• Created by: moll99
  • Created on: 03-03-17 16:49

Defining Family and Households

Defining the family today presents a challenge for sociologists. In the past, functionalist sociologists claimed that the nuclear family was the basic and family structure - a heterosexual couple living with their biological children.

Today, this definition is challenged by the wide variety of alternative family structures that exist.

A household is different from a family as it can include individuals living alone or a group of people living together without being related, married or committed to each other.

Murdock (1949) definied the family as a social group characterised by common residence, economic co-operation and reproduction. It includes adults of both sexes who maintain a socially approved sexual relationship and one or more children.

A more inclusive definition of the family may be: a group of people related by kinship ties, relations of blood, marriage, civil partnership or adoption.

1 of 70


Defining the family is complex and challenging given the rapid changes that have occured in society and within relationships over the past few decades. These changes reflect broader social changes, including the transition from a modern society to a postmodern society.

Sociologists need to consider new forms of defining family life as well as recognising that many people today are choosing to live alone.

This does not mean that the family is declining in importance, but that the family and relationships might be taking different forms that need to be understood using different concepts.

2 of 70

Modern vs Postmodern

Some theories were developed during a period of time known as modernity and reflect the ideas and views of that period.

Some sociologists claim that this period of time has now ended and that we live in a postmodern era, which means that the family needs to be understood through a postmodern perspective. 

The 'modern' family was typically nuclear and was stable with clearly defined gender roles. Women would have cared for the children and stayed at home, taking responsibility for domestic work, while the man would have provided for the family.

In postmodern society, the family is far less stable and rather than there being one dominant family structure, there is a lot of different family structures, roles and relationships.

3 of 70

Role of the Family

Functionalist theories reflect the attitudes and assumptions of the modern era in which they were developed. Functionalism regards the family as being positive for both the individual and for the wider society.

Marxists take a conflict view of the family, arguing that it functions to maintain and reinforce capitalism, while feminists regard the family as a way in which gender inequalities are reproduced, as they reflect patriarchal ideology.

Postmodernists argue that there is no such thing as the family today; instead people can make a range of decisions about the kinds of relationships and family structures. Postmodernists do not regard the family as positive or negative but they reflect on some of the changes that have occurred. 

4 of 70


Durkheim states that the family plays an important role in creating value consensus, which refers to the shared ideas about what is considered important. He argues that the family is central to the process of integrating individuals into society so that society functions positively. He also argues that the family plays an important role in developing social solidarity and a collective conscience. 

Parsons (1951) claims that over time the family has become more specialised, and it now carries out two main roles. The first is primary socialisation, where children are encouraged to internalise the norms and values of society. The second is the stabilisation of adult personalities. This means that adults use the family as a source of comfort and support. 

Functionalists claim that the different roles within the family are an extension of the biological roles of the man and woman in having children. They claim that women taking on the expressive role (the caregiving female role) is natural, and the man taking on the role of the provider is also natural.

5 of 70


Functionalism ignores the negative aspects of the family such as domestic violence, abuse and conflict. 

Many functionalist views of the family may not be relevant to contemporary society due to the changes in family structure, roles and relationships.

Feminists are critical of the assumptions that functionalists often make with regards to women being 'naturally' predisposed to taking the caring, housewife role.

6 of 70

New Right

The New Right are a group of politicians, sociologists and researchers who argue that the nuclear family and traditional, conservative values are very important. They claim that men and women should take conventional roles in the family, with the woman being responsible for childcare and housework while the man should be the breadwinner.

They argue that if the nuclear family breaks down then children will not be properly socialised and claim that children need two parents to be brought up successfully and warn against single-parent families. They believe that a lack of male role models for young boys can lead to delinquency and anti-social behaviour. 

New Right thinkers stress the importance of individuals taking responsibility for their children and claim the state should not be responsible for supporting families with benefits. They have concerns over the growing number of people who lack work ethic and have become reliant on state benefits, known as the underclass (Murray 1984).

7 of 70


Marxists claim that the family is simply a way to maintain and reinforce a set of ideas which maintains the capitalist society. Marx went on to say that women in capitalist families are commodities, owned by men, like property.

Engels argued that the family, in particular marriage and inheritance rules, ensured the ruling class stayed powerful and wealthy as the wealth of capitalism passed through the male line to the son - primogeniture.

Engels claimed that marriage within a monogamous nuclear family was a way to ensure that wealth was kept in certain families which maintains the power of the wealthy few. 

Zaretsky (1986) argues that the family supports capitalism by providing unpaid labour, reproducing the labour force and being a unit of consumption. Zaretsky also claims the family cushions the pressures of capitalism, allowing individuals to express their frustrations with capitalism in non-threatening ways.

He argues that this makes it less likely that the working class would unite and challenge inequalities.

8 of 70

Marxist Evaluation

The family creates capitalist ideology so that the needs of the economy can be met. This highlights the role of the family in relation to other institutions such as education and the economy.

Class may be less relevant in our understanding of the family today, while other factors may now be more relevant such as ethnicity.

Marxists do not take into account the way that people today may have greater agency in deciding how they choose to construct their family life.

9 of 70


Different kinds of Feminists have take slightly different views on the extent of patriarchy (male dominance) in the family, as well as having different views on solutions to the oppression of women.

Feminists all claim that family life can be and has been more beneficial to men than women, and that the family is central in the process of gender socialisation. 

