However, conflict theorists argue that this view is quite rose tinted as it ignores the fact that not all children have benefited equally from the protections and services put in place.
We can point to at least the following significant inequalities among children...
Rich children on average benefit a LOT MORE from education than poor children.
Students from disadvantaged backgrounds in the UK are more than three years behind their peers by age of 15, according a recent study.
About two thirds of this difference is apparent at age 10, suggesting that differences in educational achievement between rich and poor kids emerge at a young age.
The study says one of the main reason for the difference is to do with quality of teachers. The best Qualified Teachers in the UK simply aren’t interested in teaching in schools in the most deprived areas, where there are often discipline problems.
Looking at the very top of the social class ladder – Half of all A and A* grades at A level in the UK are secured by the 7 per cent of students who are privately educated, and 4.5 times as much is spent on teaching them as on the average state-educated student.
Girls suffer more problems in childhood than boys
One example of this is that girls have to negotiate the psychological pressures of ‘objectification’ much more than boys – Evidence below
A 2007 survey of Brownies aged 7-10 were asked to describe ‘planet sad’ – they spoke of it being inhabited by girls who were fat.
A 2009 survey found that a quarter of girls thought it was more important to be beautiful than clever. – Youngpoll.com
16% of 15 -17 year old girls have avoided going to school because they were worried about their appearance
One further consequence of objectification is that girls face sexual abuse from boys. (nspcc)
A second example comes in the number of Forced Marriages associated with Asian communities. In 2018 the British authorities dealt with 1500 cases of forced marriage, the vast majority of victims being Asian girls.
However, the actual numbers may be far greater…. Full fact reported that in 2011 the Forced Marriage Unit in the UK had taken up 400 live cases of forced marriage, but the site also reports that one expert in the field suggested that there might be up to 10 000 forced marriages or threats of forced marriage per year in the UK.
Child Protection services fail to protect many children from harm.
The most horrific example of this is from the town of Rotherham where gangs of Asian men groomed, abused and trafficked 1400 children while police were contemptuous of the victims and the council ignored what was going on, in spite of years of warnings and reports about what was happening.
A recent report commissioned by the council, covering 1997 to 2013, detailed cases where children as young as 11 had been raped by a number of different men, abducted, beaten and trafficked to other towns and cities in the north of England to continue the abuse.
It said that three reports from 2002 to 2006 highlighted the extent of child exploitation and links to wider criminality but nothing was done, with the findings either suppressed or simply ignored. Police failed to act on the crimes and treated the victims with contempt and deemed that they were “undesirables” not worthy of protection.
Toxic Childhood – Toxic Childhood is where rapid technological and cultural changes cause psychological and physical damage to children
The concept of Toxic Childhood is one of the main criticisms of the March of Progress view of chilhood – it is especially critical of the idea that more education and products for children are necessarily good for them.
The Term Toxic Childhood was invented by Sue Palmer, a former primary school headteacher, in her 2006 book: ‘Toxic Childhood: How the Modern World is Damaging Our Children and What We Can Do About It.
In the book, Palmer argues that a toxic mix of technological and cultural changes are having a negative impact on the development of a growing number of children, and she outlines six main ways in which childhhood has become increasingly toxic over the years.
Six ways in which childhood is increasingly toxic
A few years ago Sue Palmer’s Web Site had a very clear summary of six social changes which were damaging children’s early development, listed below….
The decline of outdoor play – linked to increased childhood obesity
The commercialisation of childhood – linked to children being exploited by advertisers
The ‘schoolification’ of early childhood – which reduces independence
The decline of listening, language and communication skills – because of shortened attention spans
Screen saturation – reduces face to face interaction
Tests, targets and education – increases anxiety among children.
Palmer’s Web Site used to be well organised, and used to have a lot of links to recent research on Toxic Childhood..
Unfortunately the Web Site has now changed, and the free information (arguably like childhood) has disappeared, and it now just links to her books, which you have to pay for.
I guess times are hard for adults as well as children. I imagine 15 years on from all the initial excitement, and with the publications industry changing, there’s probably a lot less money in being an independent researcher/ author than there use to be, especially if you’re used to a Head Teacher’s salary!
