Researching in Classrooms

The classic method for researching in classrooms is non-participant observation, the method used by OFSTED inspectors. However, there are other methods available to the researcher who wishes to conduct research on actual lessons within schools.

Classrooms are closed environments with very clear rules of behaviour and typically containing around 20-30 students, one teacher and maybe one learning assistant, and lessons usually lasting from 40 minutes to an hour.

The obvious choice of research method for using in a classroom is that of non-participant observation, where the researcher takes on the role of the OFSTED inspector.

The fact that there are so many students in one place, and potentially hundreds of micro-interactions in even just a 40-minute lesson gives the observational researcher plenty to focus on, so classrooms are perhaps some of the most data rich environments within education.

Arguably the most useful way of collecting observational data would be for the researcher to have an idea about what they are looking for in advance – possibly how many times teachers praise which pupils, or how many times disruptive behaviour takes place, and how the teacher responds, rather than trying to watch everything, which would be difficult.

And students will probably be used to OFSTED inspections, or other staff in the school dropping in to observe lessons occasionally, thus it should be relatively easy for a researcher to blend into the background and observe without being too obtrusive.

The fact that classrooms are usually organised in a standardised way (they tend to be similar sizes, with only a few possible variations on desk layouts) also means the researcher has a good basis for reliability – any differences he observes in teacher or student behaviour across classrooms or schools is probably because of the teachers or pupils themselves, not differences in the environments they are in (at least to an extent!).

There are, however, some limitations with researching in classrooms.

Gaining access could be a problem – not all teachers are going to be willing to have a researcher observing them. They may regard their classroom as their environment and think they have little to gain from an outsider observing them – although if a researcher is a teacher themselves, they could maybe offer some useful feedback about teaching strategies applied by teachers.

Teachers will probably act differently when observed – if you think back to OFSTED inspections, teachers usually ‘up their game’ and make sure to be more inclusive and encouraging, this is likely to happen when anyone observes.

Similarly, pupils may behave differently – they may be more reluctant to contribute because of a researcher being present, or disruptive students may act up even more.

Classrooms are very unique, controlled environments, with only two roles (teachers and students) and clear norms. Teachers and students alike will not be themselves in these highly unusual situations.

Finally, researchers wouldn’t be able to dig deeper and ask probing questions when part of a lesson, unless they took on the role of participant observer by becoming an learning assistant, but even then they would be limited to what they could ask if they didn’t want to disrupt the lesson flow.

It’s not all about direct non-participant observation

Researchers might choose a more participatory approach to researching in classrooms, by training to be a learning assistant or even a teacher, and doing much longer term, unstructured observational research with students.

This would enable them to get to really know the students within a lesson, and make it very easy to to ask deeper questions outside of lessons.

The problem with this would be that they would then be part of the educational establishment and students may not wish to open up to them precisely because of that reason.

A further option would be to put up cameras and observe from a distance, but this might come up against some resistance from both teachers and students, and it would be more difficult to ask follow up questions if reviewing the recordings some time after the actual lesson took place.

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Balloon Modelling Starter for A-level Sociology

Here’s a starter I use for my ‘sociology before Christmas break’ lesson. The aim of the starter activity is for each student to be able to make their own sausage dog or giraffe balloon animal – they’re essentially both the same, one just has a long neck, the other a long body!

You’ll probably want to make a few of these yourself before hand, to get familiar with the process!

Resources required

  • Enough animal modelling balloons, one for each student, plus a few more in case any get popped.
  • At least one manual balloon pump – these balloons are tough to blow up with your mouth!
  • An instruction video on how to make a balloon animal.

Activity instructions

If you’re short on time, then inflate the balloons yourself first of all. If you don’t have time, you’ll have to get students to inflate them, in which case it might be an idea to invest in two balloon pumps.

NB they can be quite difficult to tie.

You need to make sure you leave around two-three inches of un-inflated space at the end!

Once students have their balloons, you can play the video, or model the process yourself, pausing as necessary.

This video works nicely…

End result

Students should have their own balloon animal to take away for Xmas.

Extension work

There’s lots of more complex stuff students can make with balloons, I’m sure they’re capable of finding their way to instructional web sites and videos out there!

Relevance to A-level sociology

I’ve got half an idea that you could make this relevant to experiments somehow – what is the effect of doing this task on concentration? Or something like that? Why do some people choose Giraffes, and others choose sausage dogs?

You could get the students to analyse the sociological significance of balloon giraffes according to different sociologists/ perspectives – what would Foucault make of them, for example? (D’you know, I’ve no idea!)

Or maybe ask the students if they can think of any concepts the process of making a balloon giraffe – anomie maybe?

But TBH, it’s just a bit of fun before Xmas, and once you’ve done the balloon animal things, you can get on with your end of term socrative quiz or Xmas songs.