Many feminists argue that women take an unfair proportion of repetitive housework tasks as well as taking responsibility for the emotional well-being of family members. 

They claim that women have little control or power in relation to decision making, money and other areas of family life. Some feminists argue that it is inevitable that women will experience abuse and exploitation in the family.

10 of 70

Marxist Feminists

Marxist Feminists believe that women are dually oppressed by patriarchy and capitalist ideology. Both systems oppress women for the benefit of men.

Families within capitalism require women to be a source of unpaid domestic work to ensure that the man can go to work. 

Women are also exploited as they are expected to provide outlets for all the frustration and anger that their husbands experience at work and therefore prevent them from rebelling against their employers.

Silvia Federici (2012) argues that many women are now forced into productive and reproductive labour, resulting in a double day.

11 of 70

Radical Feminists

Christine Delphy and Diana Leonard (1992) argued that inequalities in the home are a result of the way that relationships in families allow men to control women. These inequalities in power relations relate to decision making and control of finances, both of which benefit men.

Radical feminists claim that men benefit from women taking responsibility of repetitive tasks such as housework and emotional work (where women care for family members and put other people's feelings before their own).

This suggests that women experience subordination and oppression while they cater to the needs of their husband - emotionally, sexually and physically - and spend their time raising the children at whatever cost to their own paid work or interests.

Radical feminists suggest that major changes are needed in society to improve the position of women.

12 of 70

Difference Feminists

Linda Nicholson (1997) and Cheshire Calhoun (1997) have criticised other types of feminists for failing to take into consideration the fact that women in different types of households experience family life differently.

They claim that it is wrong to claim that all women are exploited in the same way in all types of families.

Difference feminists argue that many factors shape the experience that women have of family life, such as social class, race, sexual orientation and family structure. 

13 of 70

Liberal Feminists

Liberal feminists such as Ann Oakley are optimistic about greater equality between men and women within the family.

They claim that equality between men and women is slowly occurring through a shift in attitudes along with legal changes.

Liberal feminists stress the importance of women being socialised and educated so that they have the right and freedom to choose a career, a family role or a combination of the two.

14 of 70

Feminist Evaluation

Highlights the ways in which the family reflects and maintains patriarchal ideology. Research into family life has led to policy and law changes as well as changes in attitudes.

Women in families still experience oppression and a dual burden. Women continue to take responsibility for family life, domestic work as well as paid work.

Women do have greater freedom and choice in family life today according to some; relationships are becoming more equal. Some feminists assume that all women share similar experiences of family life.

15 of 70

What is a social policy?

A social policy is a plan or course of action put into place by a government in an attempt to solve a particular social problem.

Social policies are generated in response to social problems, which are identified by sociologists' research, national statistics or data collected by various groups such as governmental departments or non-governmental organisations.

Sometimes policies are created by politicians who want to send particular messages about what they see as desirable (or not) in family life.

16 of 70

Laws and Policies

1942, The Beveridge Report: led to the development of the welfare state, a set of policies which included National Insurance - money that is deducted from people's wages that helps pay for people's welfare as well as the NHS. It was the first to make family welfare a state issue and had the effect of reducing poverty and improving the health of some of the poorest and most vulnerable individuals and families in society.

1969, Divorce Reform Act: led to a significant increase to the number of divorces. It allowed couples to divorce after they had been seperated for two years. Individuals could leave marriages that were simply unhappy, which provided greater choice for men and women in relationships.

1975, Sex Discrimination Act: made discrimination illegal on the grounds of sex.

1991, **** within marriage became illegal: attempted to make women feel as if the state could intervene in private-sphere issues such as marital ****. **** wihtin marriage continues to be very difficult to prove and very few cases go to court.

2004 & 2014, Partnership Act and Gay Marriage Act: represented the recognition of homosexual marriage as a positive alternative to heterosexual relationships. This was an important shift from the state labelling homosexuality as a crime to regarding homosexual parents as having the same rights and roles as heterosexual couples.

17 of 70

Conservative Government Policies 1979-1997

  • Many benefits were cut back in an attempt to encourage individuals, particularly fathers, to become more responsible for their children and families. Single-parent benefits were cut in an attempt to discourage alternative family structures.
  • The Child Support Agency was set up in attempt to make fathers pay maintenance for their children and discourage people from having children outside marriage.
  • Failed to introduce free/reduced-cost childcare to women as well as making assumptions about women staying at home with the children. This reinforced the idea that they favoured traditional roles, with men going to work and women looking after the children.
  • Providing people who were married with tax and welfare benefits. Acted as an incentive for people to marry. It also suggested that alternatives to marriage were regarded as less desirable.
  • Privatising care for the elderly put poorer families in a position of responsibility for elderly relatives, meaning that women were likely to take responsibility for their care, further reinforcing the idea of traditional gender roles.
18 of 70


Many policies were criticised by feminists who argued that such policies were counter to improving gender equality.

New Right policies were criticised for 'blaming the victim', for example, blaming single parents families for societal problems sich as anti-social behaviour.

Many single-parent families are headed by working parents who do not rely on benefits as the main source of their income.

Many sociologists and politicians argue that the family policies developed by the New Right increased inequalities and poverty.

