My family isn’t very big. There’s just my son and me. I’m a single parent. For the last ten years I’ve
been concentrating on looking after my son James, who is now fourteen. But now I’ve met someone
special and we’ve just got engaged! My fiance has four kids of his own and we’re going to get married
in July. James is really excited about it; he ’s looking forward to having brothers and sisters in his new
Sheila: We live as one big extended family. There are seven of us in our household. Besides my husband and
me and our children, there’s my aunt and two of my cousins. I stay at home and care for my mother
because she’s quite old and can’t look after herself. Obviously, we suffer from a lack of space in the
house, but we all get on well.
1 Firstly, I am going to talk about the role of the parent. Secondly, I’ll discuss the role of the child, and lastly,
we’ll look at the family unit as a whole.
2 Parenting is a difficult job because no two children are ever the same.
3 Families are important because they form the basis for socialisation. Additionally, they educate and protect
the next generation.
4 The family structure has varied greatly over time. That is, different times have had different views of what a
traditional family structure is.
5 Many argue that less traditional structures are not as effective. Flowever, there is little evidence to support this.
6 Many people are having families later in life. Consequently, the rise in the number of single people may only
7 Families in other parts of the world differ from the western norm. For instance, in some cultures having
multiple husbands or wives is the norm.
8 Although there are many arguments for trying to keep the traditional family structure strong, I feel the key
issue is the economic necessity of having a ‘normal’ family structure.
Lecturer: As we have seen, changes in the structure of the family are constantly occurring: extended to nuclear,
patrifocal to a more equal footing between the sexes, and dual parenting to single parenting. However,
a recent phenomenon in the UK which is changing the traditional family is the increasing number of
adults who continue to live with their parents until their thirties or sometimes even their forties. The
UK has traditionally been a society where offspring leave the family home in their late teens or early
twenties to set up their own home and families. But in the last twenty-five years this has decreased.
Official statistics released by the Office of National Statistics show that today ten per cent of men in
their early thirties still live with their parents; this compares with five per cent of women in this age
The reasons for this are complex and varied. It cannot be denied that some people are choosing to
stay at home. Living with parents can be an easy option; food is provided, heating and electricity are paid
for, and rent, if any, is minimal. However, a third of those surveyed claimed they are living with their
parents because it is too difficult to get on the property ladder. House prices in the last few decades
have risen dramatically; property is now five times the average annual salary, whereas it was only three
times the average annual wage in the 1980s. This fact, coupled with high unemployment amongst young
people, makes it virtually impossible for a single person to buy a home or even rent.
The number of students going on to higher education has also been steadily increasing. Many of
these students return home after finishing their studies as a result of the student debt they have
accumulated. It can take many years to pay this off, and if the burden of rent or a mortgage is added to
that, it can be just too much for a young adult’s pocket.
However, help is now at hand. The government is tackling some of the problems that cause people
to remain with their parents with a new scheme: the Affordable Housing Scheme. This aims to help
people part buy a house or flat by making housing more affordable for first-time buyers, and possibly
taking the strain away from elderly parents!
Lecturer: The family is a topic which we will look at in great detail this term. For sociologists, the family is often
seen as the beginning of socialisation. Indeed, it is the seed of society itself. In recent decades, many
old people have no longer been able to rely on their offspring for support, which was common fifty years ago. Many children are brought up by only one parent, something virtually unheard of before
the 1960s. We can certainly say that during the last half century we have seen an enormous change in
traditional family structures.
The extended family lasted well into the early 1900s, and this kind of strong family unit was essential
due to property ownership. Housing often was scarce and it was necessary for people to live with parents
and take over the property when their parents died. Of course, people still benefit from their family line.
Still today, people generally inherit any money that their mother or father might have.
In the UK, the last fifty years has also seen a decrease in the number of offspring parents have.
Whereas in the 1950s only ten per cent of offspring were only children, this number has risen.
Nowadays, this is the case for just over a third of children.
Lecturer: In Victorian times, the upper classes made up less than three per cent of the entire population of
Britain, yet this class held more than ninety per cent of the country’s wealth. This shows the massive
gap there was between rich and poor, a gap which has shrunk considerably in the last century. Today
we’re going to look at the wide differences in family life between rich and poor in Victorian times. Let ‘s
begin with the upper classes.
The upper classes of the Victorian period were generally the nobility or the clergy. Most of their
servants were very poorly paid, but were always accommodated within the homes of upper-class
Victorian families, so they didn’t have to pay for accommodation, food and often clothing.
The money which they did earn, they normally sent home to their families.