I’m something of a traditionalist, I believe the lesson before Xmas should consist of nothing constructive, for once!

Sociological Perspectives on the 2020 Exam results fiasco

What a mess this years exam results were!

First of all students get awarded their results based primarily on an algorithm, which adjusted center predicted grades up or down depending on how their historical results records.

Then those results were scrapped in favour of the original teacher predicted grades, awarded several months ago, unless the algorithm grade was better!

And finally, amidst all that chaos, BTEC students just get forgotten about with the publication of their results being delayed.

Unfortunately there isn’t a ‘total balls up’ perspective in Sociology, as that would most definitely be the best fit to explain what occurred, and I’m not sure that any one perspective can really explain what’s going on, but there some concepts we can apply….

Marxism

A basic tenet of Marxism applied to education is that the education system tends to benefit the middle classes more than the working classes, and especially the 7% of privately schooled kids compared to other 93% who are educated in state school.s

The algorithm which was used to adjust teacher predicted grades benefitted those from higher class backgrounds more than from lower class backgrounds.

You’ll need to follow the Twitter threads below for the evidence…

The Power of Popular Protest

However, students protested…..

And as we all know, the algorithm was overturned, and we ended up with teacher predicted grades being the basis for results (unless the algorithm gave students a better result of course!).

So in this case the system did try to to screw the working classes, but popular protest managed a small victory.

NB – it’s worth pointing out that Independently schooled kids probably still have better results on average than working class kids, so while this may feel like a victory, it’s maybe no big deal really?

Labelling Theory

I think there’s an interesting application here in relation to teacher predicted grades – clearly teachers have exaggerated these as much as they can, because the results on average are nearly a grade up compared to last year – which is a great example of teachers positively labelling their students in terms of giving them the highest grades they might have achieved.

It kind of shows you that, at the end of the day, teachers are more positive about their students than negative.

For one year only, we’ve got results based on labels, the projections in teachers’ heads rather than being based on objectively measured performance. In some cases over the next year we are going to see the limitations of labelling theory – just because a teacher says someone is capable of getting 5 good GCSEs doesn’t mean they are going to be able to cope with A levels rather than BTECs at college.

Keep in mind that some of the teacher predicted rates are going to be utter fantasy, and not every case is going to end up in a self-fulfilling prophecy – there are going to be a lot of failures at A-level as thousands of over-predicted students can’t cope.

Probably less so at universities – they need the money from tuition fees, so they’ll probably just lower their standards for this cohort.

Functionalism

You may think that this has no relevance, HOWEVER, the system hasn’t collapsed, has it?

There was a bit of a blip, a few people got upset and protested, and now this year’s students have ended up with much better results than last year’s students based on teacher predicted grades which are clearly about as exaggerated as they can get away with.

And now we’re all heading back to college and university and things are going to go back to the ‘new normal’, without anything very much changing, despite the fact that so many flaws have been revealed in how the exam system works.

I’d say this whole fiasco has been a pretty good example of a system coping well with a crisis and coming out the other side relatively unscathed.

Postmodernism and Late Modernism

The extent to which these apply is a bit of a mixed bag….

The government certainly showed a high degree of uncertainty about how to award results, resulting in wide spread chaos, which certainly seems to fit in which the postmodern perspective.

However, that’s about as far as it goes I think…. students and parents alike showed an utter contempt for being ruled by an algorithim, which is one of the primary mechanisms of social control in post/ late modern societies (via actuaralism) – and yet when its workings are brought to light, people resisted – they wanted justice and meritocracy rather than this bizarre way of managing selves.

Also the fact that people actually seem to care about their results and want a sense of justice isn’t really postmodern – it’s a very modernist concern, to be interested in one’s education and future career, and I get the feeling that rather than kicking back and enjoying their postmodern leisure time, students have just been generally worried about their results and their future.

So there’s been a high level of uncertainty and fear/ worry, that’s quite postmodern, but the fact that people actually care about education, that’s more modernist….

Sociological Experiments

This post aims to provide some examples to some of the more unusual and interesting experiments that students can explore and evaluate.

I’ve already done a post on ‘seven field experiments‘, that outline seven of the most interesting classic and contemporary experiments which are relevant to various topics within the A-level sociology syllabus, in this post I provide a much fuller list, and try to present some more unusual examples, focusing on contemporary examples with video examples where possible.

The Circle

Channel Four’s ‘The Circle’ is an experiment of sorts – contestants have to stay in one room and can only interact with each other by a bespoke, in-house social media application, competing for popularity. At the end of every day the two-three most popular people get to kick out someone from the least three popular people, then a newbie comes in to replace them.