19 of 70

New Labour Policies (1997-2010)

  • More generous maternity leave and pay and paternity leave. This sent a message of support and acceptance that both parents are likely to work and recognised the increasing role that many fathers play in their childrens lives.
  • Free childcare for two and a half year olds. This helped parents with the cost of childcare, making it easier for them to return to work. This policy was also developed in an attempt to help children from a range of backgrounds access pre-school care so that they were ready for their education.
  • Flexible working arrangements for parents.
  • The New Deal (1998) which helped lone parents enter into paid work after having children by helping with the cost of childcare and training or education.
  • Help for the elderly, such as the winter fuel payment, which was intended to help the elderly with their heating costs and reduce health issues.
  • The Adoption and Children Act (2002) which enabled same-sex couples to adopt. This signals that same-sex couples are acceptable as an alternative to traditional heterosexual couples in raising children.
20 of 70


Many people welcomed New Labour's range of family-friendly policies. Some have suggested that they reflected the large proportion fo women in ministerial positions in government at the time.

Critics such as the New Right suggested that New Labour intervened too much in family life, arguing that this results in a nanny state where individuals rely on what they see as the overly generous benefits the government gives rather than people taking responsibility for themselves and their families.

21 of 70

Coalition Government Policies 2010-2015

  • The reintroduction of the married persons' tax allowance. Cut by New Labour, this policy clearly indicates a preference and adds an incentive for marriage.
  • Legal Aid budget cut substantially. Legal Aid enables people on low incomes to access free legal advice. By being cut, it is argued that some vulnerable groups, will be unable to access legal advice when they most need it.
  • Child Benefit became means tested. This move meant that what had been a universal benefit for all parents was cut for people earning about a specific threshold.
  • Plans to tackle childrens exposure to adult content on the internet and other media.
  • The scaling back of cutting of benefits which are replaced by universal credit, designed as a way of making people earn more through working rather than claiming benefits.
  • Troubled Families programme (2011) designed to help families who have problems and cause problems to the community around them, putting high costs on the public sector. They work alongside local authorities to get children back into school, reduce youth crime and anti-social behaviour. Leonard (in Zimmerman, 2001) argues that government policies all reflect a strong preference for the ideology of the nuclear family.
22 of 70


Many claim that their family policies fail to support alternatives to the nuclear family or regard alternatives to the nuclear family as inferior or inadequate for raising children.

These policies are not regarded as reflecting the experiences of family life for many people.

Feminists and others have argued that Coalition family policies have hit women hardest, resulting in greater hardship for women and their children in many cases. 

As the Coalition government attempted to cut back benefirst in general, it is the poorest and most vulnerable groups who have been most negatively affected which widens the gap between the rich and the poor.

23 of 70

Changes in Family Structure

Young and Willmott (1973) and Chester (1985) claimed that the most common family structure in modern society was the nuclear family. Willmott and Young argue that the extended family is playing much less of a role in day to day life.

The symmetrical family (the idea that relationships are becoming more similar and men and women are sharing domestic labour more equally) arose as a result of society becoming fully industrialised which also resulted in husbands and wives having a greater amount of leusire time to spend together, which is largely spent around the home.

Wilmott and Young claim that relationships between husbands and wives have become closer and more equal and that there is much more sharing of tasks within the home.

Many of the changes in recent years to family structures are a result of the fact that many women now work, meaning they are often financially independent. Family structures are also affected by the kinds of policies that the government introduces.

One of the most significant trends over the past 40 years has been the increase in divorce. Today, 42% of all marriages end in divorce. There is also seperation of couples and empty shell marriages where couples live separate lives and are married in legal terms only.

Another significant trend has been the changing number of children that women have.

24 of 70

CLOGS (Rapoport and Rapoport, 1982)

Cultural Diversity - a range of different family structures, roles and relationships based on changing patterns in ethnicity.

Life-stage - today, with the ageing population, there are a greater number of family types than there were typically in the past.

Organisational diversity - people today are deciding to organise their roles and relationships according to different factors.

Generational diversity - there are different ideas about what is considered to be acceptable in terms of family structures, roles and relationships according to the age the person is.

Social class - the types of roles and relationships that occur are influenced by the socio-economic position that a person has.

This helps us to remember the various forms of family diversity that have emerged.

25 of 70

Types of Family

Household - either one person living alone of a group of people who live at the same address and share living arrangements.

Family - a group of people related by kinship ties.

Nuclear family - a two-generation family with two heterosexual adults and their dependent children.  A traditional nuclear family includes the parents being married.

Extended family - two or more generations of family members with additions beyond the nuclear family. Horizontal means of the same generation and vertical means grandparents are included.

Beanpole family - multi-generational family but few people in each generation.

Matrifocal family - female-headed families with no adult male.

Patriarchal family - a male-headed, male-dominated family.

Same-sex family - families headed by lesbian or gay couples, with or without children.

26 of 70

Types of Family CONT'D

Single-parent households - families headed by one adult; over 90% of these are headed by women.

Living apart together - families or couples who do not live together, usually for work reasons.

Cohabiting couples - couples who live together but are not married.

Empty shell relationship - a couple living together but not emotionally committed.

Empty nest family - a family where children have left home and it is just the parents at home.

Single/lone-person household - a person living alone through choice, divorce or bereavement.

Reconstituted family - where one or more of the partners bring children from another relationship.

