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
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
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!)
The Mark Scheme:
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 -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
The UK has seen significant falls in poverty over the last 20 years, HOWEVER, this progress is now at risk of reversing as poverty rates have been increasing in recent years. This blog posts summarizes the 20 year trend in UK Poverty according to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s 2017 Poverty Report. Specifically it looks at:
The overall 20 year trend in UK poverty
poverty among pensioners and children
Three drivers of the reduction in poverty rates
Three threats to the continued reduction in poverty rates
NB I’m using the same information from the report, but I’ve changed the order in which it’s reported and summarized it down further. Personally I think my version is much more immediately accessible to your ‘non-expert’: IMO the ‘JRF have a tendency to ‘over-report’ reams of nuanced data, and the overall picture just gets lost. The detail’s important if you’re a policy wonk, but probably going to get lost on the average, interested member of the general public.
Before reading this post you might like to check out my ‘what is poverty?‘ post which covers the basic definition of some of the terms used below.
The overall 20 year trend in UK poverty….the fall and rise of UK poverty rates
20 years ago, in 1996, nearly a quarter (24%) of the UK’s population lived in poverty. By 2004, this had fallen to one in five (20%) of the population. However, by 2016, the proportion had risen slightly to 22%.
*Relative poverty is when a family has an income of less than 60% of median income for their family type, after housing costs.
Children and pensioners living in poverty
As the chart above clearly shows, the biggest success stories in the long term reduction in poverty over the last 20 years are the numbers of pensioners who have been taken out of poverty and (to a lesser extent) the number of children.. As the chart above shows:
In 1995, 28% of pensioners lived in poverty, falling to 13% in 2012, but rising to 16% by 2016.
In 1995, a third of children lived in poverty, falling to 27% in 2012, but rising to 30% in 2016
However, during that time the proportion of working age couples without children in poverty actually grew slightly, from 16% to 18%.
Factors correlated with falling poverty rates
The report notes three main factors which are mainly responsible for this long term overall decline in poverty:
Rising employment, linked with higher wages due to the minimum wage, and better education.
Increased support through benefits, especially the increase in the state pension age, but also out of work benefits for working age people with children
Housing benefit and increased home ownership containing the impact of rising rents.
Factors explaining the long term decrease of UK Poverty in more depth
It seems that the main drivers behind the long-term decrease in poverty in the UK are the ‘positive’ economic factors such as improvements in the employment rate, pay and conditions, rather than increases to benefits.
Below I select what appear to be the five most import factors from the report which explain the long term decrease in poverty.
The increase in the state pension
The most significant reduction in poverty has been achieved with pensioners, and according to the JRF report, the main reason for this was a one off increase in the state pension at the beginning of the century:
NB – there is a lot of variation in pensioner income, which I may explore in a future post…
The employment rate has increase from around 71% in 1996 to around 75% in 2016…
NB – while you are statistically more likely to be in poverty if you’re not in-work, being employed it itself is not sufficient to avoid being in poverty. Both the introduction of the minimum wage, and changes to in work benefits for lone parents have been essential to making sure that a higher proportion of people in employment are also not officially in poverty. While work today is more likely to lift you out of poverty than in 1996, it remains the case that a large percentage of those in poverty are in-work (typically in part-time jobs).
Earnings are up for people with all levels of qualifications…
Obviously higher earnings are more likely to lift people out of poverty, HOWEVER, at the bottom end of the income earning scale, and especially for those with children and in part-time jobs, the increasing cost of living, especially rent (but also childcare and even food and utilities) has negated much of the above increase in wages, hence why government support in the form of child tax credits and housing benefit remains important.
The number of people with degrees has nearly trebled in this period: from around 12% of the UK population to over 30%
Those with degrees earn approximately twice the amount of those with no qualifications, so it would seem that New Labour’s focus on ‘education, education, education‘, and their push to get more people into higher education has had a positive impact in poverty reduction. However, with the introduction of tuition fees and with increasing competition for highly skilled jobs coming from abroad, it’s not clear that this trend (of more and more people getting degrees) is set to continue.
The introduction of the national minimum wage has resulted in a 46% relative pay increase for the poorest 10%, compared to a 40% median national increase
Both the introduction of the minimum wage and its subsequent increases seem to have been one of the most important factors in tackling in-work poverty. However, even with the minimum wage, a possible future barrier to further poverty reduction lies in the growth of precarious jobs leading to ‘underemployment’ – where people get too few hours to earn a decent living. For more on this, see my summary of the RSA’s report on ‘Future Work in the UK‘.
The increase in out of work benefits for people with children
Basically, there has a been a very slight long-term increase in out of work benefits for people with children, who are now slightly better off than 20 years ago, while poor people without children have seen no change, or are slightly worse off.
I guess this leads to an overall reduction in the poverty rate simply because there are more people per family household rather than just couple or single person household.
