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.
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
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’.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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!
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)
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.
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:
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!)
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)
Student responses with examiner
AS AND A-LEVEL
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
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!
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:
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…
Applying material from Item A, analyse two changes in the position of children in society over the last 100 years (10)
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’:
Time/ money/ comfortable upbringing which is pointing to ‘improving living standards’
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:
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