Research on Same Sex Parenting

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.

Same-sex adoptions, UK figures.

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.)

A 2017 Study from Australia entitle ‘The Kids are OK: it is Discrimination Not Same-Sex Parents that Harms Children‘ found that children from same-sex families have just as good outcomes as children raised in opposite-sex families, based on a review of 30 years worth of research into the topic.

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!

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Trends in Marriage, Divorce and Cohabitation in the UK

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.

Marriage Statistics

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.

Marriage Rates

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.

Divorce Statistics

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.

Main sources used to write this post

Office for National Statistics: Divorces in England and Wales 2018

ONS: Marriages in England and Wales 2017

ONS: Marriage and Divorce on the Rise, Over 65 and Over.

Pets as Part of the Family

One of the key ideas associated with The Personal Life Perspective on the family is that are lots of differences of opinion over who counts as family. Many people regard friends, dead relatives and pets as part of their family, for example.

This post examines the extent to which people in the UK think Pets are part of the family.

More than 90% of dog and cat owners regard pets as part of the family

According to a 2017 survey of 2000 dog and cat owners conducted by Lily’s Kitchen Pet Food:

  • 96% said they regard pets as part of the family
  • 60% admitted to being closer to their pet than to some members of their family
  • of cat owners get up at 4.00 a.m. to feed their cat
  • 30% Sign their pet’s name on birthday and Christmas cards
  • 20% say they refer to themselves as their pet’s ‘mummy’ or ‘daddy’.
  • 15% admit to having taken time off work because their pet was ill.
  • 33% let pets into the bathroom when they go to the loo…

Valentine’s Day Pet-Expenditure…

According to 2020 survey research by Pets At Home:

  • 58.6% – of pet owners reported spending between £11 and £100 on their pet on Valentine’s Day 2020,
  • 26% of respondents said they are more likely to buy their pet a gift than their partner.
  • Nearly a quarter of respondents reported they would prefer to spend Valentine’s day with their pet, rather than a love interest

This certainly seems to suggest that, for around 25% of the pet-owning population, pets are more important than their human partners.

Of course this might be because some (most?) of those respondents don’t actually have human partners! Also, the above stats have been collected by a Pet store for marketing purposes – the point being to make it seem like it’s normal to buy your pet a Valentines Day gift, so the reporting here might be selective to give the misleading impression that pets are more important than human partners, rather than pets being a kind of surrogate for a human partner.

Pet posts on social media

The Facebook Group: Our Pets are Family is certainly supporting evidence for the Personal Life perspective. Most of the posts are about pets that have been lost or stolen (yes, dog theft is a ‘thing’!), but with only 2.1K members, this doesn’t seem to be that representative of all pet-owners.

And I’m sure you’ve seen plenty of other pet related social media posts!

What do you think?

If you can think of any other pieces of evidence that either support or criticise the view that ‘pets are part of the family’ then drop links in the comments!

Signposting…

This post has been written to help students evaluate the Personal Life Perspective, which is part of the families and households module for A-level Sociology.

Emma Watson recently coined the term ‘self-partnering’ to demonstrate her happiness with being single, which is in an increasing trend in the UK

There are 16.7 million people in the UK who are single and never married, and the number is increasing, with almost 370 000 more single people in the UK in 2018 compared to 2017, according to the Office for National Statistics.

Unsurprisingly, you’re more likely to be single and never married when you’re younger compared to when you’re older, but at Emma Watson’s age almost half of people are single. However this has declined to only 25% of the population for people in their mid 40s.

NB – being single and not married doesn’t necessarily mean you’re lonely or celibate: many of these people will be dating, maybe in the early stages of a relationship, maybe in a more serious relationship and just not living together, so this just their formal status, rather than their actual relationship situation.

It would be interesting to get some stats on how many of these people are actually ‘single’ in the sense of not being in any kind of romantic relationship!

Relevance of this to A-level sociology

This is just a quick update to highlight the continued trend away from marriage and towards singledom. This is relevant to the ‘marriage and divorce’ topics and the ‘decline in the family’ debate within families and households.