The Twinstitute

This recent series which aired on BBC2 involves getting identical twins to do the same tasks under different circumstances – to see what the effect of ‘external stimuli’ (independent variables) are on factors such as ‘concentration’.

In one classic, and super easy to relate to example, sets of twins are asked to do a written IQ test – one half are allowed to keep their mobile phones on the table, another have to put them away – all other variables remain the same. The findings are predictable – the group with their phones out get worse scores.

Conclusion – mobile phones are distracting, quite a useful fact to remind students of!

Sleep deprivation makes people less likely to want to socialise with you!

A 2017 experiment measured how respondents perceived tired people. The findings were that respondents were less likely to want to socialise with sleep-deprived people.

  • 25 Participants (aged 18-47) were photographed after normal sleep and again after two days of sleep deprivation.
  • The two photographs were then rated by 122 raters (aged 18-65), according to how much they would like to socialise with the participants. The raters also rated the photos based on attractiveness, health, sleepiness and trustworthiness.
  • The raters were less likely to want to socialise with the participants in the ‘sleep-deprived’ photos  compared to the photos of them when they’d had normal sleep. They also perceived the ‘sleep-deprived’ versions as less attractive, less health and more sleepy.
  • There was no difference in the trustworthiness ratings.

You have to think about this to get to what the variables are:

  • The main dependent variable is the raters’ ‘desire to socialise’ with the people in the photos.
  • The independent variable is the ‘level of sleep-deprivation’ (measured by photos)  

What I like about this experiment is the clear ‘control measure’ – the researchers used photos of the same participants – after regular sleep and sleep-deprivation.

Without that control measure, the experiment would probably fall apart1

Science Professors think female applicants are less competent

In this 2012 experiment researchers sent 127 science professors around the country (both male and female) the exact same application materials from a made-up undergraduate student applying for a lab manager position.

63 of the fake applications were made by a male, named John; the other 64 were made by a female, named Jennifer.

Every other element of the applications were identical.

The researchers also matched the two groups of professors to whom the applications were sent, in terms of age distribution, scientific fields, and tenure status.

The 127 professors were each asked to evaluate the application based on

  • their overall competency and hireability,
  • the salary they would offer to the student
  • the degree of mentoring they felt the student deserved.

The faculty were not told the purpose of the experiment, just that their feedback would be shared with the student.

The results

Both male and female professors consistently regarded the female student applicant as less competent and less hireable than the otherwise identical male student:

  • The average competency rating for the male applicant was 4.05, compared to 3.33 for the female applicant.
  • The average salary offered to the female was $26,507.94, while the male was offered $30,238.10.
  • The professor’s age and sex had insignificant effects on discrimination —old and young, male, and female alike tended to view the female applicants more negatively.

Blind auditions improve the chances of female musicians being recruited to orchestras

A comparative study by Cecilia Rouse, an associate professor in Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School and Claudia Goldin, a professor of economics at Harvard University, seems to confirm the existence of sex-biased hiring by major symphony orchestras.

Traditionally, women have been underrepresented in American and European orchestras. Renowned conductors have asserted that female musicians have “smaller techniques,” are more temperamental and are simply unsuitable for orchestras, and some European orchestras do not hire women at all.

To overcome bias, most major U.S. orchestras implemented blind auditions in the 1970s to 1980s, in which musicians audition behind a screen that conceals their identities but does not alter sound. However, some kept non-blind auditions.

This provided the context for a nice ‘natural experiment’…

Using data from the audition records, the researchers found that:

  • – for both blind and non-blind auditions, about 28.6 percent of female musicians and 20.2 percent of male musicians advanced from the preliminary to the final round.
  • – When preliminary auditions were not blind, only 19.3 percent of the women advanced, along with 22.5 percent of the men.

The researchers calculated that blind auditions increased the probability that a woman would advance from preliminary rounds by 50 percent.

As a result, blind auditions have had a significant impact on the face of symphony orchestras. About 10 percent of orchestra members were female around 1970, compared to about 35 percent in the mid-1990s.

Rouse and Goldin attribute about 30 percent of this gain to the advent of blind auditions.

Their report was published in the September-November issue of the American Economic Review.

The Marshmallow Test

This classic 1971 experiment was designed to measure a child’s level of self-control, or will-power. In sociological terms, this is measuring a child’s ability to ‘defer gratification’.

Researchers put a child in a room with one Marshmallow. The child was informed that they could eat it whenever they wanted, but if they could wait until the researcher returned, they could have two Marshmallows.

The researcher then left and the child was left alone to deal with their temptation for approximately 15 minutes. In the end 2/3rds of children gave into temptation and ate the Marshmallow, the other third resisted.

The researchers then tracked the children through later life and found that those who had more will power/ self control (those who hadn’t eaten the treat) were more likely to do well at school, avoid obesity and generally had a better quality of life.