In the absence of the free research links, it would be a useful activity for students to take one of the six aspects of toxic childhood above and conduct their own research, to evaluate the extent to which these social changes are damaging children’s development, or not!
More Recent Books on Toxic Childhood
Sue Palmer has published two more books, focusing on boys, in 2007, and on girls, in 2014.
Criticisms of the view that childhood has become increasingly toxic
This could be an example of an adult ‘panicking’ about technological changes, maybe children are more adaptable than Palmer thinks?
Taking the longer term view, childhood may well be more commercialised today, but surely children are better off today as consumers rather than producers (child labourers).
This article by Catherine Bennett is worth a read – it reminds us that ‘in the good old days we just had to endure beatings’, although in fairness to Sue Palmer I don’t think she actually romanticizes the past, she’s really just pointing out the new and different problems children now face in a post-modern age.
Find out More
Visit Sue Palmer’s Web Site – Palmer has published several books on child development and education, her most recent publication argues for raising the school starting age to seven!
From 1900 to the Second World War the largest immigrant group to the UK were Irish, mainly for economic reasons, followed by Eastern and Central Europian Jews, who were often fleeing from persecution.
Before the 1950s very few immigrants were non-white.
By contrast, during the 1950s, black immigrants from the Caribbean begain to arrice in the UK, followed during the 1960s and 70s by South-Asian immigratnts from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.
Since 2001 the main sources of immigration to the UK have been as follows:
15% UK citizens returning home-ownership
30% from the European Uniion (mainly Polish)
30% from New Commonwealth countries such as india
To what extent is migration responsible for UK population growth?
In short, it’s not all about increased immigration, it’s more complex!
For most of the 20th century, the growth of the UK population was the result of natural increase (more births than deaths). Until the 1980s the numbers of people emigrating was greater than the number of people immigrating
More recently, however, and especially since the turn of the Millennium (around the year 2000), there has been an increase in net migration, reaching a peak in 2011 of just over 250, 000. However, this recent increase in net migration is mainly due to the decrease in emmigration, rather than an increase in immigration.
Finally, there has been a mini baby boom in the UK since the year 2000 which is responsible for about a third of the increase in recent population growth. However,
Explaining the reasons for immigration to the UK
In order to explain immigration, you have to look at both push and pull factors.
Push factors are things llike escaping poverty, unemployment or persecution.
Pull factors include things like better opportunities for jobs, study, a higher shtandard of living, more political and religious freedom and joining relatives.
The main pull factors to the UK in recent years have been:
To study at university (and also resulting in short term immigration only)
For employment – NB historically this is the major reason, and yes this does explain Polish immigration to a large extent but it’s also worth noting that many early migrants from the Caribbean and South-Asia were recruited by the British government to fill labour shortages in the UK – so quite literally pulled to the UK.
To be with family members.
The most significant push factor has been to seek asylum from Persecution. The most significant recent wave of this type was when 30 000 East African Asians escaped racist persecution by Iid Amin in Uganda in the 1970s. More recently Britain has accepted thousands of refugees fleeing persecution from several countries.
Another significant push factor is the high levels of unemployment in some southern and eastern European countries – Spain for example has youth unemployment of around 50%.
Explaining the reasons for emmigration from the UK
Historically the UK has been a net exporter of people. Two of the main reasons for emmigration include:
To take advantage of better employment opportunities
To have a higher standard of living – To benefit from the lower cost of living abroad in retirement.
If we go back into long term history, we could even add ‘colonial conquest’ to list – much early emigration was linked to the British Empire’s desire to control resources in other parts of the world.
The consequences of immigration for the United Kingdom
The Radical Feminist viewpoint is that relationships are the primary means through which men control women and maintain their power over them in society.
Probably the most shocking evidence which supports this view is the continued prevalence of domestic violence. According to the BCS (2007) this accounts for a sixth of all violent crime and nearly 1 in 4 women will experience DV at some point in their lifetime and women are much more likely to experience this than men.
The radical Feminist explanation for DV is that it is an inevitable feature of a patriarchal society and it is part of a wider system that helps maintain male power over women, they key division in society.