If you’re interested in understanding why there are more single people, this post is a good starting point, on the increase in single person households, a closely related topic!

You can also use the ‘definition’ of single by the ONS to illustrate some of the limitations of official statistics – in that it isn’t the same as how most of us would use the word ‘single’ when we talk about relationships.

Summary of the 2018 A-level sociology examiner report for beliefs in society, paper 2

Below I’ve reformatted the examiners report for the 2018 A-level sociology exam, paper 2 (families and households section) into bullet points and included the exam questions.

This is really just designed to make this more user friendly!

This advice is taken straight from the AQA’s examiner report on the sociology A-level exam 2018.

Beliefs in society 2018 Questions and examiner commentary 

Question 13

Outline and explain two ways in which globalisation may affect religious beliefs and practices (10)

  • Most students able to explain two ways in which globalisation may have affected religious beliefs and practices.
  • Popular answers included pluralism and greater choice, deterritorialisation and the growth of fundamentalism.
  • Some weaker answers described recent changes in beliefs or practices without making the role of globalisation clear.

Question 14

Beliefs-10-mark-question.png

Applying material from Item I, analyse two reasons why minority ethnic groups in the United Kingdom are often more religious than the majority of the population (10)

  • This question was generally answered well.
  • Popular answers included cultural defence and cultural transition (although the difference between these two concepts was not always clear), and the idea that migrants are simply more likely to be religious when placed in a secular society.
  • This question referred specifically to the United Kingdom and so answers about other countries could not be credited.

Question 15

Beliefs-20-mark-essay.png

Applying material from Item J and your knowledge, evaluate the view that an increase in spirituality in the United Kingdom has compensated for the decline of organised religion (20)

  • Answers here showed a good range of knowledge.
  • Most students took cues from the item and discussed a range of developments, such as variations of secularisation, growth of science and rationality and the growth of New Age activities.
  • There was pleasing evidence of knowledge of contemporary postmodern approaches but only the best answers explicitly addressed spirituality or considered that there might be a difference between the spiritual and the religious.

 

Summary of the 2018 A-level sociology examiner report for families and households, paper 2

Below I’ve reformatted the examiners report for the 2018 A-level sociology exam, paper 2 (families and households section) into bullet points and included the exam questions.

This is really just designed to make this more user friendly!

This advice is taken straight from the AQA’s examiner report on the sociology A-level exam 2018.

Families and Households 2018 Questions and examiner commentary 

Question 04

Outline and explain two ways in which government policies may affect family structure. [10 marks]

  • There was a tendency to go into detail about the chosen policies rather than to discuss effects on family structures.
  • Some answers assumed an effect and did not take the opportunity to use their sociological understanding to explore the ideas in greater depth. For example, some answers said that changes to divorce laws increased the number of lone parent families, but few discussed increases in reconstituted families or bi-nuclear families.
  • Similarly the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act of 2013 was recognised as increasing the number of same sex married couples but also led to same sex divorces, changes in adoption, surrogacy and so on.

Question 05

Screenshot 2019-05-29 at 09.46.16.png

Applying material from Item C, analyse two ways in which demographic trends since 1900 may have affected the nature of childhood in the United Kingdom today. [10 marks]

  • Many answers went into reasons for the demographic changes referred to in the item rather than focus on effects on childhood.
  • Others discussed childhood a hundred years ago or earlier.
  • However, many did develop points about child centeredness by looking at its positive consequences for childhood and then developing this to link it to over protectiveness, age patriarchy, pester power, toxic childhood and so on.
  • Similarly, the presence of grandparents was in better answers not merely described but analysed as to how it could be both positive and negative in contributing to socialisation and childcare and in adding to the burden of care for the family with some children becoming young carers.
  • Better answers were distinguished by, as the mark scheme says, ‘developed applications’, going beyond the immediately apparent.

