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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!

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Sociological Perspectives on ‘Renting a Womb’  

Kim Kardashian and Kayne West are apparently expecting a fourth child, employing a surrogate mother to carry their fertilised eggs. This will be the second surrogate child, following the birth of their first surrogate child, ‘Chicago’, born in January 2018.

Paying someone to be a surrogate mother, or ‘renting a womb’ is legal in the United States, but in the United Kingdom, surrogacy is legal, but parents are only allowed to pay the surrogate expenses related to the pregnancy, rather than paying them a fee for actually carrying the child.

The reason Kim Kardashian and Kayne West have opted for surrogates recently is because Kim has a medical condition which means that becoming pregnant again carries a higher than usual risk of her dying, so this isn’t just a lifestyle choice, but an interesting ethical/ sociological question is whether or not paid for surrogacy should be legal in the U.K. (NB – there’s a chance that it will be, as the surrogacy law is currently under review.

This topic is clearly relevant to families and households and especially social policy, and it’s quite useful to use it to explore different Feminist perspectives on the family….

Liberal Feminism

From a liberal feminist point of view, renting a womb should be acceptable because it would enable career-women to avoid taking time off work to pregnancy and child birth, and thus prevent the kind of career-breaks which put them at a disadvantage to men.

In fact, as far as the couple hiring the surrogate are concerned, this puts them on an entirely equal footing in relation to the new baby, meaning that it would be practically possible for them to share maternity/ paternity leave equally, rather than it ‘making sense’ for the woman to carry on taking time off after she’s done so in order to give birth.

Paid for surrogacy also provides an economic opportunity for the surrogate mothers, an opportunity only available to women.

Marxist Feminism

From a marxist feminist point of view renting a womb is kind of paying women for their labour in one sense, however it’s a long way off providing women a wage for ‘traditionally women’s work’ within the family, such as child care and domestic labour.

Ultimately renting a womb does little to address economic inequality between men and women because it’s only available to wealthier couples, meanwhile on the supply side of the rent a womb industry the only women likely to enter into a surrogacy contract are those that are financially desperate, i.e. they have no other means to make money.

Radical Feminism

From a radical feminist perspective renting a womb does nothing to combat patriarchy more generally. If paid for surrogacy was made legal in the UK, the only consequence would be to give wealthy couples the freedom to pay poor women to carry their children for 9 months.

This does nothing to combat more serious issues such as violence against women.

In conclusion…

While it’s an interesting phenomenon, renting a womb, rather than just voluntary surrogacy, will probably do very little to further the goal of female empowerment. However, it will obviously be of benefit to potentially millions of couples (in the long term) who are unable to have children.

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What should we do about childhood obesity?

The governments new plans to tackle childhood obesity hit the headlines this weekend, but how much of a ‘problem’ is childhood obesity, and is the government right to try and tackle this at all?

1 in 3 children in the U.K. is either overweight or obese by the time they leave primary school, with those from deprived areas twice as likely to be affected.

childhood obesity UK 2018.png

There are some pretty obvious downsides to childhood obesity to both the individual and society – such as the increased risk of obesity related illnesses such as diabetes, and estimated annual cost to the NHS of > £billion/ year.

The government today announced a set of measures designed to halve the number of children suffering from obesity by 2030, which included

  • A ban on the sale of energy drinks to children.
  • A uniform calorie labeling system to be introduced in all restaurants, cafes and takeaways.
  • Shops are to banned from displaying unhealthy food at checkouts and entrances
  • Shops are to banned from including unhealthy food in special offers.
  • Primary schools would be asked to introduce an “active mile” to encourage children to be more active, including daily running sessions and an emphasis on walking and cycling to school.

The plan forms the second chapter of the government’s childhood obesity strategy. The first chapter was criticized for being too weak when it was published two years ago.

Given the increase in childhood obesity, this seems to be like a timely intervention:

childhood obesity stats UK.png

Arguments for banning advertising junk food to children

There is strong evidence that children who are more exposed to advertising are more likely to eat more junk food, which is a starting point argument for banning the ads.