Just to demonstrate that this Radical Feminist views didn’t disappear in the 1980s – Here is a recent Radical Feminist view on domestic violence…
“Domestic violence against women by men is “caused” by the misuse of power and control within a context of male privilege. Male privilege operates on an individual and societal level to maintain a situation of male dominance, where men have power over women and children. Domestic violence by men against women can be seen as a consequence of the inequalities between men and women, rooted in patriarchal traditions that encourage men to believe they are entitled to power and control over their partners.”
(Women’s AID Domestic Violence Fact Sheet, 2009)
Criticisms of the Radical Feminist view on Domestic Violence
1. Wilkinson criticises Feminists by arguing that it is not so much Patriarchy, but poverty that causes stress which leads to DV, so this is much less common in more equal, middle class households.
2. Men are also victims of DV with some statistics suggesting that men are the victims in as many as 2/5 cases of DV.
3. There is a historical trends towards women having more freedom and control over their sexuality, especially compared to traditional tribal societies, a point elaborated on below.
Women have more sexual freedom today…
In many traditional tribal societies, there is little notion that women should gain any satisfaction out of sex. As one British witness to sexuality amongst the Himba of Namibia put it ‘when the husband wants sex, the woman just opens her legs, he gets on with it, and when he’s finished, he just roles over and goes to sleep, there’s no sense of pleasure in it for the woman’. Moreover, in some societies, especially in East Africa, women’s sexuality is tightly controlled, in extreme cases through Female Genital Mutilation, which removes much of the pleasure associated with sex, and sex remains very much about reproduction only.
The above example stands in stark contrast to modern notions of female sexuality. Since the heyday of Feminism and the sexual revolution in the 1960s, and helped by modern contraception, we now live in the age of what Anthony Giddens calls ‘plastic sexuality’ – where sex is primarily about pleasure for both sexes rather than just being about reproduction.
Today, women increasingly demand sexual satisfaction as an ordinary part of their relationships, and cultural products such as the recent best-selling novel – ‘50 Shades of grey’ and programmes such as ‘The Joy of Teen Sex’ certainly suggest that there is much more open and honest discussion about sex between partners in relationships.
Further evidence that suggests modern relationships are equal and that women are more empowered lies in the proliferation of advice and discussion sites about relationships – Advice magazines such as seventeen.com certainly suggest that women, and even girls, are more empowered in their relationships than they used to be. Such magazines even have quizzes so girls can assess whether their boyfriend’s up to scratch.
Also, blogs such as the good men project suggest that men are more prepared to discuss ‘what it means to be a man’ and ‘modern relationships’, further suggesting more equality between the sexes where intimate relations are concerned.
Evidence against the view that there is equality in sexual relations
Women experience less sexual satisfaction than men….
Indiana University’s comprehensive survey found that while 91% of men had an orgasm the last time they had sex, but only 64% of women did. These numbers roughly reflect the percentage of men and women who say they enjoyed sex “extremely” or “quite a bit”: 66% of women and 83% of men. Only 58% of women in their ’20s had an orgasm during their latest sexual encounter.
30-40% percent of women report difficulty climaxing and 33% of women under 35 often feel sad, anxious, restless or irritable after sex, while 10% frequently feel sad after intercourse.”
The mainstream media refuses to advertise vibrators
According to one Feminist blog…“Vibrators still are such a big taboo. The media and films (ie. American Pie) glamourize women’s sexuality, but then refuses to run ads for vibrators which are very useful tools for helping women understand their sexuality. Yet Viagra ads run on all of these platforms with no problem.
All of this serves to reinforce ‘heteronormativity’, or the idea that women need men to give them sexual satisfaction. The problem with this is that the evidence suggests that men are failing to provide this…. many women report a lack of satisfaction in the bedroom.” Thirdly, there is evidence that men and women are becoming more equal where decision making is concerned in relationships
Pahl and Volger (1993) found that ‘pooling’ of household income is on the increase – where both partners have equal access of income and joint responsibility for expenditure
50% of couples pooled their income compared to only 19% of their parents, showing a movement away from ‘allowance systems’ in household expenditure’
Feminist criticisms that decision making is becoming more equal
While some decisions concerning money are made jointly, these tend to be less important ones – such as what clothes to buy while, some recent research suggests that men still tend to have the final say in more important decisions such as changing jobs or moving house.