You can see from the above chart, that lone parents claiming JSA and child benefits were briefly lifted to 60% of median income (just on the poverty line) – sufficient to take them out of poverty, however, you can also see that benefits are again being cut back, so we can probably expect poverty rates to increase again in the future!
And one factor which doesn’t seem to explain the overall reduction in poverty… changes to in-work benefits…
With the exception of single parents who are better off over a twenty year period, every other household type seems to be worse off! Thus I can’t see how this variable would explain the long term decrease in UK poverty.
Potential barriers to further reductions in poverty
All three of the main drivers of poverty reduction mentioned above are now under question:
The continued rise in employment is no longer reducing poverty.
State support for low-income families is falling in real terms, and negates the gains made by increasing employment and wages.
Rising rents, less help for low-income renters and falling home ownership leave more people struggling to meet the cost of housing.
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!
Selected results from the second survey
based on student interviews with couples
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
The topic of domestic abuse is relevant to the families and households and crime and deviance modules within A-level sociology, as well as providing some of the strongest supporting evidence for the continued relevance of Feminism more generally in contemporary society.
It’s also one of those topics that’s good to teach (sensitively) for more ‘humanistic reasons’ – raising awareness of the nature and extent, and underlying dynamics of domestic abuse could play a role in helping prevent today’s teenagers being victims (or even perpetrators!) of this crime.
Below I provide some ‘starting point’ resources which students can use to research the nature and extent of domestic abuse in England and Wales.
Victim Support – Victim Support is an independent charity which supports victims of crime. Their section on domestic abuse is a a very accessible guide to the basic definition and different types of domestic abuse, as well as containing information about how to get support if your a Victim, or you think someone else is.
Women’s Aid – most of their research publications focus on the state of domestic abuse services (e.g. refuges) provided by the state and what happens to the survivors of domestic abuse.
The NSPCC – focusing on children and domestic abuse (which the ONS stats above do not cover). 1 in 5 children have been exposed to domestic abuse – either as victims themselves, or witnessing it.
The Femicide Census – profiles of women killed by men – 113 women were killed by men in England, Wales and Northern Ireland in 2016 – 69% of them by their intimate partners, and only 8% by strangers. This 2017 publication by Women’s Aid outlines some of the grim facts of this crime.
A very useful website from the U.S. is The Recovery Village – It contains information on how to leave an abusive relationship, how to help a victim of domestic violence, and more. One of its key aims to empower victims of domestic abuse and their loved ones.
The above are really just some useful ‘starting point’ links…. Further Sources to Follow!
A brief revision map of some of the main sociological concepts which have been developed to describe the ‘typical relationship’: taken together, they suggest a movement towards greater gender equality in relationships:
This is the briefest of revision slides on this topic, designed for A-level sociology paper 2: topics in sociology, families and households section (AQA exam board). For more details on this revision topic please see this post: are men and women equal in relationships?
A model answer to a possible 10 mark ‘outline and explain’ question, written for the A-level sociology AQA A-level paper 7192/2: topics within sociology: families and households section).
Outline and explain two social changes which may explain the decline of marriage in recent decades (10)
The first social factor is in more depth than the second.
Economic changes such as the increasing cost of housing and the increasing cost of weddings may explain the decline of marriage:
Young adults stay living with their parents longer to save up for a mortgage, often into their 30s. Men especially might feel embarrassed to marry if they still live with their parents, because it’s not very ‘masculine’. This also reflects the importance changing gender roles: now women are taking on the ‘breadwinner role’, there’s no obvious need to marry a man. This applies especially to low income earning, working class men.
Furthermore, it’s often a choice between ‘marriage’ or ‘house deposit’: most people just co-habit because they can’t afford to get married. People would rather by a house because ‘material security’ is more important than the ‘security of marriage’. People also fail to save for weddings because of the pressure to consume in postmodern society. However, this only applies to those who want a big ‘traditional’ wedding, which costs £15K.
The significance of economic factors criticise the postmodernist view that marriage declining is simply a matter of ‘free-choice’.
A Second reason for the decline of marriage is secularisation, or the decline of religion in society.
Christianity, for example emphasises that marriage is a sacred union for life before God, and that sex should only take place within marriage. With the decline of religion, social values have shifted so that it is now acceptable to have sex before marriage, and with more than one partner, meaning that dating, serial monogamy and cohabitation have all replaced marriage to a large extent.
The decline of religion also reflects the fact that marriage today is not about ‘pleasing society’, it is simply about pleasing the two individuals within the relationship, the ‘pure relationship’ is now the norm, and people no longer feel like they need God’s approval of their relationshp, so there is less social pressure to get married.
However, this trend does vary by ethnicity, and Muslims, Hindus and Jews within Britain are all much more likely to get married in a religious ceremony.