NB – it’s down to you to do your research on how replicable and valid this experiment is.

Here’s one of the original researchers in 2015 saying how they’ve evolved and replicated the experiment and he’s written a book on the importance of teaching self-control to enhance people’s quality of life:

On the other hand, this is a video which is critical, saying that future studies found that social economic background accounted for around half of life-success, with individual will-power only accounting for half.

(However, this second video appears to be one young guy with no academic credentials, other than the lame bookshelf he’s put in the background, hardly semiotics genius.)

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Starters for A-level Sociology

A few of my favourite starters for A-level Sociology Lessons:

Draw Society

While the drawing task may seem a little juvenile, it is typically quite revealing – you usually get a mixture of pictures which show harmony and conflict/ division and some which are ‘whole society’, while others more individualised, but most of them tend to illustrate on the various different perspectives.

This is my very first task in the introduction to sociology unit.

After basic housekeeping, handing out the introductory hand-outs, and a quick discussion about ‘what does the word sociology mean to you?’ I then ask students to ‘draw society’.

I issue students with mini Whiteboards (but paper and pens would work) and simply give them the following instruction (which is on a PPT, and written in the main hand-out)

It takes 5-10 minutes, no more than 10. I then invite students to show and explain their pictures – and then do a quick PPT on perspectives in sociology, using the pictures to illustrate the Perspectives.

NB the reason for quickly introducing the perspectives in Lesson one is to remind students this is a difficult subject, not just about discussing social issues, which is an all too common misconception.

Find someone who Bingo

This icebreaker works a treat: it consists of 20 ‘activities’, 5 of which hardly anyone is going to admit to because they are ‘too deviant’ and people have been socialised into NOT doing them.

The instruction box below is embedded into my main intro hand-out, and on the PPT I use for the lesson:

Intro task – Find someone who bingo   Using the sheets provided, stand up, circulate, and try to match at least one name to each of the actions on your bingo sheet. First one to complete three lines of completely different names (no repeats) and shout bingo wins a chocolate bar, if they can identify the people whose names they’ve put down.   NB – Yes, it’s an icebreaker, but also relevant to the content of today’s lesson!

This activity is also handy to get students talking to one another for the first time – I let it run until the point where you get a large group of students giggling which each other while at the same time a couple of them are starting to look a bit lost, then it’s time to bring it back together – lasts about 5-10 minutes!

Follow up

Ask students if they’ve got any gaps, and if so why…. This introduces the concept of deviance.

When do you want to get married? Marriage and Divorce starter

Students answer the questions below on Socrative. Link to the quiz here.

Intro task – answer the following questions

•           Do you want to get married?

•           If you want to get married, then why, if not, then why not?

•           At what age do you expect to get married?

•           Note down 3-5 words you associated with marriage.

Follow Up

Use Socrative to show the class trends, you can compare these to some of the historical trends as they come up in the lesson.

You can ask students how common they think the answers to the qualitative questions are or ask for volunteers to explain their answers. If no one volunteers, ask ‘why might someone has said this’, just be careful to remind students to be sensitive!

Match the crime to the trend

Hand out the ‘intro to crime trends’ supplementary sheet, this only shows the trends, project up the PPT slide which shows the trends and the ‘crime’s they need to match.

  • Students then match the crime to the trend
  • Show students the answers – on the PPT, see bundle below.
  • Get students to rank the crimes in order of how valid they think the statistics are.

Follow Up

You might want to point out that more serious crime is very low, but some of the ‘softer’ crimes have much higher rates.

You should point out that ‘crime stats are socially constructed’ and that there are several reasons why some of these crimes might go unreported.

20 Starters for A-level Sociology

All of the above resources are available in my latest teaching bundle which contains 20 starter activities for A-level sociology lessons. There are five starter activities for ‘introducing sociology’, three for education, two for methods, five for families and five for crime and deviance.

The activities are quite varied, and include a mixture of the following:

  • Drawing concepts
  • A Walk-about and finding out from other students’ activity
  • Brainstorming reasons why/ differences between.
  • A Making the links dice game
  • ‘What do you think’ personal Socrative intro questions.
  • One musical intro
  • Key terms recaps
  • Applying perspectives starters.
  • Classic data response
  • Classic ‘quick recap tests’

I’ve used all of these activities in my own teaching, they are tried and tested and work well with classes of 10-20 or more students.

Over page is an index of all the activities and (in brackets) when in the specification you can employ them.

Most of these activities are paper based, and where this is the case, I’ve included a copy of the ‘worksheet’ here, as well as individual files in a separate folder, clearly labelled.

Some of the activities require a PPT so I’ve included the relevant slides on a separate PPT.