Many Victorian servants came from the countryside, where the effects of the industrial revolution
had resulted in job losses. Amongst these servants were cooks, housemaids, stable hands, and
butlers. The family would also employ a nanny, who although employed by the family, was not
traditionally seen as a servant. A nanny’s primary role was to care for the children. She was
responsible for teaching the children how to behave, looking after them when they were ill, and
instilling discipline into them. Nannies did not, however, educate the children. Generally, children
from wealthy families did not attend school outside the family home. Tutors would come to the house
to do this, and although on occasion mothers taught their children to read and fathers gave their
children some instruction in Latin, this was not a common occurrence.
Now, the Victorian upper classes have the reputation of being quite cruel; but this wasn’t always the
case. They were also quite charitable. Ragged schools were set up with funding from the upper classes
so that poor children could have some form of education. Additionally, most Victorian parents were very
proud of their children, who were often seen as prized possessions’. This goes against the common idea
that parents were very hard on their children. In fact, the opposite was generally the rule. However, the
situation for lower class families was very different. In the lower classes child labour was rife. Children
as young as eight earned a living as chimney sweeps for wealthy houses.
Now, let’s move on to looking at the lower class families in more detail. You’ll find that …
Lecturer: We are all familiar with the nuclear family, which has been the dominant family structure in the UK
for the last sixty years at least. However, recent changes show that our idea of the traditional nuclear
family as the cornerstone of British family life is changing. There have been emerging patterns which
are eroding this structure; namely, the rise of step-families, cohabitation, lone-parenting, and the
rapid increase in those living alone. We are going to explore these areas in turn, and look at their
effect in terms of the family.
Firstly, step-families are becoming more and more common. Step-families are created when one
or both partners have a child or children from a previous relationship. In 1980 the percentage of
children under thirteen who were living with one parent and their new partner was just four per cent.
In 2008, this figure had increased to twenty per cent. The USA has seen an even greater rise; new
statistics show that almost half of under thirteens are living in a step-family. Now, we can still call the
step-family structure a nuclear’ family, as it does follow the structure of two parents, and dependent
children. However, it also creates somewhat of a nuclear ‘blur ’. Step-brothers and sisters may belong
to two family units, so where do we draw the line at which family they belong to?
Co-habitation, when partners do not marry yet live together as a family, has also increased. In 2006, of
the 17.5 million families in Britain, nearly three million of these comprised unmarried couples. What does
this mean to the nuclear family? Firstly, the traditional view of a nuclear family requires married parents,
so we can’t put these types of family under this umbrella. Statistics show that even if cohabiting couples
have children, they are more likely to separate than their married equivalents. Lastly, we need to look
at the rise of the DINKS, which stands for Dual Income No Kids. As Clarke and Henwood outline, many
cohabiting couples are choosing a life without children, putting consumer spending first.
Lone-parenting is a relatively recent family structure which has rapidly grown in the last half
century. In 1972 only one in fourteen children lived in a lone-parent family. When we compare this
with today’s figure of one in four, we can see that this is a rapid increase. In the past, lone-parenthood
was overwhelmingly the result of a death of a parent. Nowadays however, it is increasingly a choice.
Some sociologists argue that this increase is due to the outlook of women. Where women once were
willing to accept an unhappy or abusive marriage, now many will choose lone-parenthood. Often this
can be just a transitory phase before they find a new partner. This view of women’s attitudes and lone
parenting is highly debated, because some figures show that the largest group of lone parents are
mothers who have never married. You can find counter arguments for these ideas in Butler and Jones.
One difficulty for single parents is that they are a social group who are much more likely to suffer from
poverty and hardship. They are more likely to live in rented accommodation and have childcare issues.
Lastly, an increasing number of people are choosing to live alone. The number of people living alone
in Britain has more than doubled in the last twenty years. In 1990 just over four million people lived
alone. Now this figure has reached 8.5 million, an incredibly rapid growth which has had enormous
effects on the traditional nuclear family. This number represents a great chunk of the population who
either by choice or necessity, are outside the traditional family unit. Some think that these changes
may not help the community. In fact, there are many arguments that this rise in alternative household
structures will create a more isolationist and less community-based society, where close bonds which
are usually formed within the family have no place. Leaving aside whether or not the housing even
exists for this boom, an important factor which must be looked at is the disproportionate expense for
those living on their own. By this I mean, the burden of all costs is shouldered by one wage instead of
two, and of course one person is using the energy which could be shared between a group, having a
greater impact on the environment too.
However, on a more positive note, people, especially women, are proving …