Even if you argue that is is the parents’ responsibility to control what their kids eat, the fact that in reality, it is simply impossible for parents to regulate every aspect of their children’s lives: kids are going to go online and be exposed to whatever’s there: better that junk food adverts are not.

This move ‘fits into’ the general movement towards more child protection. In fact, I think it’s odd that junk food manufactures have been exempt from doing harm to children (by pushing their products onto them) for so long.

It might help make childhood a little less ‘Toxic’, and help reduce pester power, making adult-child relations a little more harmonious.

Arguments against…

Those of a liberal persuasion would probably be against even more state intervention in the lives of families, however I personally don’t see these policies as ‘intervening’ in the lives of families, they are more about forcing companies to restrain their marketing of unhealthy food to children, so personally I can’t think of any decent arguments against these government policies…… suggestions welcome in the comments!

Sources:

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

Answers to the AQA’s A-level sociology (7192/2) ‘topics’ exam: families and households section A only. Just a few thoughts to put students out of their misery. (Ideas my own, not endorsed by the AQA)

I won’t produce the exact questions below, just the gist…

Q04: Outline and explain two ways in which government policies may affect family structure (10)

Very easy…..

Simply select two policies and try to discuss their effects on as many different types of family structure as you can, without overlapping!

I would have gone for….

  • The 1969 Divorce act, and linked this to reconstituted families, single parent families, the negotiated family, divorce extended families… and contrasted the New Right and Postmodernism.
  • The 2013 Civil Partnership Act and linked this to changing gender relations, gender roles, equality and children in the family, and childless/ adopted families. I also would have applied and contrasted the New Right with Radical Feminism

I would have gone for two very basic ‘topic based’ areas to start: something about aid and improving women’s health and the knock on effects, and then something about women’s education, linked to work.

Q05: Applying materal from item C, analyse two ways in which demographic trends since 1900 may have affected the nature of childhood in the United Kingdom today.

Using the item, you need to use the following:

  • Life expectancy increasing and more generations of the family being alive – here you need to discuss the bean pole family, sandwhich parents, extended families maybe (and the modified extended family)
  • People having fewer children – probably most of your marks will come from this…. contrast march of progress with paranoid parenting/ cotton wool kids.

They DO like asking about childhood, don’t they!Q06: Evaluate Dependency theory essay

Evaluate the view that individual choice in personal relationships has made family life less important in the United Kingdom today (20)

The item basically directs you to discuss postmodern perspectives on the rise of individualisation and the decline of the family and to evaluate this.

Not an easy question, but workable…

General points you could use:

  • Outline the postmodern view….. Allen and Crow and Beck-Gernsheim are the two ‘extreme individualisation’ theorists – lots you could discuss here.
  • Maybe dramatise this with the increase in divorce, rise of single person households.
  • Discuss Giddens’ idea of the Pure Relationship – higher rates of family breakdown are now more likely because of this!
  • Discuss Beck’s idea of the Negotiated family – similar to Giddens.
  • Criticise PM with the Personal Life Perspective…. which finds that family life is still important, it’s just that family life has changed – people now effectively regard pets etc. as part of their families.
  • Criticise with the ‘criticisms’ of increased family diversity…. most people still have families, nuclear family still the most common, etc….

This is the kind of question you may have had to think about for some time.

All in all, quite a nice section of the paper!

Related posts

A Level Sociology Families and Households Revision Bundle

Families Revision Bundle CoverIf you like this sort of thing, then you might like my A Level  Sociology Families and Households Revision Bundle which contains the following:

  1. 50 pages of revision notes covering all of the sub-topics within families and households
  2. mind maps in pdf and png format – 9 in total, covering perspectives on the family
  3. short answer exam practice questions and exemplar answers – 3 examples of the 10 mark, ‘outline and explain’ question.
  4.  9 essays/ essay plans spanning all the topics within the families and households topic.
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Evaluate the view that the growth of family diversity has led to a decline in the nuclear family (20)

This is an example of a 17/20 top band answer to the above question, as marked by the AQA.

In the pictures below, I’ve highlighted all of the candidate’s evaluations in red to show you the balance of knowledge and evaluation required to get into the top mark band!