A-Level Sociology Teaching Resources

NB – you get All of these starters and more as part of my A-level sociology teaching resources, available as a monthly subscription, for only £9.99 a month! The subscription includes lesson plans and modifiable student hand-outs and PPTs. Activities such as these starters are embedded into the student learning materials.

I hope you find these resources useful, and happy teaching,

Karl, September 2020.

A-level sociology families and households: course summary, schemes of work and lesson plans

I’ve been consolidating my A-level sociology planning recently, and I’ve concluded it’s useful to have several different versions of module summaries and schemes of work, as below:

  • A mind map overview/ summary
  • A Power Point overview/ summary
  • A brief scheme of work
  • A long scheme of work
  • Detailed individual lesson plans.

All of these are based on the AQA’s specification, for the families and households topic.

Mind map overview of education

This is mind map number 1, the Borg equivalent of Unimatrix Zero. There are many other mind maps which branch off it – each colour thread itself becomes the central focus for more mind maps!

Power Point overview of education

Should need no explanation, about as brief as it can get.

Brief education Families Scheme of Work

A very brief version to be displayed in classrooms, an at a glance’ version so students can see where they are in the course and what’s coming next.

Long education Families Scheme of Work

This is a grid consisting of sub-topics, concepts, research studies, assessment and resources for each sup-topic. This more in-depth version follows the AQA specification rigidly and should include everything students need to know.

NB this is slightly different to the overview and lesson plans as some ‘lessons’ go beyond the specification or fuse different areas of it together.

Detailed Lesson Plans  

These are really for teachers only, and contain detailed minute by minute lesson plans with aims and objectives, resources and extension ideas.

New Resource: Families and Households teaching bundle for A-level sociology

All of the above are available as part of my ‘sociology of education teaching bundle’. One downloadable bundle including fully modifiable teaching resources in Microsoft Word and PowerPoint. Only £49.95, or as part of a monthly subscription package for £9.99 a month!

The bundle includes:

  • A detailed scheme of work covering the entire AQA specification for the families and households topic 
  • 24 detailed lesson plans (topics below)
  • Seven student work packs on Perspectives, class, gender, ethnicity and education policies. 
  • PowerPoints to accompany most lessons. 
  • Activities such as role play games, sentence sorts, gap fills. 

NB I have had to remove most of the pictures from these materials for copyright reasons, but the idea is that you can always add these in yourself to beautify them!

Lessons covered:

  1. An introduction to the sociology of families and households
  2. The Functionalist perspective on the family
  3. The Marxist perspective on the family
  4. The Marxist/ Feminist perspectives on the family
  5. The Feminist perspective on the family
  6. The New Right view of the family
  7. The Postmodern and Personal Life Perspective on the family
  8. Consolidation Families and households Assessment Lesson – focussing on evaluation skills and essay writing.
  9. Exploring and explaining trends in marriage
  10. Exploring and explaining trends in divorce
  11. Evaluating sociological perspectives on marriage and divorce
  12. Exploring and explaining increasing family diversity – ‘organisational diversity’
  13. Exploring family diversity by social class, ethnicity, and sexuality
  14. Evaluating the view that families are becoming more diverse
  15. Power in relationships: housework and childcare
  16. Power in relationships: perspectives on domestic violence
  17. Is Childhood Socially Constructed?
  18. Evaluating the March of Progress View of Childhood
  19. Is Childhood Disappearing?
  20. Birth and Death Rates
  21. The challenges of the Ageing Population
  22. Migration and family life
  23. Social Policies and family life 1
  24. Social Policies and family life 2

Good videos showing the social construction of childhood

Below are some relatively recent examples of documentary video evidence which demonstrate how attitudes to children vary across cultures, supporting the view that childhood is socially constructed.

This post has been written primarily for students studying the families and households module within A-level sociology

Child Brides

In India, teenage girls aged 14-15 are sometimes pressurized into marrying by their family against their will, often due to financial reasons. The video below explores this, but looks at how teenage female victims try to avoid getting married when they do not want to…

In the less Developed United States of America, it appears that the agents of the State are sometimes less willing to protect child victims of rape and coerced marriage than they are in India.

The video below documents a girl whose family coerced her into getting married after she was raped and made pregnant by her 24 year old ‘boyfriend’. 

For reasons that I don’t fully understand and aren’t really explored in the video, the 24 year old child rapist wasn’t prosecuted.

Instead he was legally allowed to marry his by then 15 year old pregnant ‘girlfriend’, with further violent abuse continuing after the marriage.

As I say, I don’t understand how the State can legally sanction violence against children, but that’s life in an underdeveloped country such as America I guess!

Ritualised Violence against girls

In the Hamar Tribe in Ethiopia,

When boys reach the age of puberty they have to go through a ritual to become men. The main event in this ritual (for the boys at least) involves jumping over some cattle four times. Once a boy has done this, he is officially a man.