Symmetrical family - a nuclear family with join conjugal roles; share domestic labour/

Neo-conventional family - where both parents work and share the domestic work.

27 of 70

Growth of Lone-Person Households

According to the Office for National Statistics, there were 26.4 million households in the UK in 2013. Of these, 29% consisted of only one person.

There are a number of reasons people living alone including divorce, death of a partner or spouse, choice or separation. Lone-person households represent one of the fastest-growing household types in the UK.

Living alone is costly as there is no-one to share costs with so this increase is a relection of the increase affluence (increase in wealth and living standards) in today's society. Women are able to choose to live alone as they have much greater financial independence.

As people now live longer, elderly people may outlive their spouses and live alone.

28 of 70

Increase of Cohabitation

According to the ONS, the number of opposite-sex couples living together with and without children has increased from 2.2 million in 2003 to 2.9 million in 2013.

The number of dependent children living in opposite-sex cohabiting couple families rose from 1.4 million to 1.9 million over the same period.

This suggests that marriage is not the only family arrangement for long-term stable relationships.

Some regard the increase in cohabitation as a positive sign that couples are choosing their partners carefuly and living with them before they marry. Some regard cohabiting couples as less constrained by typical male and female roles, suggesting that it might lead to greater negotiation and equality between couples.

New Right thinkers argue that cohabitation is less stable and long term than marriage and is therefore contributing to the breakdown of traditional families.

29 of 70

The Growth of Same-Sex Families

It is estimated that between 5 and 7 per cent of the population are homosexual. Attitudes towards same-sex relationships have changed and in general there is a much greater tolerance.

These changes are reflected in state policies which now include extending marriage rights to same-sex couples. This trend is of great interest to sociologists who are interested in investigating the types of patterns in roles and relationships that exist between same-sex couples.

The latest ONS statistics reveal that 7037 civil partnerships were formed in the UK, in 2012 and increase of 3.6% since 2011.

The Civil Partnership Act came into force in December 2005 and enabled same-sex couples to obtain legal recognition for their relationship.

The Government Equalities Office originally estimated that there would be between 11,000 and 22, 000 civil partners in Great Britain by 2010 but there were over 79,000 people in civil partnerships at the start of 2010.

30 of 70

The Growth of Reconstituted Families

According to ONS, the fastest-growing household type was households containing two or more families, increasing by 39% from 206,000 households in 2003 to 286,000 households in 2013.

Multi-family households still only represent one per cent of all households.

It has been suggested that there is a greater risk of divorce and separation in marriages where one or both partners have been married before. In 2013, Marriage Foundation claimed that 45% of first marriages end in divorce but only 31% of second marriages will end in failure.

The growth in reconstituted families is having interesting effects on parenting practices. Co-parenting, where separated parents work together as parents, is emerging as an alternative approach to raising children.

31 of 70

African-Carribbean Families

Berthoud (2000) carried out research which indicated that only 39% of British-born African-Carribbean adults are married compared to 60% of white adults.

It has also been noted that they are more likely to intermarry (marry someone with a different ethnicity or cultural background). Children born into these types of family are more likely to have a dual heritage, adding to the cultural diversity of the UK.

African-Carribbean families are also more likely to be single-parent families, with over 50% containing one adult with dependent children.

Berthoud (2003) suggests that the attitude of young Caribbean women is one of individualism, which means many choose to live independently from the father of their children.

32 of 70

Asian Families

Berthoud also found that Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities are the most likely to live in traditional nuclear families, made up of two adults and their children. However, 33% live in extended families, where they have strong connections with their kin.

This extended family often contains grandparents, who can act as a source of support and unpaid childcare for younger family members.

Asian communities tend to be more traditional in their views and place high values on marriage, which are often arranged.

In Asian families, there is little intermarriage and a low divorce rate. Bangladeshi and Pakistani women tend to have more children than Indian and white women - they also have children at a much younger age.

33 of 70

The Growth of Single-Parent Families

In 2013, there were nearly 1.9 million lone parents with dependent children in the UK which had grown from 1.8 million in 2003. In 2011, women accounted for 92% of lone parents with dependent children while ment accounted for 8%.

Women are more likely to take the main caring responsibility for any children when relationships break down and therefore become lone parents (ONS, 2013)

The average age of lone parents in 2011 was 38.1 years, an increase of 2.3 years since 2001. In 2011, 45% of lone parents were aged 40 or over, and only 2% of the lone parents were under the age of 20 (ONS, 2013).

There has recently been an increasing tendency for parents to co-parent after divorce which means that parents still take joint responsibility for their children despite no longer being together as a couple. This is also known as creative singlehood.

34 of 70

The Importance of Nuclear Families

In 2013, there were 18.2 million families in the UK and 12.3 million of these consisted of a married couple with or without children. This suggests that the nuclear family still remains a common family structure.

An increasing number of these families consists of parents whose children have left home or whose children are adults still living with their parents. In 2013, 3.3 million adults in the UK aged between 20 and 34 were living with their parent.

This means that the number of 20 to 34 year olds living with their parents has increased by 25 per cent since 1996. This may be due to the increased cost of living, meaning that people live with their parents to save money or to save up to buy or rent a home.

Young men are more likely to live with their parents than young women.

35 of 70

The Increase in Divorce

The number of divorces generally increase between 1930 and 1990 as a result of changes in behaviour and attitudes. The large increase during the 1970's was associated with the Divorce Reform Act which came into effect in 1971, making it possible for couples to divorce without needing a specific reason.

