A Level Sociology Key Terms – Families and Households

A selected list of some of the most important key terms in AS Level and A Level Sociology – families and households. NB this is not an exhaustive list, just a starting point! 

Bean Pole Family
A family with a long, thin structure. For example, there might be 4 generations alive, but each generation hasn’t had many children. This is a 21st century example of an extended family, but its members are more likely to live apart than in the past.

Birth Rate 
The number of babies born per thousand per year.

Civil Partnership
The legally or formally recognised union of a man and a woman (or in some countries two people of the same sex) in a committed relationship.

Co-habitation  
Two people living together in the same household in an emotionally intimate, committed relationship without being officially married.

Commercialisation of Housework 
Where new technologies lead to new products which people can buy which reduces the amount of domestic labour people have to do at home – e.g. hoovers, washing machines, microwaves and microwave meals reduce the amount of time spend cleaning, washing and cooking.

Death Rate 
The number of deaths per thousand members of a population per year.

Dual Burden 
When someone does both paid work and a significant amount of the domestic labour, such as housework at home. According to radical feminists, it is mainly women who suffer this.

Economic Factors 
Refers to things to do with money – for example how wealth a society is and the amount of wealth and income an individual or family has.

Emotion Work 
Thinking about the emotional well-being of other members of the family and acting in ways which will be of emotional benefit to others. For example, hugging and reassuring children when they have nightmares, organizing Christmas and birthday parties so that everyone feels included and has a good time.

Extended family  
Family beyond the traditional nuclear family, incorporating aunts, uncles, and grandparents. In the traditional extended family, members live in the same household, in more modern extended families

Gender Norms 
The ‘expected’ patterns of behaviour associated with masculinity and femininity – for example, femininity = caring, masculinity = competitive.

Gender Roles 
The social positions and occupations we associate with men and women – for example we tend to associate the caring role with women, and the ‘provider role’ with men.

Globalisation (simple definition) – The increasing interconnectedness of societies across the globe.

Ideological Functions 
Refers to the ways in which the ideas spread through institutions work top maintain the power of dominant groups in society.

Individualisation 
The process where individuals have more freedom to make life-choices and shape their identities because of a weakening of traditional social structures, norms and values. For example, secularization means people have more choice over whether they should get married or simply cohabit.

Instrumental Role 
The provider or breadwinner role which involves going out to work and earning money for the family – the traditional male role within the family.

Matrifocal Household 
A family structure in which mothers are the heads of household and fathers have less power and control in family life and the allocation of resources.

Migration 
Moving from one country or area to another.

Negotiated Families 
Vary according to the wishes and expectations of their members, who decided what is best for them by discussion. Negotiated families are more equal than traditional nuclear families, but more unstable. This is the typical type of family in postmodern society.

Net Migration
The difference between the numbers of people immigrating to and emigrating from a country.

Nuclear Family – A man and a woman and their dependent children, either their own or adopted.

Patriarchy  
A society where men hold the power and women are excluded, disadvantaged or oppressed.  An example of a patriarchal society is one which women are not allowed to vote, but men are.

Personal Life Perspective 
A sociological perspective which believes we should understand family life from the perspective of the individuals who make up the family, focusing on the diverse ways in which different individuals within the family define and perceive their own experiences of family life.

Postmodernism 
The view that social changes (such as globalisation and more consumerism) since the 1950s have resulted in a world in which individuals have much more choice and freedom than is suggested by Modernists social theories such as Functionalism, Marxism and Feminism.

Primary Socialisation 
The first stages of learning the norms and values of a society; learning basic skills and norms, such as language, and basic manners.

Serial Monogamy 
Where an individual has a string of committed relationships, one after the other.

Social Construction of Childhood 
The idea that the norms and values and social roles associated with childhood are influenced by society, rather than being determined by the biological age of a child.

Symmetrical Family –   A family in which  the roles of husbands and wives, although not identical are more similar. There are three elements:
– Both men and women do paid work.
– Men and women both do housework.
– Couples spend their leisure time together rather than separately

Total Fertility Rate 
The average number of babies a woman will have during her fertile years (15-44).

Toxic Childhood 
Where social changes, especially the invention of new technologies, does increasing amounts of harm to children. For example, the internet and mobile phones results in screen saturation with increases anxiety and reduces attention spans.

Evaluating the The New Right View of the Family

The New Right believe that the traditional nuclear family is best and are critical of other ‘non-standard’ family types such as lone parent and reconstituted families.

CIVITAS is one of the best examples of an organisation which represents the New Right View of the Family, and the decline of the nuclear family and increase the the number of single parent families is one of the social trends it focuses on.