 

Question 06

Screenshot 2019-05-29 at 09.46.26.png

Applying material from Item D and your knowledge, evaluate the view that individual choice in personal relationships has made family life less important in the United Kingdom today

  • Many answers discussed changes in family life such as divorce, cohabitation, same sex marriage and gender roles in terms of greater choice but few explored whether these developments made family life more important or less important.
  • More developed analysis showed how diversity did not always lead to less importance being given to family life, importance of a changed form of family life. Functionalism and the New Right were often included but, sometimes with Marxism, described rather than being applied to the question.
  • There was a shortage of postmodernist views in addition to choice and diversity. Better answers referred to pure relationships, confluent love, negotiated families and alternative life courses.

 

 

A-level sociology exams: hints for paper 2 from the 2018 examiner report

This advice is taken straight from the AQA’s examiner report on the sociology A-level exam 2018. It is relevant to both the families and households and beliefs sections of paper 2.

General advice

Get your timings right and make sure you spend enough time on the final 20 mark question in section B

The report notes that most students answered the questions in the order they appeared in the question paper, answering the last question they attempted was the 20 mark question in section B.

Some students messed the timings up and wrote a very brief answer to this question!

Advice on 10 mark questions

Don’t write introductory paragraphs or conclusions

These are unlikely to gain extra marks, they just take up time

Write two distinct points in your answers 

The report notes that some students made only one point, others made more than two, you need to make two points (as it says in the question!)

The report also notes that ‘sometimes it was unclear how many points were being made’ – you should make your two points distinct by leaving a blank line between them, or starting each of them with ‘one way is…’, and later on ‘a second way is…’

Don’t evaluate in the 10 mark ‘Outline and explain’ question (the one with NO item)

Evaluation is not a requirement for answers to 10 mark “outline and explain” questions, there are no marks for evaluation here.

You can get evaluation marks for the the ‘with item’ 10 mark questions.

Develop each point by using sociological concepts, theory and evidence

The best answers to 10 mark questions were focused, clearly stating a point and then developing it, using sociological concepts, evidence and theory where appropriate.

Make sure you link the two aspects of the question together 

For example, both of the questions below have two aspects (highlighted for emphasis)

‘Outline and explain two ways in which government policies may affect family structure‘ (10)

Applying material from Item C, analyse two ways in which demographic trends since 1900 may have affected the nature of childhood in the United Kingdom today (10)

What you need to do (ideally) is link the red to the blue in each question, using appropriate concepts, theories and evidence.

Furthermore, you want to pick different aspects for each point – for example, in the first question above start with two different policies and link them to two (or more) different aspects of family structure. (And don’t forget that you must use the item for your ‘aspects’ in the Item question)

NB – both of those questions were in the 2018 Sociology A level paper 2.

Advice on 20 mark questions 

‘It may be more effective to cover a limited number of views or theories in some depth rather than to include every possible theory’

I’ve always said ‘3-5 points’ for an essay – this report confirms that you can get a decent mark with 3 points/ theories.

Stay focused on the question 

The report notes that there was a tendency for answers to progressively lose sight of the question and to become a list of different views’.

This ties in with the above point – it might be that the item only directs you to two or three theories, stay focused on them!

Link evaluations to your points and theories

The report notes that ‘evaluation which meets the demands of the questions is better than points which have been learned and included’.

The report also notes that evaluation means strengths as well as limitations – there is a tendency for students to just focus on criticisms.

Plan your essays in advance 

This will help you select appropriate material, stay focused on the question and evaluate effectively!

Sociology Revision Webinars for the 2019 exams!

If you like this sort of thing, then you might like my revision webinars. We’re focusing on families and beliefs this coming Sunday!

For more information on Revision Webinars, please click the above gif, or check out this blog post.

Using contemporary examples to evaluate within the sociology of families and households

A level sociology students should be looking to using contemporary examples and case studies to illustrate points and evaluate theories whenever possible. In the exams, the use of contemporary evidence is something examiners look for and reward.

Below are a few examples of some recent events in the news which are relevant to the sociology of families and households. You’ll need to read the items for more depth on how to apply them.

All of the above took place in either 2019 or 2018! 

Globalisation and the Family

One of the more difficult topics on the families and households specification is how globalisation influences family life. Below are some examples. I’ve also tried to take these examples from different areas of the families and households specification (e.g. marriage, childhood etc.)