When sociologists say that ‘childhood is socially constructed’ they mean that the ideas we have about childhood are created by society, rather than being determined by the biological age of a ‘child’.
Some of the aspects of childhood which are influence by society include:
The length of childhood and the moment a child becomes an adult
The status of children in society – their rights and responsibilities, what legal protections/ restrictions we place on them
The general ideas we have about children – for example whether we think they are innocent and in need of protection, or resilient and in need of freedom to explore and develop by themselves as far as possible.
This post explores some of the evidence for the view that ‘childhood is socially constructed’.
What is Childhood?
Childhood, ‘the state of being a child’ is often defined in contrast to adulthood.
For example, the Cambridge English dictionary defines a child’ as ‘a boy or girl from time of birth until he or she is an adult’.
More usefully (IMO) The Oxford English dictionary defines a child as a young human being below the age of puberty, or below the age of a legal majority.
Taken together these two definitions show us that childhood can be either biologically determined, ending when someone reaches their biological age of puberty, or it can be socially determined, simply ending an age when society says someone is an adult.
In Modern Britain, it is society that determines when childhood ends an adulthood starts, and that age is currently set at 18, when an individual reaches the age of ‘legal entitlement’.
However, children do not just suddenly become adults at the age of 18. In Britain there is also a very lengthy transition from childhood, through adolescence, into adulthood, with children gradually picking up certain ‘legal entitlements’ as they progress through their teenage years.
For example, children can work from the age of 14, the age of sexual consent is at 16, and the age at which they can drive is 17.
The fact that society determines the age at which childhood ends is part of the reason why sociologists argue that ‘childhood is socially constructed’ – ‘socially constructed’ simply means created by society (rather than by biology).
Ideas associated with childhood
There are a lot of ideas associated with childhood, and how it differs from adulthood. In Modern Britain we tend to think of children as being dependent, naive, innocent, vulnerable, and in need of protection from adults.
We tend to see children as having insufficient experience and knowledge (because they are still learning and evolving) to be able to make good decisions, and thus we also tend to see them as not necessarily being responsible for their own actions.
The separation of childhood and adulthood
There seems to be near universal agreement that there are some fundamental differences between adults and children. For example people in most societies seem to agree that
1. Children are physically and psychologically immature compared to adults 2. Children are dependent on adults for a range of biological and emotional needs – Children need a lengthy process of socialisation which takes several years. 3. In contrast to adults, children are not competent to run their own lives and cannot be held responsible for their actions
In contrast to the period of childhood, one of the defining characteristics of adulthood is that adults are biologically mature, are competent to run their own lives and are fully responsible for their actions.
However, despite broad agreement on the above, what people mean by childhood and the position children occupy is not fixed but differs across times, places and cultures. There is considerable variation in what people in different societies think about the place of children in society, about what children should and shouldn’t be doing at certain ages, about how children should be socialised, and about the age at which they should be regarded as adults.
For this reason, Sociologists say that childhood is socially constructed. This means that childhood is something created and defined by society:
The social construction of childhood in modern British society
Part of the social construction of childhood in modern Britain is that we choose to have a high degree of separation between the spheres of childhood and adulthood. Add in details to the headings below
1. There are child specific places where only children and ‘trusted adults’ are supposed to go, and thus children are relatively sheltered from adult life. 2. There are several laws preventing children from doing certain things which adults are allowed to do. 3. There are products specifically for children –which adults are not supposed to play with (although some of them do).
All of the above separations between adults and children have nothing to do with the biological differences between adults and children – children do not need to have ‘special places’ just for them, they do not need special laws protecting them, and neither do they need specific toys designed for them. We as a society have decided that these things are desirable for children, and thus we ‘construct childhood’ as a being very different to adulthood.