A marriage would be terminated because of 'irretrievable breakdown' in the relationship.

The number of divorces fell steadily between 2003 and 2009 and there was a significant decline in the number of marriages at the same time.

This was due to the increasing number of couples choosing to cohabit rather than enter into marriage (Beaujouan and Bhrolchain, 2011).

36 of 70

Key Legal Changes in Divorce

1949, The Legal Aid and Advice Act: this provided financial help to those unable to meet the cost of divorce. This was a help to women who did not have an income or independent means.

1969, The Divorce Reform Act: made is possible to divorce somone because of irretrievable breakdown rather than blaming them for a particular form of unreasonable behaviour.

1985, Matrimonial and Family Proceedings Act: reduced the time limit on divorce from a minimum of three years of marriage to one.

1995: Lord Mackay introduced a white paper removing the need for 'fault' in marriage, but compelling couples to spend a year in mediation and encouraging them to negotiate either a reconciliation or a mutally agreed seperation.

1996, The Family Law Act: allows divorce if marriage has 'irretrievably broke down' after a period of 'reflection and consideration'. However, since the divorce rate stayed high, this process has not had the intended effect of making people reconsider divorcing their spouse.

37 of 70


Changes in the law are one of many causes for the increase in divorce.

Although some couples are finding divorce easier, it might also be the case that the changes in the law often reflect changes in public opinion.

38 of 70

Changing Patterns in Childbearing

According to Susanne Whiting, women were having significantly more children 100 years ago. Over the last 70 years however, the two-child family has consistently been the most common family size.

The proportion of mothers with three or more children has remained fairly constant.

The total number of births has been increasing since 2000. This may be due to the increase in foreign-born women, who typically have more children. A quarter of all births in 2010 were to mothers born outside the UK up from 13.2% in 1980.

Women are increasingly delaying childbirth to older ages. In 2010, nearly half of all babies were born to mothers aged 30 and over.

Socio-economic class does not seem to impact on family size but ethnicity does. Black and Asian ethnic groups have larger families than white and Chinese ones.

Families with three or more children are most prevalent in Northern Ireland and London.

39 of 70

Perspectives on Family Diversity

Functionalism: the recent increase in family diversity means that people have higher expectations about relationships and they are no longer willing to conform to what is expected by society. This makes diversity a positive thing (Riggo and Weiser, 2008).

New Right: the New Right have concerns over the increase in family diversity, which they regard as a symptom of 'Broken Britain' where moral decay is occurring. They argue strongly that the state should encourage greater individual responsibility and traditional nuclear family structures, role and relationships. According to New Right, traditional family values are essential for the correct socialisation of children.

Marxism: Marxists tend to assume that the family, particularly the nuclear family, is arranged to support the needs of capitalism. Therefore, it could be argued that the increase in family diversity simply reflects the changes in the economy. The fact that the majority of parents now both work reflects the increasing cost of living in capitalist society, where the demand for consumer goods has increased. Marxists might argue that families today are not more affluent but are being exploited by the ruling classes in more sophisticated ways.

Feminism: Feminists in general regard the increase in family diversity positively as it provides women with greater opportunities to seek alternatives to the nuclear family and the patriarchal ideology that goes with it. Feminists such as Smart and Neale (1999) argue that events in the family, such as divorce, remain gendered, in the sense that mean and women still have very different experiences of family life with women often still experiencing powerlessness.

40 of 70

Perspectives on Family Diversity CONT'D

Postmodernism: Postmodernists comment on the impact of the transition from moder society to postmodern society. This leads to increasing individualism and less pressure on individuals to conformto societal expectations. This results in greater family diversity and greater instability in family structures. Weeks et al (1999) argue that greater individualism has led to the creation of families of choice, where relationships are created, including same sex families.

Stacey (1996) argues that families within postmodern society can be described as no longer based around one dominant structure. Rather the family structure within postmodern society can be described as no longer based around one dominant structure. Rather within postmodern society can be described as no longer based around one dominant structure. Rather the family structure, roles and relationships are characterised by diversity, choice and fluidity. Stacey bases these claims on her own research on family life in Silicon Valley in California, where women in particular adapt their family life according to the increasing choices that are available.

41 of 70

Roles and Relationships

Alongside structural changes in the family there have also been a number of significant changes in relationships and roles.

Recently sociologists have focused on the more public and measurable aspects of relationships such as who carries out the domestic work in the home or who is responsible for childcare.

More recently, sociologists have become interested in changes in intimate relationships.

Society and families have changed significantly from 1973 when Young and Wilmott claimed that families were becoming more symmetrical. This means that husbands and wives are more likely to share tasks within the home.

Oakley (1974) heavily criticised Young and Wilmott, claiming that family roles and relationships remain patriarchal.

42 of 70

Social Policy

The increase in women working has been make possible through gender equality legislation such as the Equal Pay Act 1970, the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 and the equality act 2010. Women were encouraged back to work after having children by the New Labour government.

The Coalition government made it clear that they wanted to reinforce traditional ideas about the roles of men and women in the home and this has been met with much criticisms from Feminists, who claim that women experience greater and greater pressure to take paid employment, maintain the main responsibility for housework as well as taking care of the children.