However, before they jump the cattle, young teenage girls beg to to be whipped with sticks by the boys about to undergo the ritual – the more they are whipped, the more ‘honour’ they bring on their families.

NB this isn’t play whipping, some of the blows these girls receive are serious, as you can see from the scars in the video still below, the whipping often opens up quite significant wounds which take time to heal, and with healing comes scaring.

Towards the end of this video you get to see an example of this ceremony – the girls are quite willing volunteers in this ritualized violence, which seems to be a normal part of childhood for girls in the Hamar Tribe.

Child slavery in West Africa

In West Africa, thousands of girls and women have been enslaved by a practice called ‘trokosi’. Girls as young as seven are given away by their family to pay for the sins of family members. They get forcibly shipped to a shrine, possibly in a foreign country, stripped of their identity, and are forced to work as ‘servants of God’.

In the documentary below, one victim of trokosi revisits her home country of Ghana to find out why this happened to her.

She was lucky enough to get out because an American negotiated her release  and became her adopted father, which kind of suggests this religion is pretty flexible!

Further examples of how childhood is socially constructed

You can probably also find videos on child labour and child soldiers, two other good examples.

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Britain’s Ageing Population – Is it a Problem?

This post provides an overview of statistics on Britain’s ageing population before looking at some of the problems associated with this trend, including the increased strain on health services and increased burden on young people. It also asks whether the ageing population is actually a problem or not?

Statistics on the Ageing Population

  • In 1998, around one in six people were 65 years and over (15.9% of the population )
  • In 2020, approximately in five people are aged 65 years and over
  • By 2038 it is protected that around one in every four people (24.2%) will be aged 65 and over.

Population Pyramids

These are a nice way of demonstrating Britain’s changing population structure:

The UK’s Age Structure in 1998

The UK’s Age Structure in 2038 (projected)

If you look at the above two population pyramids, you can clearly see a ‘bulge’ around age 30 in 1998, which has disappeared in 2038.

The age structure in 2038 is a much more even, and less like a pyramid.

This is simply a result of people getting older and fewer babies being born (the declining birth rate over the last few decades).

The Dependency Ratio

The Dependency Ratio refers to the number of people of working age in relation to the number of people of non-working age. The later group includes children and people of pensionable age, in 2020 that means everone aged over 65. In the 1990s there used to be

The Office for National Statistics uses this measurement, which is the number of people of pensionable age in relation to those aged 16-64 (working age) per thousand.

The old age dependency ratio was 300:1000 (3.3 workers to each pensioner) in 1992 , it is project to increase to 400:1000 (2.5 workers to each pensioner) by 2067.

The problem of the increasing dependency ratio

Every pensioner in the UK is entitled to a state pension and a range of other ‘free at the point of use’ public services, mainly health-care. These are paid for by taxes on the income of current workers, and the fewer workers to pensioners, the more each worker has to be taxed to pay for pensions and services used by pensioners.

All other things remaining equal, taxes are going to have to increase by 25% based on the above change in the dependency ratio.

One possible way of combating this problem is for more people of pensionable age to work, and in fact this is already happening – the economic activity levels of the over 65s has doubled in the last few decades:

An increased strain on public services

Increasing numbers of pensioners puts a strain on the NHS because pensioners use health services more than younger people.

With increasing numbers of pensioners ‘sucking money’ out of the welfare state’ there is less left for everything else – services for the young are being cut to compensate

This is because healthy life expectancy is not keeping pace with life-expectancy, and there are increasing numbers of people in their 80s who spend several years with chronic physical conditions such as arthritis, and also dementia both of which require intensive social care.

While the ageing population presents problems, there are solutions – such as improving education about how to stay healthy in later life, changing ideas about working so that people are able to work for longer could be part of the solution.

Problems for younger people

People in their 50s have become a ‘sandwich generation’ – they are now caught between having to provide care for their elderly parents, while still having their 20 something children living at home.

However, things are even worse for today’s teenagers – the retirement aged has now been pushed back to 68 – young people today are going to have to retire much later than their current grandparents.

While the ageing population presents problems, there are solutions – such as improving education about how to stay healthy in later life, changing ideas about working so that people are able to work for longer could be part of the solution.

Arguments against the view that the ageing population is a problem

We ned to be careful not to exaggerate the extend to which old people are a ‘burden’ on society, these often come from stereotypical ways of thinking about age. Not all old people are incapable or in poor health! Most older people live healthy lives into old age and increasing numbers of the over 65s are economically active.

Effective long-term planning and forward-looking social policy changes today can help reduce some of the problems associated with the dependency ratio, such as raising the state pension age.