The Social Construction of Childhood – A Comparative Approach
A good way to illustrate the social construction of childhood is to take a comparative approach – that is, to look at how children are seen and treated in other times and places than their own. Three fairly well-known examples of how childhood can vary in other countries include:
Child Labour – In some cultures children are seen as an ‘economic asset’ and expected to engage in paid work – In Less developed countries children are often seen as a source of cheap (free) labour on the farm, in the home or in sweat shops where the wage can help boost the family income.
Child soldiers – In conflict, typically young teenage boys may be recruited to fight, effectively taking on very serious adult responsibilities several years younger than they would do in ‘western’ societies.
Forced Marriage – In some countries, young teenage girls are sometimes coerced into arranged marriage without their consent, taking on the duties of a wife or mother at a young age. This is well-documented in India and Ethiopia, for example.
In West Africa, thousands of girls and women have been enslaved by a practice called ‘trokosi’. Girls as young as seven are given away by their family to pay for the sins of family members. They get forcibly shipped to a shrine, possibly in a foreign country, stripped of their identity, and are forced to work as ‘servants of God’.
NB this isn’t to suggest that any of these conceptions are ‘equal’ to our conceptions of childhood in the west – it is purely to illustrate that there are plenty of cultures where adults DO NOT think children are ‘in need of protection’ and so on, and many hundreds of millions of adults who believe that childhood should end a lot younger than 16-18.
Philippe Aries – A Radical View on The Social Construction of Childhood
The historian Philippe Aries has an extreme view on childhood as a social construction. He argues that in the Middle Ages (the 10th to the 13th century) ‘the idea of childhood did not exist’ – children were not seen as essentially different to adults like they are today.
Aries uses the following evidence to support his view…
Children were expected to work at a much earlier age
The law often made no distinction between children and adults
Works of art from the period often just depict children as small adults – they wear the same clothes and appear to work and play together.
In addition to the above Edward Shorter (1975) argues about parental attitudes to children in the Middle ages were very different from today…
High infant mortality rates encouraged indifference and neglect, especially towards infants
Parents often neglected to give new born babies names – referring to them as ‘it’ and it was not uncommon to eventually give a new baby a name of a dead sibling.
Aries argues that it is only from the 13th century onwards that modern notions of childhood – the idea that childhood is a distinct phase of life from adulthood – begin to emerge. Essentially Aries is arguing that childhood as we understand it today is a relatively recent ‘invention’
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Do men and women do equal amounts of housework and child care today or is there evidence of a dual burden for women? What do the trends suggest about women’s empowerment?
Before reading this post, you might like to read this preceding post: Conceptualizing Gender Equality, which covers some of the concepts sociologists have developed over the years to describe trends towards gender equality in domestic life.
The domestic division of labour has become more since the 1950s.
Numerous surveys carried out since the 1950s show a narrowing of the gender gap in the domestic division of laobur.
Liberal Feminists and Young and Wilmott would argue that this is because more women are in paid work and families become more symmetrical.
Another reason for this is the ‘commercialisation of housework’ – New technologies such as washing machines, hoovers and fridge-freezers (think ready meals) have reduced the amount of housework that needs doing and narrows the gender divide in the domestic division of labour.
Lockdown narrowed the Gendered Division of Labour Gap
A 2020 study from the ONS found that before Lockdown, in 2104-15, women did 1 hour 50 minutes more housework and childcare per day than men, which reduced to 1 hour and 7 minutes per day during Lockdown.
Historic Evidence of gender inequality in the domestic division of labour
Despite the quite dramatic changes with lockdown, historically there is considerable evidence that the Gendered Division of Labour shows a persistent pattern of women doing a lot more housework and childcare than men!
A 2016 study showed that while women do almost twice as much housework than men in White British and Black British households, women do three tims as much housework than men in Indian households, and four times as much in Pakistani and Bangladeshi households.
The study found that gender attitudes and lack of education were predictors of housework imbalance – more educated women in all ethnic groups did proportionately less housework.
A 2014 survey by the BBC’s Women’s Hour found women devote well over the equivalent of a working day each week to household chores – double the amount undertaken by men. The poll for BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour suggests that women spend an average of 11-and-a-half hours doing housework by their own estimation, while men complete just six.
Similar findings were revealed in a survey of almost 1,000 users of the Mumsnet website.