The symmetrical family is a concept developed my Young and Willmott (1973). They optimistically suggested that they had evidence to suggest that relationships were becoming more similar and that men and women were beginning to share domestic labour more equally.

Lagged adaptation is the time delay between women working full time and men taking more responsibility for domestic work (Gershuny, 2008). This concept can be operationalised by longitudinal research, which is research that takes places over time.

43 of 70

Domestic Division of Labour

One of the greatest social changes has been the increase of women in the labour market.

Dual earner-based partnerships are becoming normal. However, changes in women's work patterns have not always been matched by changes in the division of household tasks between the sexes.

This has led to the belief that women experience a dual burden - they feel responsible for both paid work and housework, which places unreasonable demands on their time.

Feminists argue that women experience oppresion within the traditional nuclear family. The fact that women take responsibility for mundane and repetitive tasks, such as cleaning and tidying, reinforces their lower position in society, part of the male-dominated ideas.

Gender scripts refer to the ingrained ideas about roles and relationships that come from partiarchal, heterosexual relationships, which are challenged by gay and lesbian couples.

44 of 70


This suggests that heterosexual relationships continue to reflect traditional expectations about gender, placing a dual burden on women, the majority of whom are now mainly in paid employment while still taking responsibility for domestic labour.

It is clear that in some cases men are taking greater responsibility for domestic work and that they too may feel a similar dual burden, which is important not to overlook.

Children play a limited role in domestic labour, although this could be due to confusing or inconsistent messages given to them by their parents.

Lesbian couples are creating a new and innovative ways of managing both paid work and domestic work through recreating ideas about gender roles in their own terms, avoiding traditional gender scripts.

45 of 70

Personal Relationships

In the past, marriage was based on practical arrangements. Women would marry for practical reasons rather than romantic reasons.

Beck (1990) argues that postmodernity is characterised by increasing emphasis on individual choices or individualisation. This marks a real departure from forming relationships based on social expectations.

Smart and Neale (1999) argue that marriage has become more focused on being a relationship in which parenting is shared. They claim that divorce offers women in particular a chance to try to redefine their relationships and find less oppressive relationships. They argue that this has been made more difficult as a result of recent divorce laws, which meant that co-parenting continues beyond divorce. Women are having fewer children and as a result, families are smaller. This has meant that childbearing practices are changing as well as relationships within families.

Carsten (2004) argues that more and more people are favouring chosen family members rather than seeing biological relatedness as primarily significant. Carsten argues that our relationships create the individual and are highly significant. He calls these relationality.

Relationality is the twinfold process whereby biology becomes less important in defining family relationships while the importance of relationships and interactions is crucial to defining the individual.

46 of 70

Personal Relationships CONT'D

Misztal (2003) suggests that sociologists should try to understand family life through exploring people's memories, arguing that people's values shape what is remembered.

Misztal says that it is these memories that provide important information about family relationships and that they are used to create and reinforce bonds as well as to change identities. This reveals how important personal life is considered to be in understanding family life today.

Rustin (2000) argue that to understand family life nowadays, people's biographies should be explored through people presenting their lives through pictures, videos and objects so that their relationships and family life can be better understood.

Duncombe and Marsden (1993) some of the women interviewed in their research felt emotionally deserted with their husbands leaving them to carry out all of the emotion work in the family. Emotion work refers to supporting family members' emotional needs; for example, listening to family members' problems, looking after ill children and absorbing other peoples' frustration.

47 of 70

Relationships and Women

Evidence strongly suggests that for many, relationships are detrimental, particularly to women.

There has been an increasing awareness of violence by women against men. It must not be forgotten that children and the elderly also suffer domestic violence in the family.

There is recent evidence that suggests an increase in physical and sexual violence among teenage relationships (Barter et al, 2009), which has been under-researched.

Many Feminists argue that relationships are inherently partiarchal and domestic violence is inevitable. Feminists argue that society sends messages to both men and women that domestic violence is acceptable and normal, and it particularly hard to challenge, prevent and control.

48 of 70

Parenting and Childbearing

Functionalist sociologists have claimed that due to the fact that women have children, they are somehow inevitably suited to being responsible for looking after them.

However, men are playing an increasing role in their children's lives.

Alternative models of parenting such as same-sex parenting, also show that there are effectives ways of parenting beyond the traditional expressive/instrumental roles.

49 of 70

Social Policy

A scheme to let people find out from the police if their partner has a history of domestic violence was brought across England and Wales in 2014.

The Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme, known as Clare's law, is intended to provide information that could protect someone from being a victim of attacl.

The scheme allows the police to disclose information on request about a partner's previous history of domestic violence or violent acts.

This suggests that there are ongoing attempts by the government to prevent domestic violence and to send messages to society that it can and will be prosecuted.

50 of 70


It appears that women still take responsibility for many areas of domestic life and childcare, there appears to be a shift in attitude towards more negotiated and possibly more egalitarian relationships.

It is clear that past patterns of behaviour, often reflecting patriarchal family ideology, are taking time to adjust fully and there is a tendency for couples to follow traditionally defined roles.

It is clear that relationships are much more likely to be based on fairly high emotional expectations about love and companionship as opposed to simply practical reasons alone. This evidence suggests that there will be a higher level of negotiation in future relationships.