Marxists think attitudes to old age are influenced by capitalism. Marxist suggest that age groups are defined by the capitalist system. For example, adults are people of working age, and the elderly are told old to work. Philipson (1982) capitalism views the elderly as burden on society. This is because their working life has ended, and they usually have less spending power. Therefore, old age become stigmatised in society.

Postmodernists argue attitudes to age are changing. Magazine, advertisers and the media generally often portray “youthful” old age – old people enjoying holidays, sport, wearing fashionable clothes etc. People can also mask their old age through plastic surgery. The strict identity of old age no longer exists.

Sources

Related posts

The aging population is a consequence of the declining death rate, and the increasing dependency ratio is a consequence of this plus the declining birth rate. Hence these two posts might be worth reviewing:

For some extension work, you might like this: The consequences of an ageing population – summary of a Thinking Allowed Podcast from 2015 which focuses on the challenges of a future in which increasing numbers of people will be aged over 70.

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Laboratory Experiments in sociology

This post focuses on the practical, theoretical and ethical and strengths and limitations of laboratory experiment, applied mainly to sociology…

What are laboratory Experiments?

Laboratory experiments take place in controlled environments and are the main method used in the natural sciences such as Physics, Chemistry and Biology. There are numerous experiments which have been designed to test numerous scientific theories about the temperatures at which various substances freeze or melt, or how different chemicals react when they are combined under certain conditions.

The logic of the experimental method is that it is a controlled environment which enables the scientist to measure precisely the effects of independent variables on dependent variables, thus establishing cause and effect relationships. This in turn enables them to make predictions about how the dependent variable will act in the future.

For a general introduction to the key features of experiments and the experimental method (including key terms such as hypothesis and dependent and independent variables) and some of their advantages please see this post: experiments in sociology: an introduction.

The laboratory experiment and is commonly used in psychology, where experiments are  used to measure the effects of sleep loss and alcohol on concentration and reaction time, as well as some more ethically dubious experiments designed to measure the effects of media violence on children and the responses of people to authority figures.

However, they are less common in sociology. Having said that, they are still a requirement within the research methods component of A-level sociology and the AQA exam board does seem to like setting exam questions on experiments!

Laboratory Experiments: Theoretical Factors

Theoretical Advantages of Laboratory Experiments

Accuracy and Precision– Laboratory experiments allow the precise effects of independent variables on dependent variables to be measured. This in turn makes it possible to establish cause and effect relationships between variables.

Isolation of Variables – The controlled conditions of laboratory experiments allows researchers to isolate variables more effectively than with any other research method. This further allows researchers to precisely measure the exact effect which one or more independent variables have on the dependent variable. With the ‘tomato experiment’ for example, laboratory conditions would allow the researcher to control precisely variations in temperature, moisture and light, this would not be possible in a field (no pun intended).

Controlled conditions also allow the researchers to eliminate the effects of ‘extraneous variables’. Extraneous variables are undesirable variables which are not of interest to the researcher but might interfere with the results of the experiment. If you were trying to measure the effects of alcohol on reaction time for example, keeping respondents in a lab means you could make sure they all at and drank similar things, and did similar things, in between drinking the alcohol (or placebo) and doing the reaction time test.

Laboratory experiments have excellent reliability for two major reasons:

Firstly, the controlled environment means it easy to replicate the exact environmental conditions of the original experiment and this also means it is relatively easy for the researcher to clearly outline the exact stages of the experiment, again making exact replication easier. This is not necessarily the case in a field experiment, where extraneous variables may interfere with the research process in different ways with repeat-experiments.

Secondly, there is a high level of detachment between the researcher and the respondent. In an experiment, the researcher typically takes on the role of ‘expert’ and simply manipulates variables, trying to have as little interaction with the respondents as the experiment will allow for. This means there is little room for the researcher’s own values to influence the way the respondent reacts to an experiment.

Theoretical Limitations of Laboratory Experiments

Laboratory experiments lack external validity – sociologists hardly ever use lab experiments because the artificial environment of the laboratory is so far removed from real-life that most Sociologists agree that the results gained from such experiments tell us very little about how respondents would actually act in real life. Take the Milgram experiment for example – how likely is it that you will ever be asked by scientist to give electric shocks to someone you’ve never met and who you can’t see when they give the wrong answer to a question you’ve just read out? Moreover, when was they last time you were asked to do anything to anyone by a scientist? In the real world context, many of the Milgram respondents may have responded to real-world authority figure’s demands differently.

Laboratory Experiments: Practical Factors

The practical advantages of lab experiments

In terms of practical advantages experiments (assuming they are ethical) are attractive to funding bodies because of their scientific, quantitative nature, and because science carries with it a certain prestige.