Changing lightbulbs, taking the bins out and DIY were the only three of 54 common domestic tasks done in more than half of cases by men, with 15 roughly shared and the rest chiefly carried out by women.
Most often done by female partners were organising playdates, health appointments, childcare and birthday parties – as well as cleaning and laundry. Parents evenings, school plays and bedtime stories are most often seen as shared activities.
Justine Roberts, CEO of Mumsnet said: “One in three working mums is the main family wage earner, a rise of one million over the last 18 years… But despite this, women are still busting a gut back home, responsible for the vast majority of chores and domestic responsibilities. It’s not surprising we still talk about glass ceilings and the lack of women at the top. Most of us are just too exhausted to climb the greasy pole.”
According to a 2011 survey by the Social Issues Research Centre, The Changing Face of Motherhood, there has been hardly any change in domestic division of labour over the last 20 years (since the mid 1990s):
In 1994 it emerged that for 79 per cent of couples the woman did most or all of the laundry, with the role being shared in only 18 per cent of cases. The latest survey (in 2011) showed that the proportion sharing the role has only risen by two percentage points. In 70 per cent of houses laundry is still seen as women’s work.
In the kitchen, there has been virtually no change in the last 10 years. Women still do the lion’s share of the cooking in 55 per cent of couple households.
When it comes to tasks such as shopping for groceries, women’s workload has increased slightly the early 1990s. The picture was similar when people were asked about cleaning and caring for sick family members.
By contrast, DIY is still seen as virtually the sole preserve of men in 75 per cent of households – exactly as it was almost 20 years ago
Looking at the above statistics it seems reasonable to conclude that Radical Feminist concepts such as the dual burden and the triple shift still apply.
We can also conclude that women going into paid work has not yet resulted in total equality in the domestic division of labour.
It also seems reasonable to assume that there may be social class differences in the gendered division of labour – the top 10% of households will be in a position to hire cleaners and child care thus reducing the dual burden on middle class, professional women.
Another way in which middle class women will be advantaged compared to working class is that because of their husbands’ hire earning power, they will be more able to take time off work to be full time stay at home mums – meaning that they may do more domestic labour, but at least they don’t suffer the dual burden and triple shift.
Evidence that women going into paid work has not resulted in greater equality
However, Radical Feminists argue that paid work has led to the dual burden and triple shift
One argument used to support this view is that paid work has not been ‘liberating’. Instead women have acquired the ‘dual burden’ of paid work and unpaid housework and the family remains patriarchal – men benefit from women’s paid earnings and their domestic labour. Some Radical Feminists go further arguing that women suffer from the ‘triple shift’ where they have to do paid work, domestic work and ‘emotion work’ – being expected to take on the emotional burden of caring for children.
How does family life vary by ethnicity in the UK today?
This brief update explores the extent to which family life and attitudes to family-life vary across some of the different ethnic groups in the UK. It looks at such things as marriage, divorce, birth rates, household types, equality and household structure.
Data from the latest (2011) census shows that 86% of the UK population are classified as ‘white’, 7.5% as ‘Asian’ or ‘Asian-British’, 3.3% as’ Black’, 2.2% as ‘Mixed’ and 1% as ‘other’.
(NB – This represents a signficant increase in ethnic minorities compared to the 2001 census. In 2011, 14% of the population were non-white, compared to 9% in 2001.)
A brief history of South-Asian Family Life in the UK
Ballard (1982) noted that most South-Asian families had a much broader network of familial-relations than a typical white-British family and one individual household might be only one small part of a complex global network of kin-relations.
Ballard argued that in order to understand South-Asian family life in the UK in the 1980s, you had to look at the ideal model of family life in Asia which is Patriarchal, being based on tight control of women, collectivist (the group is more important than the individual) and obsessed with mainting family honour (primarily through not getting divorced/ committing adultury or having children outside of wedlock) because maintaining honour was crucial to your being able to do business in the wider community.