This is also a good example of a borderline Band 4-Band 5 answer… it just wants a little more evaluation to go up even higher.

The mark scheme (top two bands)

Sociology essay mark scheme

Student’s Response (concepts highlighted in blue, evaluation in burnt orange)

NB It’s the same response all the way through, I’ve just repeated the title on the two pages!

 

Family diversity essay 2018

A-level sociology essay full marks

 

KT’s commentary

This is a bit of a bizarre essay, but this is a good example of how to answer it.

Without the final paragraph it would be floundering down in the middle mark band!

 

Source 

AQA specimen material 2016

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Outline and explain two ways in which changing gender roles within the family may have affected children’s experience of childhood (10)

This is the 10 mark (no item) question which appeared on the 2017 Families and Households paper.

In this post I consider a ‘top band’ answer (provided by the AQA here) which achieved 8/10.

The Question

Outline and explain two ways in which changing gender roles within the family may have affected children’s experience of childhood (10)

The Mark Scheme:

10-mark-question-sociology-mark-scheme-families

Note: there are no marks for evaluation on the 10 mark no item questions (there are for the ‘analyse with the item’ 10 mark questions!)

Student Response:

Highlighted to show the different stages of development.

One way is with the changing roles of women in society, where women are more likely to want to pursue a career before starting a family, with less stigma attached to them, women have taken on more aspects of the instrumental role which Parsons had said traditionally rested with men. This has meant a decrease in family size since the 1970s from 3.2 children to 2, as women in full time employment have children later in life. It has also led to a mono-child society and a ‘fuller experience’ of childhood as parents have more money to spend on one child.

As second change is associated with Young and Wilmott’s symmetrical families – couples have moved from segregated to joint conjugal roles where they share leisure time and chores much more equally than before. This is also related to the rise of the new man who offers more emotional support. This means children are no longer socialised into traditional gender roles and will not experience canalisation like Oakley suggested – e.g. boys are less likely to be given typical boys toys sjuch as guns and socialised into typical traditional male traits such as aggression.

Examiner Commentary: (8/10 marks)

outline-explain-10-mark-question-sociology-families.png

 

Source:

Student responses with examiner
commentary
AS AND A-LEVEL
SOCIOLOGY
7193

Reproduced here for educational purposes!

 

 

 

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

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

Section A: Research Methods

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

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

I would have gone with:

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

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

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

NICE!

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

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

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

 

Section B (Option): Families and Households

Q08 – Define the term primary socialisation

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

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

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

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

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

  • economic growth
  • medical advances
  • social policies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

  • Hooks

Item A

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

How to answer this question?

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

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

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

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

The Mark scheme

applying-item-question-10-mark-scheme

 A brief model answer..

I advise developing each of the points below still further!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Level Sociology Families and Households Revision Bundle

Families Revision Bundle CoverIf you like this sort of thing, then you might like my A Level  Sociology Families and Households Revision Bundle which contains the following:

  1. 50 pages of revision notes covering all of the sub-topics within families and households
  2. mind maps in pdf and png format – 9 in total, covering perspectives on the family
  3. short answer exam practice questions and exemplar answers – 3 examples of the 10 mark, ‘outline and explain’ question.
  4.  9 essays/ essay plans spanning all the topics within the families and households topic.
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Applying material from Item C, analyse two ways in which an ageing population may affect family structures.

This is the 10 mark question in the crime and deviance section of the AQA’s 2016 Specimen A-level sociology paper 2: Topics in Sociology, section A: Families and Households option.

In this post I consider a ‘lower middle mark band’ student response (4/10 marks) to this question and the examiner commentary (both are provided by the AQA here) before considering what a ‘top band’ answer might look like.

The Question (with the item!)

analyse-using-item-question-10-marks

The Mark Scheme:

AQA-sociology-mark-scheme

Student Response:

sociology example student response

Examiner Commentary: (4/10 marks)

This is taken straight from the AQA’s own specimen (2016) material. NB I think the commentary actually misses out the most significant thing the candidate does not do, see below for my commentary on the commentary… 

What the candidate does well

  • Two reasonable suggestions are offered
  • There is no problem that they are “opposites” in that both situations may occur in different families.
  • The response provides a competent explanation of each change, explaining how and why older people may impact on female members of the generation beneath them (unfortunately, this is not what the question has asked for).