In one of it’s documents, entitled ‘Experiments in Fatherless Living‘ CIVITAS focuses on the consequences of rising number of single parent families for both children and society. Just some of the problems they single out include the fact that:

Problems with Lone mothers

  • Are poorer – one mothers are twice as likely as two-parent families to live in poverty at any one time (69% of lone mothers are in the bottom 40% of household income versus 34% of couples with children).
  • Are more likely to have mental health problems – At the age of 33, divorced and never-married
  • were 2.5 times more likely than married mothers to experience high levels of psychological distress.
  • may have more problems interacting with their children. Young people in lone-parent families were 30% more likely than those in two-parent families to report that their parents rarely or never knewwhere they were

Children from Lone Parent families

  • Among children aged five to fifteen years in Great Britain, those from lone-parent families were twice as likely to have a mental health problem as those from intact two-parent families (16% versus 8%).
  • Have more trouble in school – After controlling for other demographic factors, children from lone-parent households were 3.3 times more likely to report problems with their academic work, and 50% more likely to report difficulties with teachers
  • Analysis of 35 cases of fatal abuse which were the subject of public inquiries between 1968 and 1987 showed a risk for children living with their mother and an unrelated man which was over 70 times higher than it would have been for a child with two married biological parents.
  • Are more likely to run away from home – children from lone-parent families are twice as likely to run away from home as those from two-birth-parent families (14% compared to 7%).

Criticisms of the New Right view of single parents 

This text, Charles Murray and The Underclass (especially from page 62 – ‘The Focus on Single Mothers’) provides some useful criticisms of the above statistics – As follows:

‘Murray’s thesis may have been exaggerated for effect, so as to get his main point over, but making scapegoats of single mothers for society’s ills does not help us to approach the serious issues raised by the growing proportion of one-parent families.

This growth has to be seen in the context of changes in social attitudes across the wider society. We live in an age when over 90 per cent of those aged between 18 and 34 do not consider pre-marital sex to be particularly wrong, and when divorce and cohabitation are increasing and are being seen as acceptable at all levels of society.

We may want to seek ways to counter these developments at an individual level, but is not easy to see how we can turn back the clock to a less permissive age—short of a massive religious revival or draconian laws which attempt to control private behaviour between adults.’

Related Links

NB – It’s not just single parents that CIVITAS have got it in for – in their ‘The facts behind cohabitation Fact Sheet‘ they provide more misleading statistics on how marriage is better than cohabitation

Social Policy and The Family – Topic Overview

Families and Households – Topic 6 – Social Policy

Overview of the topic

You need to be able to assess a range of policies using three key perspectives

The New Right

New Labour

Feminism (Liberal and Radical)

Some of the policies you need to know about –

Changes to the Divorce law

Tax breaks for married couples

Maternity and paternity pay

Civil Partnerships

Sure Start – early years child care

Key ‘test yourself’ questions (basic knowledge)

Identify three social policies that might have led to increasing family diversity

Identify three social policies that have ‘extended childhood’ (links to last topic)

Essays

Assess the New Right’s perspective on the relationship between Social Policy and The Family (20)

Assess the view that the main function of laws and policies on families and households is to reproduce patriarchy (20)

Sociological Perspectives on Social Policy and the Family

How do Functionalists, the New Right and Conflict theorists view social policies on the family?

The Functionalist View of Social Policy and The Family

Functionalists see society as built on harmony and consensus (shared values), and free from conflicts. They see the state as acting in the interests of society as a whole and its social policies as being for the good of all. Functionalists see policies as helping families to perform their functions more effectively and making life better for their members.

For example, Ronald Fletcher (1966) argues that the introduction of health, education and housing policies in the years since the industrial revolution has gradually led to the development of a welfare state that supports the family in performing its functions more effectively.

For instance, the existence of the National Health Service means that with the help of doctors, nurses, hospitals and medicines, the family today is better able to take care of its members when they are sick.

However, the functionalist view has been criticised on two main counts:

  • It assumes that all members of the family benefit equally from social policies, whereas Feminists argue that policies often benefit men more than women.
  • It assumes that there is a ‘march of progress’ with social policies, gradually making life better, which is a view criticise by Donzelot in the following section.

Adapted from Robb Webb et al

A Conflict Perspective – Donzelot: Policing the Family

Jacques Donzelot (1977) has a conflict view of society and sees policy as a form of state power and control over families.

Donzelot uses Michel Foucault’s (1976) concept of surveillance (observing and monitoring). Foucault sees power not just as something held by the government or the state, but as diffused (spread) throughout society and found within all relationships. In particular, Foucault sees professionals such as doctors and social workers as exercising power over their clients by using their expert knowledge to turn them into ‘cases’ to be dealt with.

Donzelot applies these ideas to the family. He is interested in how professionals carry out surveillance of families. He argues that social workers, health visitors and doctors use their knowledge to control and change families. Donzelot calls this ‘the policing of families’.

Surveillance is not targeted equally at all social classes. Poor families are much more likely to be seen as ‘problem families’ and as the causes of crime and anti-social behaviour. These are the families that professionals target for ‘improvement’. For example as Rachel Condry (2007) notes, the state may seek to control and regulate family life by imposing compulsory Parenting Orders through the courts. Parents of young offenders, truants or badly behaved children may be forced to attend parenting classes to learn the ‘correct’ way to bring up children.