Ballard also stressed the importance of Honour and its Patriarchal nature….. The complexity of the question of the asymmetry of the sexes is nowhere better illustrated than in the concepts of honour, izzat and shame, sharm. In its narrower sense izzat is a matter of male pride. Honourable men are expected to present an image of fearlessness and independence to the outside world, and at the same time to keep close control over the female members of their families. For a woman to challenge her husband’s or her father’s authority in public shamefully punctures his honour. To sustain male izzat wives, sisters and daughters must be seen to behave with seemly modesty, secluding themselves from the world of men.
One of the key questions A-level sociology students should ask themselves is the extent to which the above research is true today, or the extent to which things have changed!
Household type by Ethnicity, UK Census 2011
According to the UK 2011 Census, we had the following variations by ethnicity:
Some of the most obvious differences of ethnic minority households (compared to white) households include:
Asian households are three times less likely to be cohabiting, and have higher rates of marriage
Asian households have half the rate of Lone Person households compared to white households.
Black and mixed households have twice the rate of lone parent households.
Black, Asian and mixed households have incredibly low levels of pensioner couple households compared to White households, and much higher rates of ‘other households’ (could be ‘multigenerational?)
A previous UK National Statistics report showed that the highest proportions of married couples under pension age, with or without children, are in Asian households. Over half of Bangladeshi (54%), Indian (53%) and Pakistani (51%) households contained a married couple, compared with 37% of those headed by a White British person. Demonstrating the importance of marriage for the Brit-Asian communities.
Divorce today is now much more common among Asian couples
Divorce has traditionally been seen as something shameful in Asian culture, with children under pressure to stay in loveless marriages in order to uphold the family’s honour and prevent shame falling on the family.
However, for today’s third and fourth generation Asians, things are much different.. According to this article there is a soaring British Asian divorce rate now that young Asian men and especially women are better educated and increasingly going into professional careers.
Forced Marriages are more common among Asian Families
There is also a dark-side to Asian family life, and that comes in the number of Forced Marriages associated with Asian communities.
In 2018 the British authorities dealt with 1500 cases of Forced Marriage, with there being over 1000 cases a year for most of the last decade.
Nearly half of all cases involve victims being taken to or originating from Pakistan, with Bangladesh being the second most involved country.
Only 7% of Forced Marriages take place entirely in the UK, so there’s an interesting link to (negative) Globalisation and family life here.
The number of interracial relationships is increasing
The fact that interracial relationships are increasing might make it more difficult to make generalisations between ethnic groups in the future…..
Overall almost one in 10 people living in Britain is married to or living with someone from outside their own ethnic group, the analysis from the Office for National Statistics shows.
But the overall figure conceals wide variations. Only one in 25 white people have settled down with someone from outside their own racial background. By contrast 85 per cent of people from mixed-race families have themselves set up home with someone from another group.
Age is the crucial factor with those in their 20s and 30s more than twice as likely to be living with someone from another background as those over 65, reflecting a less rigid approach to identity over time.
Some commentators argue that the extent of ever increasing family diversity has been exaggerated
Robert Chester – The Neo-Conventional Family
Robert Chester (1985) recognises that there has been some increased family diversity in recent years. However, unlike the new right, he does not regard this as very significant, nor does he see it in a negative light. Chester argues the only important change is a move from the dominance of the traditional or conventional nuclear family, to what he describes as the ‘neo conventional’ family.
The Conventional Family – (declining) The Traditional nuclear family with ‘segregated conjugal roles’ – Male breadwinner and female homemaker.
The Neo-Conventional Family (the new norm) – a dual-earner family in which both spouses go out to work – similar to the symmetrical family of Young and Wilmott
Chester argues that most people are not choosing to live in alternatives to the nuclear family (such as lone parent families) on a long term basis and the nuclear family remains the ideal to which most people aspire. He argues that many people living alone have been or one day will be part of the nuclear family. Chester identifies a number of patterns that support his view:
Most children are still reared for most of their lives by their two natural parents
Most marriages still continue until death.
Cohabitation has increased, but for most couples it is a temporary phase before marrying.
Some ethnic groups are very likely to live in nuclear family households – Pakistani and Bangladeshi especially.
Pat Thane – A Historical Perspective on the ‘myth of the nuclear family’
This is a slightly different criticism to Chester – rather than criticising the idea that the nuclear family is in decline, Pat Thane challenges the idea that the nuclear family was ever the ‘norm’ in the first place.