What the candidate does not do well

  • The response fails to fully answer the question because it does not explicitly connect the change in the position of women to family structures – implicit links to roles are as far as the response gets.
  • This answer does not have a strong knowledge base and concepts are limited
  • The second paragraph could do more to explain how/why the ageing population will lead to more grandparents who are able to provide the suggested role.
  • Both knowledge and application to family structures could be much stronger in this response however there is enough material of partial relevance to access the middle band.
  • This answer is a little too brief, given that around 15 minutes of an examination should be allocated to a 10 mark question.

How you might improve on this response to move up to the top band….

This is my input:

NB – WHAT THE EXAMINERS RESPONSE DOES NOT SAY IS THAT THE POINTS MADE DO NOT SEEM TO COME EXPLICITLY FROM THE ITEM…. IF THE CANDIDATE WAS USING THE ITEM, THEY WOULD HAVE ONE POINT ABOUT ‘INCREASING LIFE EXPECTANCY’ AND ONE POINT ABOUT ‘DECLINING BIRTH RATES’ AND THEN LINK THESE TO CHANGING FAMILY STRUCTURES.

TO MY MIND THE RESPONSE ABOVE IS BASICALLY ‘THE MIDDLE BITS’ – WHAT’S MISSING IS CLEAR REFERENCE TO THE ITEM (THE BEGINNING BITS OF BOTH POINTS) AND ESPECIALLY THE END BITS, ON FAMILY STRUCTURE!

Anyway, if you’d like to submit an improved answer in the comments which takes on board the above feedback, I might even mark it!

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.

If you’re not quite as flush, how about this… just the 50 pages of accessible, user friendly, exam-focused notes for only £0.99* – from iTunes, Barnes and Noble and Kobo.

Sociology Revision Notes

*Price will vary with dollar exchange rate

 

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How equal are men and women in relationships these days? Student survey results

Women who do the lioness’s share of the housework, but men and women seem to have equal control over the finances, at least according to two surveys conduct by my A Level sociology students last week.

This acts as a useful update to the topic of power and equality within relationships, especially the ‘domestic division of labour’ aspect.

I actually did two surveys this week with the students this week, both on Socrative.

For the first survey, I simply asked students via Socrative, who did most of the domestic work when they were a child (mostly mother or mostly father – full range of possible responses are in the results below), with ‘domestic work’ broken down into tasks such as cleaning, laundry, DIY etc…

For the second Survey, I got students to write down possible survey questions on post it notes, then I selected 7 of them to make a brief questionnaire which they then used as a basis for interviewing three couples about who did the housework.

Selected results from the initial student survey on parents’ housework

These results were based on students’ memory!

Housework survey 2018

Housework survey 2018 DIY

Selected results from the second survey

based on student interviews with couples

Domestic labour questionnaire 2018

men women finances survey 2018

Discussion of the validity of the results…..

These two surveys on the domestic division of labour (and other things) provided a useful way into a discussion of the strengths and limitations of social surveys more generally….we touched on the following, among other things:

  • memory may limit validity in survey one
  • lack of possible options limits validity in survey two, also serves as an illustration of the imposition problem.
  • asking couples should act as a check on validity, because men can’t exaggerate if they are with their partner.
  • there are a few ethical problems with the ‘him’ and ‘her’ categories, which could be improved upon.

Postcript – on using student surveys to teach A-level sociology

All in all this is a great activity to do with students. It brings the research up to date, it gets them thinking about questionnaire design and, if you time it right, it even gets them out of the class room for half an hour, so you can just put yer feet up and chillax!

If you want to use the same surveys the links, which will allow you to modify as you see fit, are here:

  • Quiz one – https://b.socrative.com/teacher/#import-quiz/16728393
  • Quiz two – https://b.socrative.com/teacher/#import-quiz/33508597