Donzelot rejects the Functionalists’ march of progress view that social policy and the professionals who carry it out have created a better society. Instead he sees social policy as oppressing certain types of families. By focussing on the micro level of how the ‘caring professions’ act as agents of social control through the surveillance of families, Donzelot shows the importance of professional knowledge as a form of power and control.

However, Marxists and Feminists criticise Donzelot for failing to identify clearly who benefits from such policies of surveillance. Marxists argue that social policies generally operate in the interests of the capitalist class, while Feminists argue men are the beneficiaries.

Adapted from Rob Webb et al

The New Right and Social Policy

The New Right have had considerable influence on government thinking about social policy and its effects on family. They see the traditional nuclear family, with its division of labour between a male provider and a female home maker as self-reliant and capable of caring for its members. In their view, social policies should avoid doing anything that might undermine this natural self-reliant family.

The New Right criticise many existing government policies for undermining the family. In particular, they argue that governments often weaken the family’s self-reliance by providing overly generous welfare benefits. These include providing council housing for unmarried teenage mothers and cash payments to support lone parent families.

Charles Murray (1984) argues that these benefits offer ‘perverse incentives’ – that is, they reward irresponsible or anti-social behaviour. For example –

• If fathers see that the state will maintain their children some of them will abandon their responsibilities to their families

• Providing council housing for unmarried teenage mothers encourages young girls to become pregnant

• The growth of lone parent families encouraged by generous welfare benefits means more boys grow up without a male role model and authority figure. This lack of paternal authority is responsible for a rising crime rate amongst young males.

The New Right supports the following social polices

• Cuts in welfare benefits and tighter restrictions on who is eligible for benefits, to prevent ‘perverse incentives’.

• Policies to support the traditional nuclear family – for example taxes that favour married couples rather than cohabiting couples.

• The Child Support agency – whose role is to make absent dads pay for their children

Criticisms of the New Right

• Feminists argue that their polices are an attempt to justify a return to the traditional nuclear family, which works to subordinate women

• Cutting benefits may simply drive many into poverty, leading to further social problems

Feminism and Social Policy

Liberal Feminists argue that that changes such as the equal pay act and increasingly generous maternity leave and pay are sufficient to bring about gender equality. The following social policies have led to greater gender equality:

  • The divorce act of 1969 gave women the right to divorce on an equal footing to men – which lead to a spike in the divorce rate.
  • The equal pay act of 1972 was an important step towards women’s independence from men.
  • Increasingly generous maternity cover and pay made it easier for women to have children and then return to work.

However, Radical Feminists argue that patriarchy (the ideal of male superiority) is so entrenched in society that mere policy changes alone are insufficient to bring about gender equality. They argue, for example, that despite the equal pay act, sexism still exists in the sphere of work –

  • There is little evidence of the ‘new man’ who does their fair share of domestic chores. They argue 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 Feminists even argue that overly generous maternity cover compared to paternity cover reinforces the idea that women should be the primary child carer, unintentionally disadvantaging women
  • Dunscmobe and Marsden (1995) argue 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.
  • This last point is more difficult to assess as it is much harder to quantify emotion work compared to the amounts of domestic work and paid work carried out by men and women.
  • Class differences also play a role – with working class mothers suffering more because they cannot afford childcare.
  • Mirlees- Black points out that ¼ women experience domestic violence – and many are reluctant to leave their partner

New Labour and Family Policy

New Labour was in power from between 1997 – 2010. There are three things you need to know about New Labour’s Social Policies towards the family

1. New Labour seemed to be more in favour of family diversity than the New Right. For example –

In 2004 they introduced The Civil Partner Act which gave same sex couples similar rights to heterosexual married couples

In 2005 they changed the law on adoption, giving unmarried couples, including gay couples, the right to adopt on the same basis as married couples

2. Despite their claims to want to cut down on welfare dependency, New Labour were less concerned about ‘the perverse incentives of welfare’ than the New Right. During their terms of office, they failed to take ‘tough decisions on welfare’ – putting the well-being of children first by making sure that even the long term unemployed families and single mothers had adequate housing and money.

3. New Labour believes in more state intervention in family life than the New Right. They have a more positive view of state intervention, thinking it is often necessary to improve the lives of families.

For example in June 2007 New Labour established the Department for Children, Schools and Families. This was the first time that there was ever a ‘department for the family’ in British politics.

The Government’s aim of this department was to ensure that every child would get the best possible start in life, receiving the on-going support and protection that they – and their families – need to allow them to fulfil their potential. The new Department would play a strong role both in taking forward policy relating to children and young people, and coordinating and leading work across Government and youth and family policy.

Key aspects included:

  • Raising school standards for all children and young people at all ages.
  • Responsibility for promoting the well-being, safety, protection and care of all young people.
  • Responsibility for promoting the health of all children and young people, including measures to tackle key health problems such as obesity, as well as the promotion of youth sport
  • Responsibility for promoting the wider contribution of young people to their communities.

Signposting

This post has been written primarily for students of A-level sociology, and is one of the main topics in the families and households module, usually taught in the first year of study.

Related posts include:

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