are 16 million people aged 16 or over who are ‘single and have never cohabited or married’, equivalent to 34.5% of the adult population.
  • there are 19.8 million people ‘not living as a couple’, equivalent to 39% of the adult population.

The problem with these statistics is that they do not actually tell us how many ‘single’ people there are in England and Wales (let alone the United Kingdom) – at least not if we take the commonly accepted definition of a single person as ‘someone who is unmarried or not involved in a stable sexual relationship’. 

Below I explore why I think there are way less single people in the country than these official statistics suggest…

Single people never cohabited or married 

There are 16 million people who are ‘single and never cohabited or married’, equivalent to 34.5% of the population aged over 16 in England and Wales, at least according to Office for National Statistics, 2015 data.

Single and Married UK

Single people UK

However, while it is interesting to know how many people are ‘single, and have never married or cohabited’, this isn’t the same as the number of people who are actually single, for the following reasons:

  • Firstly, and probably most obviously, this system of categorization does not tell us the proportion of divorced or widowed people who not married but are in relationships, and thus not single. (Some of these will be cohabiting as if married of course, so in ‘highly committed relationships!)
  • Secondly, it doesn’t tell us how many people who are ‘single and never cohabited or married’ are in committed relationships, and hence not actually single.
  • Thirdly, it doesn’t tell us how many ‘married’ people are in empty shell marriages, and thus single in a sense.

NB – the above data came from the Labour Force Survey, which gleans its information about relationship status from a series of interview questions – questions which will in no way tell us how many actual single people there are in the U.K. – this particular question is only really only useful for telling us the number of married people or in a formal civil partnership and cannot tell us very much about the relationship status of the non-married/ civil partnership people.

Families UK

In fairness to LFS, it does go on to ask whether people are ‘cohabiting’, the results for which are shown below…

People ‘not living as a couple’

A second possible way of measuring the number of single people in the country, again taken from ONS Labour Force Survey data,  is to look at ‘living arrangements’ – and here we find that approximately 39% of the population are not living as a couple, while 61% are living as a couple.

Single People UK 2015

how many single people UK

I’d say this is a more valid way of measuring the number of single people in the country because it includes a clear indication that 61% of the population are either married or cohabiting, rather than just the number of people who are ‘married’ like in the first data set. However, it still does not tell us how many single people there are in the country, because some proportion of people not living as a couple will still be in committed relationships, but the data does not tell us this!

We are thus forced to look elsewhere to find out how many actual single people there are in the country….

Other sources of data about ‘single people’

I guess I’ve got to at least mention Facebook….. According to ‘statistics brain‘, 37% of people report their relationship status as single on Facebook.

Facebook relationships

However, this data has validity problems because:

  • I don’t have access to the methodology used, no details are provided.
  • This probably isn’t from the UK.
  • According to this New Statesman article, 40% of 20 somethings are reluctant to report themselves as ‘in a relationship’ on Facebook unless its an engagement.

This 2017 Statista survey reports that around 27% of the UK population aged 40 to 70 reported that they were single, not currently in a relationship.

single people UK 2017

While I’m inclined to intuit that this is a valid figure, unfortunately I’m not in a position to objectively validate the findings because I ain’t prepared to pay the subscription fee to gain the access required to get the information on sampling techniques (if they even exist in any meaningful sense because this was an online survey!)

Having said that, the above data is broadly backed up by this 2014 YouGov Poll  which reports that 30% of the UK population are single (although the analysis doesn’t go into any detail about this aspect of the poll, limiting itself to how people who are in relationships feel about each other).

Personally I think this 30% figure sounds about right, given that the numbers of single people in their 20s and 30s will probably be higher than those in the their 40s-70s, you’d expect the later percentage to be slightly higher than the Statista results, so it triangulates nicely.

So…. how many people are single in the UK? About 30%. 

Further Reading…..

This Enduring Love Study might be of interest

Postscript – Fantasy reporting on the geographic distribution of single people 

Heads up on click-bait lists like this from The Independent which show you the ‘cities with the most single people in’ – here are the results:

The percentages above are for people who are ‘single and never married’, the problem is that most of these are university towns…. where lots of young people live, most of whom will move on to another city once they’ve graduated, and to my mind to get a realistic picture of how ‘committed to single life’ a city’s population is, you’d need to control for age, and how long they intend to stay in that city. It’s sort or ironic, somehow, that geographical instability (most students only intend to reside in their university town temporarily) skews the figures on how many people are not in a stable relationship (i.e. single).

Then of course, as I mentioned above, many of these people will actually be in committed relationships.

 

 

 

Pets – really are part of the family in Italy

An Italian woman recently won the right use sick leave to effectively get paid to take time off work to care for here sick dog, a 12 year-old English setter called Cucciola.

The 53-year old librarian at Sapiennza University in Rome – identified only by her first name, Anna – took two days off work in order to accompany Cucciola to the vet for two different operations.

personal life family pets

She told her employers that as she is unmarried and lives alone, her dogs are in effect her ‘family’ – and argued that the days off should therefore be treated as paid compassionate leave.