Once the experiment is set up, if it takes place in a lab, researchers can conduct research like any other day-job – there is no travelling to visit respondents for example, everyone comes to the researcher.

The practical problems of lab experiments

Practical problems include the fact that you cannot get many sociological subjects into the small scale setting of a laboratory setting. You can’t get a large group of people, or a subculture, or a community into a lab in order to observe how the interact with ‘independent variables’.

Also, the controlled nature of the experiment means you are likely to be researching one person at a time, rather than several people completing a questionnaire at once, so it may take a long time to get a large-sample.

Laboratory Experiments: Ethical Factors

The ethical limitations of laboratory experiments

Deception and lack of informed consent are an ethical problem- The Hawthorne effect gives rise to the firs ethical disadvantages often found in experiments – it is often necessary to deceive subjects as to the true nature of the experiment so that they do not act differently, meaning that they are not in a position to give full, informed consent. This was the case in the Milgram experiment, where the research subjects thought the (invisible) person receiving the shocks was the actual subject rather than themselves.

A second ethical problem concerns harm to respondents. In the case of the original Milgram experiment, ‘many research participants were observed to sweat, stutter, tremble, bit their lips and dig their nails into their flesh, full-blown, uncontrollable seizures were observed for three subjects’.

The ethical strenghts of laboratory experiments

While some laboratory experiments are notorious for their ethical problems, it is at least usually obvious that research is taking place (even if the exact purpose of the research may be hidden from respondents). Also, the benefits to society might well outweigh the costs to respondents.

Related Posts

Intro to Experiments in Sociology

Field Experiments in Sociology

Sources/ References

Milgram’s Experiment on Obedience to Authority, which cites Milgram, S. (1974). Obedience to Authority: An Experimental View. New York: Harper and Row. An excellent presentation of Milgram�s work is also found in Brown, R. (1986). Social Forces in Obedience and Rebellion. Social Psychology: The Second Edition. New York: The Free Press.

Trends in Marriage, Divorce and Cohabitation in the UK

This post explores the long and short term trends in marriage, divorce and cohabitation in the United Kingdom.

It has been written as an introduction to the ‘marriage and divorce’ topic which is usually taught as the second topic within the AQA’s families and households A-level sociology specification.

Marriage and Divorce Trends: An Overview

There was a long term decrease in the number of marriages per year since the late 1960s when there were just over 400 000 marriages every year, until around 2008, when the number hit around 230 000.

There has been a slight increase since then and there are now around 240 000 marriages every year in the UK, and this number has been relatively stable since 2008.

The number of Divorces per year increased rapidly following the Divorce Reform Act of 1969, and then increased steadily until the early 1980s. In the late 1950s, there were only around 20 000 Divorces per year, by the early 1980s this figure had risen to 160 000 per year (quite an increase!)

It then stabilised for about 10 years and then started to decline in 2003, the number of divorces per year is still decline. There are currently just under 90 000 divorces per year in England and Wales.

Marriage Statistics

There has been a long term decline in the number of marriages in England and Wales.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s there were over 400 00 marriages a year, by 2017 there were just under 250 000 marriages a year.

Although the decline seems to have slowed recently, since 2008.

Marriage Rates

The marriage rates (unsurprisingly) mirror the above – but you see a more obvious slowing down of the decline since the 2000s here.

What is the average age of Marriage?

The average age of marriage has increased from 25 for women in the 1960s to 36 for women in 2017, the average age for men is slightly higher.

The 36 average figure might be a bit misleading, the median age is slightly younger as shown by the chart below – late 20s and early 30s are when most women get married!

The Decline of Church Weddings

The above chart shows the drastic decrease in religious marriages, down to only 22% of all marriage ceremonies by 2017.

90% of couples cohabited before marrying in 2017, up from 70% in the late 1990s.

Divorce Statistics

The Divorce Rate was extremely low in the late 1950s, at only 2.5 per 100 000 married couples.

The Divorce Reform Act of 1969 led to this increasing rapidly to 10 per thousand in just a few years, by the early 1970s.

The Divorce Rate continued to increase until the early 1990s, when it hit almost 15 per thousand married couples. Since then it has been falling and currently stands at 7.5

NB – The Divorce Rate shows a slightly different trend to the ‘number of divorces’ – this is relative to the number of married couples!

What percent of marriages end in divorce?

It depends on the year of marriage! If we look at the ‘peak year’, 43.9% of people who got married in 1987 were divorced by 2017, the latest figures available. NB this rate might well be going down, as marriage has been declining since 1987.

How long does the average marriage last?

The length of marriage is increasing. For marriages which end in divorce, the median length of a marriage stands at around 12.5 years.

Main sources used to write this post

Office for National Statistics: Divorces in England and Wales 2018

ONS: Marriages in England and Wales 2017

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