Intimate relationships are a complex area for sociologists to conduct research in as they are often considered to be very private. It is clear that although there has been a significant shift towards a greater expectation for higher quality, fulfilling relationships, there is clear evidence that they still reflect patriarchal patterns.

51 of 70


Childhood is a social construct - it is created by society. Cross-cultural research reveals that in many parts of the world, children have very different experiences of childhood or no childhood at all, being trested like adults from an early age.

Wagg (1992) argues that although all humans experience the same physical stages of development, the experience of childhood is entirely socially constructed.

Childhood emerged largely due to the social changes that were associated with the industrial revolution. Industrialisation refers to the process in which the economy changing from being based on agriculture to being based on machinery.

Industrialisation resulted in children moving from being an economic asset, where they would have contributed financially to the family, to becoming an economic burden, meaning that children are now financially dependent on their families.

52 of 70

Social Policy

As children and women were prevented from working through laws, the family wage developed. This meant that the father provided the income for the rest of the family.

Education became compulsory, which meant that children become a concern of the state.

Children became seen as vulnerable and in need of protection.

The family became smaller, more geographically mobile and typically nuclear in structure. Smaller families meant that parents had the time to establish a closer relationship with their children.

53 of 70

Gender and Childhood

The gender of the child is a factor that shapes the experience of childhood.

Socialisation continues to be a gendered process and evidence suggests that girls continue to be far more prepared for schill than boys by the time they're four. This is because girls are encouraged to be conformist and develop speaking skills, which prepares them better for school.

This continues into later childhood and teenage years where girls develop a 'bedroom culture' (McRobbie and Garber, 1975).

Bedroom culture is a concept that describe the ways in which girls organise their culture at home in a way that reflects gendered socialisation.

According to McRobbie and Garber, girls see their bedrooms as private spaces free from intimidation by males that they feel elsewhere.

54 of 70

Class and Childhood

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation (2007) states that children from lower income backgrounds are very aware of their disadvantaged position from an early age.

In their research of children aged 5 to 11 who took part in group interviews in 15 schools, they found that children's experience of school was negatively affected by poverty leading to poorer life chances.

Womack (2007) argues that children who are poor often have very negative experiences of childhood.

There is some evidence that children who come from more affluent backgrounds may experience 'toxic parenting' where good parenting is being replaced with technology, such as computer games (Pilcher, 2007).

55 of 70

Ethnicity and Childhood

The experience of childhood is affected by the ethnic background of the child, however the patterns are complex.

Certain ethnic groups have higher rates of poverty, for example amongst Pakistani and Bangladeshi children.

There have been issues raised about the way in which some ethnic groups prepare their children for education.

There is a growing view that is it impossible to generalise about the experiences of particular ethnic groups as experiences vary so enormously.

56 of 70

The Conflict View

Marixists and Feminists argue that the experience of childhood is negative. Feminists claim that children are controlled by adults, which is known as age patriarchy (Gittins, 1985).

Age patriarchy is a result of children being made to be financially dependent on adults. Marxists argue that children are simply taught to submit to the capitalist system rather than being encouraged to question the system creatively.

They also argue that capitalist society results in the exploitation of children.

There is some compelling evidence to support this view; 1 in 20 children have been sexually abused and over 90% of children who have experience sexual abuse were abused by someone they knew.

18,915 sexual crimes against children under 16 were recorded in England and Wales in 2012/13. Sociologists such as Donzelot (1997) argue that new forms of surveillance by the state ensure that parents are being watched and checked, which represents a new way that the state controls adults and children alike.

57 of 70

The March of Progress View

Some Functionalists argue that childhood is improving as the family becomes more specialised.

They claim that changes in attitudes, coupled with greater child centredness in society and social policies, have resulted in happier, safer and more valued children.

There is evidence to support this view as well; there has been a 75% reduction in the number of children kileld on the roads in England and Wales, either in cars or as pedestrians.

The UK tops the European rankings for the use of filters on the internet-enabled devices that children use at home.

58 of 70

Different Perspectives

The postmodernism Neil Postman (1982) argues that the rise and fall of the print media has led to the blurring of the line between children and adults.

In the past, children had to read in order to gain access to adult worlds. However, children have much greater access to adult worlds through television, the internet and advertising.

Postman claims that this will result in the disappearance of childhood.

Others disagree and claim that many children remain separate from adults and protected from the adult world that Postman describes. Postman was also criticised for lacking evidence to support his claims.

The emergence of childhood as we know it is known as the child-centred society. It refers to a society in which children's needs are a priority. A collection of legal and attitudinal changes have led to this new status for children.

59 of 70

Social Policy

There are a lot of policies that relate specifically to children, which have developed as the welfare state expanded. Policies developed for children now tend to focus on multi-agency approach where different parts of the state work together to protect children.

1946 - universal child benefits introduced (they become means tested in 2013) which is a reflection of how valued children are in society.

1991 - Child Support Act ensuring the rights of children, making sure that children come first in a divorce, enabling their views to be heard and valued and making sure that parents provide support for their children.

2004 - Children Act focuses on the well-being of children from birth to the age of 19.

2007 - Department of Children established, which focuses on improving the quality of life of all children.

60 of 70

Ageing Population

Demographic trends reveal that women are having fewer children so families are smaller but at the same time there is an ageing population - an increasing number of old people in society.

There are a number of consequences of an ageing population, these include a greater strain on public services such as health care system and social services. There is also an increasing cost to the government for public services and pensions lead to higher taxes for the working population.