Whether you regard the points below as positive or negative is open to interpretation!

Some positive/ neutral consequences of globalisation for family life

  • Global optimists argue that economic globalisation has resulted in increasing trade which in turn has resulted in huge economic growth and rising prosperity, correlated with declining birth rates and family size.
  • Immigrant families to the UK have on average higher birth rates than non-immigrant families. A positive effect of this is that it reduces the dependency ratio, however a claimed negative consequence is an increased strain on public services, mainly schools.
  • Increasing migration to the U.K = increasing cultural diversity and diversity of family structures.  After several generations, more ethnic diversity.
  • Increased migration means more families are stretched across national borders and have family members living abroad, which in turn reinforces globalisation as more families maintain contacts through media and physical visits.
  • Cultural globalisation means more people create friendship groups based on shared interests online. Many people regard these friendship networks as ‘family’, if we follow analysis from the Personal life perspective.
  • There seems to be a globalisation of ‘single person households’. There seems to be a global trend of increasing numbers of people choosing to live alone (not necessarily not being in relationships.

Some negative consequences of globalisation for family life

  • Part of globalisation is people displacement following conflict, which sometimes results in the breaking up of families, U.K. policy has focused (to an extent) on taking in orphan refugee children, meaning more ‘global step/ foster families’.
  • Globalisation = increasing inequality in family life and increasing cost of living for the poor. Property price speculation has driven up prices in London meaning the basic costs of maintaining a family household had doubled in the last 30 years relative to inflation, this helps explain why so many young adults today ‘choose’ to live with their parents.
  • Globalisation = more diversity, choice, uncertainty, resulting in decline of people committing to long term relationships and more ‘pure relationships’. (Giddens)
  • Globalisation = more media flows – children more active users of media, more exposed to global media events can have negative effects:
      • More difficult for parents to prevent radicalisation (e.g. Shameena Begum)
      • More exposure to global media events (mass shootings in USA, natural disasters, terrorist attacks, war and conflicts) children are more risk conscious – anxious kids, more mental health issues. (More ‘toxic childhood’)
      • Parents are more paranoid, more restrictive parenting, less outdoor

Changes to the ONS’ CPI Basket of Goods and Lifestyle Changes in the UK

The Office for National Statistics monitors inflation by using the Consumer Price Index, which uses a representative sample of consumer goods and services purchased by households.

The easiest way to think about this is to imagine a very large shopping basket full of goods and services which the ‘typical household’ buys on a regular basis – researchers from the ONS use already existing survey data to figure out which goods and services best reflect the nation’s consumption habits in 12 ‘expenditure categories’ such as ‘food’, ‘housing’ and ‘communication’ – and track the prices of these items over time to measure inflation, or changes to the cost of living for the ‘typical’ household.

For example, under ‘food’, the ONS monitors the prices of items such as chips, pastry-based snacks and raspberries, among other things, these items representing expenditure on ‘frozen potato products’, ‘savoury snacks’ and ‘soft fruit’.

Somewhat surprisingly, there’s all sorts of links in here to aspects of the Families and Households module!

The ONS updates the items in the ‘shopping basket’ every year to reflect trends in consumer spending – it removes items which have become significantly less popular and adds in new items.

The changes actually provide an entertaining insight into changes in lifestyles in the UK. For example, some of the changes made to the basket in 2019 included:

  • Dinner plate replaced crockery set to reflect the fact that cutlery is more likely to be bought as single items (reflecting the shift to single person households)
  • Non-leather settees replace three piece non-leather suite, reflecting the same trend as above.
  • Portable speaker and smart-speaker replaced Hi-Fi, reflecting changes in technology.
  • Bakeware – a new category – reflecting the fact that people have been watching too much Bake-Off.
  • Popcorn – added – possibly reflecting the rise of stay at home movie watching.
  • Dog Treats – replaced dry dog food – reflecting the increased importance of pets in family life (which kind of reminds me of the Personal Life Perspective!).

You might also like to read the methodology section of the ONS’ CPI, it’s an interesting one for sampling: in terms of how they choose the products, it’s not straightforward!