Family diversity was the norm up until world war two, then there was a brief period of thirty years from the 1940s -to the 1970s where nearly everyone got married and lived in nuclear families, and now we are returning to greater family diversity.
If we look at Marriage and Divorce – the decades after the end of the Second World War were an abnormal period, with much higher marriage rates than usual. Previously, in the 1930s for example, 15 percent of women and 9 percent of men did not marry. Similar numbers had long been normal.
If we look at lone parenthood – In the early 18th century, 24 percent of marriages were ended by the death of a partner within ten years. As a result, a mixture of lone-parents, step-parents and step-children were commonplace in Britain.
Liberal Feminists and Late Modernists would point to the increasing number of women going into work as one of the most important underlying structural shifts in Late Modern Society.
Rather than needing to depend on men for their financial independence, women are now much more likely to focus on building a career before ‘settling down’ and starting a family. This goes some way to explaining the increase in single person households. The increased earning power of women also explains the growth of the number of never-married women who choose to have babies on their own. While this only accounts for a relatively small proportion of single parent households, such numbers are increasing.
Women’s increased financial independence has also led to relationships becoming more fragile and thus helps explain the increase in single parent households and single person households following divorce.
Evaluation: It is important not to overstate the extent of ‘women’s liberation’ – In 2012, women accounted for 91 per cent of lone parents with dependent children and men the remaining 9 per cent. These percentages have changed little since 1996. Women are more likely to take the main caring responsibilities for any children when relationships break down, and therefore become lone parents.
5. Social Policies
There are two important policies which lie behind many of the above changes – the 1969 Divorce Act and the 1972 Equal Pay Act.
In addition to the above, The New Right believe that overly generous welfare benefits have created an underclass in the UK, and a subsection of this underclass consists of teenage girls who choose to get pregnant in order to get a council house and live a comfortable life on welfare.
Evaluations (of the New Right): In reality, only 2% of single parents are teenagers, which is hardly a significant proportion compared to the overall numbers.
Also, it is not so much the benefits system which is to blame – The money is simply not enough to encourage someone to have a child to get housed – If you are on benefits, whether you have a child or not, you get enough to exist rather than to have a comfortable life. (The current weekly Jobseekers allowance is under £60/ week).
6. Late Modernism
Late Modern Sociologists argue against Postmodernists. The increase in family diversity is not simply a matter of individuals having more freedom of choice and choosing to live alone or become a single parent, people are forced into these options because of structural changes making life more uncertain.
Firstly, most people don’t choose to live with their parents until they are 30, and most people don’t choose to live in a multigenerational household, they do so because they have to out of economic necessity.
Secondly, most people still want to get married and have children, but fewer people do so because of an increase in ‘risk consciousness’ – There is more uncertainty about what a ‘normal relationship’ is. Changing roles of men and women and changing expectations of relationships and family life result in young people being more reluctant to settle down in a classic long term relationship.
Thirdly, Ulrich Beck also talks about indivdualisation – a new social norm is that our individual desires are more important than social commitments, and this makes marriage less likely. People are more likely to go through a series of monogamous relationships (serial monogamy) – which means cohabiting for a few years and then back to living alone again and then so on.
Finally, Anthony Giddens argues that the typical type of relationship is the ‘pure relationship’… it exists solely to meet the partners’ needs and is likely to continue only so long as it succeeds. Couples stay together because of love, happiness of sexual attraction rather than for tradition or for the sake of the children. In short, we have increased expectations of marriage, and if it doesn’t work for us, then we get a divorce, increasing the amount of single person and single parent and then reconstituted families.
6. Other Factors Explaining the Increase in Family and Household Diversity
Fewer people today are living in couples; there has been a big rise in the number of people living alone, and in 2006 almost three in ten households contained only one person. Half of all one person households are people of pensionable age. Many women in their 70s and 80s live alone simply because there are too few partners available in their age group – women marry men who are older than them and men die younger.
The massive expansion in higher education has seen the number of undergraduate students triple since 1970, from 414,000 to 1.27 million – this means more young adults are not in work and economically dependent on their parents for longer.
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