Due to the rising life expectancy there are a greater number of beanpole families (Brannen, 2013) in which grandparents play a more significant role in the lives of their children and grandchildren, helping them financially or with childcare.

There are other effects of an ageing population such as people live longer and are now working longer, contributing so society for longer. Individuals living longer also have greater opportunity and time to move in and out of various family structures and relationships.

61 of 70

Demographic Changes

Demographic changes have had a number of effects on the family structure, roles and relationships.

Families tend to be smaller, with extended family members no longer living with the family although extended family may still play an important role in supporting family members.

Extended families are now able to keep in touch more easily through the internet and by phone.

The structure of households is now also far more diverse. The decreasing size of families has led to changes in relationships, with relationships becoming narrower and deeper.

62 of 70

Birth and Fertility Rates

There has been a long term decline in the number of births in the UK. There have been fluctuations in the birth rate, which increased with a 'baby boom'  after both the First and Second World War, but overall the long-term birth rate is in decline.

Fertility rate has been below the level required to replace the population since 1973 in England and since 1974 in Scotland and Wales. Women are choosing to have fewer children which has led to the decline in fertility rate. The fertility rate rose slightly to 1.9 in 2009 due to patterns of immigration. Migrant families tend to have larger families. The recent rise is also due to older women having more babies, sometimes with the use of IVF.

Natural change is the difference between the numbers of births and deaths, which is a key indicator of population size and growth.

63 of 70

Long-Term Decline in Birth and Fertility Rates

The consequences of long-term decline in birth and fertility rates include:

  • changes in the dependency ratio - the relationship between the economically productive part of the population and non-workers. Falling numbers of children mean there will be less people of a working age, which leads to greater numbers of dependent people.
  • strain on public services such as hospitals, while schools may close as a result of the falling numbers of children.
  • falling fertility rates can lead to further changes in gender roles, giving women more time for their careers and perhaps leading to relationships between men and women becoming more equal.
64 of 70

Death Rates

Since 1901 the number of deaths in the UK has been in steady decline while the population has grown, so the death rate has fallen. Falling death rates are reflected in rising life expectancy. Death rates and life expectancy vary between social groups and places. There are multiple causes of the declining death rate:

  • decrease in infectious diseases such as TB, measles and whooping cough
  • medical advances such as vaccines and antibiotics
  • improved maternity care and the establishment of the NHS have led to a decline in infant mortality rate
  • welfare, health and environment - the government has provided better sanitation, sickness benefit and free school meals for those who couldn't afford them. The 1944 Beveridge Report and the development help the elderly, sick and the young as health care became free to all at the point of delivery.
65 of 70

Consequences of Declining Death Rates

The consequences include:

  • greater life expectancy
  • greater dependency ratio
  • more pressure on elderly services/women in families to care for older family members
  • cost to the state, for example pensions
  • grandparents playing a greater role in their grandchildren's lives
  • beanpole families increasing
  • longer period of life means greater chance of divorce and remarriage
  • older people who continue to be well making a greater contribution to society
  • increase in the numbers of the 'sandwich generation' (the middle-aged population who feel pressure to care for elderly parents and children/grandchildren at the same time)
66 of 70

Death Rates and Ageing Population

Hirsch (2005) said that by the middle of this century, there will be no sytematic decline in the population in higher age groups for the first 80 years of life.

The Griffiths Report (1983) was produced in order to assess the effectiveness of care in the community. The conclusion reached was that the government and managers should be involved with increasing the efficiency and the organisation of care in the community.

Blaikie (1999) describes the effects of an ageing population which results in a longer retirement period, breaking down the barriers between mid and later life. 'Positive ageing' also creates new needs and new norms, with new forms of deviance. Blaikie concludes that living longer is leading to increasing opportunities for older people as well as a shift in popular culture. Grandparents are increasingly involved with caring for their grandchildren as well, playing a more significant role in their lives as both parents now work.

67 of 70

Different Perspectives

Feminists would argue that the changing role of women has resulted in greater control over their fertility and less social pressure to conform to traditional gender roles - women having children.

Functionalists might argue that as each insitution becomes increasingly specialised, society improves which results in greater life expectancy and lower death rates.

68 of 70

Social Policy

The development of the welfare state and the NHS following the Second World War, when health care became free at the point of service, has had a huge impact on the health of the nation.

Death rates have declined as well as infant mortality rates.

The state has also developed care of the elderly and thus played a large role in longer life expectancy.

69 of 70


Migration is the movement of people in or out of a country and has always been a feature of life within the UK.

There have been significant increases in immigration since the Second World War. Immigration refers to a specific form of migration, where people move into the UK.

The first increase was a result of the Second World War, after which immigrants from Asia and Africa came to the UK to live and work.

The second wave of migration occurred as a resukt of the addition of various European countries to the EU, giving people the opportunity to travel, live and work within other EU countries.

Push or pull factors are the reasons that people move into or out of a country. Push factors may include war or conflict, lack of jobs, poor education and health system, political or economic instability. Pull factors might be the reverse: good education and health care system, political and economic stability and employment.

70 of 70



Dis is good






anthony yeboah


absolutely brilliant !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

anthony yeboah


this is the greatest!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Similar Sociology resources:

See all Sociology resources »See all Families and households resources »