‘It is a significant step forward that recognized that animals that are no kept for financial gain or their working ability are effectively members of the family’ said Gianluca Felicetti, of the Italian animal rights group whose lawyers helped Anna present her case to her employers.

Relevance to A-level sociology 

This is most obviously relevant to the families and households module, especially the Personal life Perspective which says that people increasingly see pets as part of the family, and this is a clear example of this view of the family gaining legal recognition in Italy.

 

 

Is There a Crisis in Youth Mental Ill Health?

  • Girls are more than twice as likely to report mental health problems as boys
  • Poor girls are nearly twice as likely to report mental health problems than rich girls.

One in four teenage girls believe they are suffering from depression, according to a major study by University College London the children’s charity the National Children’s Bureau (NCB).

The research which tracked more than 10,000 teenagers found widespread emotional problems among today’s youth, with misery, loneliness and self-hate rife.

24 per cent of 14-year-old girls and 9% of 17-year-old boys reported high levels of depressive symptoms compared to only 9% of boys.

However, when parents were asked about their perceptions of mental-health problems in their children, only 9% of parents reported that their 14 year old girls had any mental health issue, compared to 12% of boys. (Possibly because boys manifest in more overt ways, or because boys are simply under-reporting)

Anna Feuchtwang, NCB chief executive said: “This study of thousands of children gives us the most compelling evidence available about the extent of mental ill health among children in the UK, and Lead author of the study Dr Praveetha Patalay said the mental health difficulties faced by girls had reached “worryingly high” proportions.

Ms Feuchtwang said: “Worryingly there is evidence that parents may be underestimating their daughters’ mental health needs.

Dr Marc Bush, chief policy adviser at the charity YoungMinds, said: “We know that teenage girls face a huge range of pressures, including stress at school, body image issues, bullying and the pressure created by social media.

The above data is based on more than 10,000 children born in 2000/01 who are taking part in the Millennium Cohort Study.

Parents were questioned about their children’s mental health when their youngsters were aged three, five, seven, 11 and 14. When the participants were 14, the children were themselves asked questions about mental health difficulties.

The research showed that girls and boys had similar levels of mental ill-health throughout childhood, but stark differences were seen between gender by adolescence, when problems became more prevalent in girls.

Variations by class and ethnicity 

Among 14-year-old girls, those from mixed race (28.6%) and white (25.2%) backgrounds were most likely to be depressed, with those from black African (9.7%) and Bangladeshi (15.4%) families the least likely to suffer from it.

Girls that age from the second lowest fifth of the population, based on family income, were most likely to be depressed (29.4%), while those from the highest quintile were the least likely (19.8%).

The research also showed that children from richer families were less likely to report depression compared to poorer peers.

Links to Sociology 

What you make of this data very much depends on how much you trust it – if you take it at face value, then it seems that poor white girls are suffering a real crisis in mental health, which suggests we need urgent research into why this is… and possibly some extra cash to help deal with it.

Again, if you accept the data, possibly the most interesting question here is why do black African girls have such low rates of depression compared to white girls?

Of course you also need to be skeptical about this data – it’s possible that boys are under-reporting, given the whole ‘masculinity thing’.

On the question of what we do about all of this, many of the articles point to guess what sector….. the education sector to sort out the differences. So once again, it’s down to schools to sort out the mess caused by living in a frantic post-modern society, on top of, oh yeah, educating!

Finally, there’s an obvious critical link to Toxic Childhood – this shows you that the elements of toxic childhood are not evenly distributed – poor white girls get it much worse than rich white girls, African British girls, and boys.

Sources and a note on media bias 

You might want to read through the two articles below – note how the stats on class and ethnicity feature much more prominently in the left wing Guardian and yet how the right wing Telegraph doesn’t even mention ethnicity and drops in one sentence about class at the the end of the article without mentioning the stats. 

Telegraph Article

Guardian Article

How I would’ve answered the families and households section of A level sociology paper 2 (AQA, 2017)

Hints and tips on how I would’ve answered the A level sociology exam paper 2, 2017 (families and households section)

2017 Paper two exam questions and answers

Question 04: Outline and explain two ways in which changing gender roles within the family may have affected children’s experience of childhood…

For starters, identify two changes to gender roles – three obvious ones to target include:

  • the fact that both men and women now work
  • The fact that child care and parenting roles have changed
  • the fact that there is greater equality in the domestic division of labour

Then you simply need to link these to aspects of the experience of childhood:

  • Toxic childhood
  • disappearance of childhood
  • basic socialisation
  • age of parents
  • family size (number of siblings)
  • marriage and divorce

You could also criticise the extent to which things have actually changed!

Question 05: Analyse two ways in which migration patterns may have affected family structures…

I covered this in this recent blog post here

Question 06: Applying material from item D, and your own knowledge, evaluate functionalist explanations of the role of the family in society (20)

This really does just appear to be a standard ‘evaluate functionalism’ essay – all you need to do is a basic intro to functionalism, then your four standard points – Murdoch, Parson’s functional fit theory, stabilisation of adult personalities and gender roles, then conclude.

The item (which I won’t reproduce here) is pretty standard – it just wants you to emphasise increasing family diversity and the fact that families may well be dysfunctional, so evaluating from mainly radical feminism, and Postmodernism and the personal life perspective…!

Not a bad half of a paper TBH.

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.

 

 

Analyse two ways in which migration has affected household structures (10)

How to get full marks for a 10 mark ‘item’ question in sociology A-level.

This question cam up as part of the families and households option in A level sociology paper 2 (topics in sociology), June 2017.

Item C

In the 1950s, most immigrants into the United Kingdom came from Commonwealth countries such as India and Jamaica. More recently, many immigrants have come from European countries such as Poland. May immigrants are young adults seeking work. 

These migration patterns have affected household structures. 

Applying material from Item C, analyse two ways in which migration patterns have affected household structures in the United Kingdom. 

Answer (hints and tips)

Point one – has to be about the variation in Caribbean and Indian household structures… quite easy I think… Of course you could talk about both separately.

Point two – asks that that you talk about more recent structures, drawing on Polish immigration.

What kind of household structures could you discuss?

  • Number of people in the household – so single person, or multiple occupancy.
  • The relationships between the people in the household – married or not? Friends or families? Ages?
  • Gender roles in those households – domestic division of labour
  • Numbers of adults and children (e.g. single person households)
  • Matrifocal/ Patrifocal household
  • The relationships between people in one household and other households (maybe a useful way to demonstrated analysis)
  • Generational variations…

So a potential answer might look like this:

Point one – focusing on Caribbean and Indian migration

  • Caribbean households – 60% single parent families
  • Link to male unemployment/ racism in society
  • matrifocal households
  • Contrast to Indian households
  • Higher rate marriage/ lower rate divorce
  • But later generations – divorce more likely
  • Discuss Mixed race couples

Point two – focusing on European migration

Almost certainly less you can say about this! But as long as you’ve made the most of the previous point, you could easily get into the top mark band… 

  • Younger age structure
  • More likely to have children and be married
  • Higher proportion of married families with children
  • Probably more shared-households – younger people without children sharing.

Commentary

This is a pretty straightforward question on a sub-topic within demography on how migration has affected family life in the U.K. so absolutely fair enough to ask it as a question.

However, it does concern me that the AQA’s online specification explicitly directs teachers to really dated material, and most of the text books focus on this, while this exam question expects students to know about recent events relating to migration and the family which are neither on their online specification or in any of the major A level text books.

I think the AQA needs to relax it’s focus on that really dated material (the classic question on ‘Functionalism and the Family’ in the same paper is a good example of how students are expected to know in-depth this stuff from the 1950s) if it’s going to demand a more contemporary focus.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with a contemporary focus, just all that dated material that was such a waste of time students learning (like Pahl and Volger FFS), just in case it came up. This is a real problem because it makes sociology lose credibility, undermining the discipline.

Critics might say this problem emerges from the fact that whoever sets the agenda for the AQA families and households syllabus is something of a timeserver who can’t be bothered to update the specification appropriately by cutting down all the dated material. They might cite as evidence for this the fact that the specification hasn’t really changed significantly in 30 years.

Full answer from the AQA 

Below is an example of an abbreviated (by me) marked response to this question, which achieved a top band-mark, 10/10 in fact!

The example is taken from the 2017 Education with Theory and Methods Paper (paper and mark schemes available from the AQA website).

The Question with Item 

10-mark-question-item-sociology

The Mark Scheme (top band only)

10-mark-question-item-mark-top-band-sociology.png

Student Response:

Item C points out that most immigrants come to Britain from commonwealth countries such as Jamaica. Bertod did a study of Caribbean families which found a type of individualism: the norm that people had to right to be free within marriage even if they had a child with the other person. This meant many Caribbean fathers chose not to stay with the mother of their children, leading to an increase in lone parent families.

Thus it follows that the increase in Caribbean immigration has lead to an increase in single parent families which is up from 10% in the 1970s to 23% today.

Item C also says that immigrants come from India. A study by Ballard found that South East Asians have collective, traditional values and tight knit extended families which support traditional family values – women having many children and being in the expressive role, and men in the breadwinner role, with close ties to grandparents.

This should mean an increase in traditional extended families in the UK due to Indian immigration, however the statistics do not confirm this as the divorce rate has increased dramatically since the 1970s. This does not support the idea of increased traditional families as these value marriages.

However, functionalists argue that divorce can be healthy as it there is better quality relationships in surviving marriages and remarriages.

Examiner Commentary:

Mark: 10/10

aqa-sociology-paper-2-commentary.png

KT’s commentary:

  • This is overkill, easily 10/10!
  • Apparently 4 students died instantly of boredom on seeing the question because of reference to yet more sociology from before their parents were born. 

Source:

A-level
SOCIOLOGY
Feedback on the Examinations
Student responses and commentaries: Paper 1 7192/2 Topics in Sociology
Published: Autumn 2017

NB – this document is NOT available on the AQA website, but any teacher should have access to it via eaqa. I’m sharing it here in order to make the exam standards more accessible, and to support the AQA in their equality and meritocratic agendas, because there will be some poor students somewhere whose teachers aren’t organised enough to access this material for them.