Examine the extend,of and the reasons for family diversity in today’s society. Many sociologists argue that the nuclear family is a universal and dominate institution however there has been an increase in diverse family types for various reasons. Examples of these diverse families are lone parents, reconstitutions and cohabitation families. Although most people experience life in a nuclear family, it represents only a stage in their life cycle. Social and demographic changes have meant that an increasing part of many people’s lives are spent in households that are not based on conventional nuclear families. Firstly the increase of single parents (lone parents) has tripled since 1970s in the UK. About 25% of all families with dependent children are single-parent families. There are various reasons which contribute to the increase of single parenthood but one main one is the demographical changes in the UK, is divorce. Divorce was legalised in the early 1970s and as a consequences it is cheaper and easier to get a divorce and this one of the explanations for the growth in lone-parent families since the early 1970’s. Whereas in the past it would take years to get a divorce and even then the outcome was not always fair. Feminist argue that diversity is valued and liberal as it gives women a choice.
They also argue that this not only benefits women but en as well as they can have more time with the child and care for their children, then in the past that was only seen as the women job. However these traditional values are stilled established by ethnic groups not so much. Another reason for the increase in single parent families is due to greater acceptance in society. There is no longer as stigma that you have conceives a child with in marriage. This is interlinked with secularisation, which means the decline in religious practice and thinking. Therefore religion has very little influence over people lives hence they have a wider option in regards to the type of family they chose. The media also contributes the greater acceptance of single-parents as it depicts them in a positive light today, whereas in the past were it was seen as ‘sinful’. The increase is in single parent families is also due to help of the welfare state. The welfare state provides the single parent finical support hence taking the position or the role of the father. As a result women no longer need to rely on men or marriage for support. The increase in never married single mother now accounts for about 40% of all lone parents.
Although Britain has become more diverse single parenthood is still not accepted by everyone. The new right thinker Charles Murray (1984) argues that the increase in lone-parents is due to the over generosity of the welfare state as they have provide for both the parent and their children. Murray argue that this creates ‘perverse incentive’, that is rewarding irresponsible behaviour hence creating a ‘dependency culture’ in which people assume that the state will support them. One of the consequences of the lone parent family is step families (often called reconstituted families) which accounts to about 10% of families with the dependent children in the UK. A reconstituted family is made up of an adult couple, living with at least one child from a previous relationship of one of the partners.
However although there is an increase in diverse family types the stepfamily are more at risk of poverty because the stepfather would have to provide for his current step children and his children form a previous relationship. In addition a difference in sexuality has contributed to the increase in family diversity. Gay and lesbian households have become more common and more acceptable in society than in the past. As Jeffrey Weeks, Donovan and Heaphey did their study in 1999 they argue, ‘During the past generation the possibilities of living an openly lesbian and gay have been transformed’. According to Weeks et al (1999) the same sex families look upon their household and friendship network as a chosen family. Same sex families have more option than the conventional heterosexual family and others see these families and an alternative and continuous devolving. Weeks et al argues that this part of a wider social change which can be based on culture and ethnic difference.
Another sociologist called Roseneil (2005) develops the idea of chosen your own family. She uses the term hetronorm to refer to the intimate relationship between a heterosexual couple is seen as normal. Cheal (2002) notes that many gays and lesbians are legally allowed to adopt nevertheless many want to retain status of difference because they may feel that by adopting a child they are being shaped or moulded to portray a heterosexual family. Another main reason in why same- sex families increase is the decline in secularisation because some religions condemn homosexuality and now less people are religious in the UK they are more acceptant of homosexuals. Another type of family is singletons; this means that when someone lives by themselves. About 3 in 10 household contains one person. The reasons for these changes are the increase in separation and divorce has created more 1 person households especially with men under 65 because children are more likely to live with their mother. Also the decline in marriage and the trend in marrying later because people are living longer hence there are more people that are single. Stein (1976) argues the growing number of people choosing to be single is a deliberate choice.
However, while many of these choose to remain single some are alone because e there are few partners available in their age group. Furthermore, another type of household is living apart together. It is often assumed that those living alone do not have a partner. However the researcher by Duncan and Phillips (2208) found that 1 in 10 adults are ‘living apart together’ and has become increasingly common. Living apart together is a significant relationship, but not married or cohabiting. Duncan and Phillips found that some couple cannot live together for finical reason and the minority actively chose to live apart may be because they want to keep their home as a security because if the relationship does not work then at least they have a home to go to. Nonetheless although there are various other families it does demolish the existence of the nuclear family as they are still common but it has changed hence becoming more modern.
Perspectives like the functionalist and new right as described to be ‘modernist’ because they see modern society. The nuclear family has shaped and changed to fit society which helps maintain it by performing some essential functions. According to Chester (1985), there was little evidence that people were choosing to live on a long-term basis in alternatives to the nuclear family. However, he did accept that some changes were taking place in family life. In particular, many families were no longer ‘conventional’ in the sense that the husband was the sole breadwinner. He accepted more women are out working to finical support their family. He called this new family form, in which wives have got jobs, the neo-conventional family. Although many people are not part of the nuclear family at one time in the life is largely due to the life-cycle. Many people who are currently living alone i.e. widows, singleton or those who are yet to get married, were either part of a nuclear family in the past or will be in the future. Chester argues that the statistics is misleading and does not portray that most people will spend a major part of their life in a nuclear family.
The extended family is another type of family which is three generations living together. The extended family was strongest in working-class families. It is less important today because of geographical mobility, but research by Finch and Mason (1993) shows that kinship ties are still important for most. They also receive finical help from extended family and they also found that the women are more actively involved with extended family. Wilmot (1988) did his study on the dispersed extended family and the beanpole family. Wilmot (1988) argues that there are four main types of extended family; extended family of residence where the members live in the same household, the local extended family – where 2 or 3 nuclear families live separately but in close proximity and see each other often, the dispersed extended family – nuclear families who see each other frequently but live further apart and do not see each other as regularly and the attenuated extended family – similar to the dispersed extended family but the contact is even less frequent. Brannen (2003) argues that there is a strong intergenerational links between generations mainly because people are living longer.
However the links between the intragenerational links between siblings, cousins etc. were somewhat weaker. Therefore Brannen characteristic contemporary family structure as being long and thin and she compares it to the beanpole. A beanpole family is a nuclear family with one or two children who maintain regular contact with grandparents. Furthermore another concept which has contributed to the increase in diverse families is culture diversity. There’s is an increase of people with different ethnic background hence this means there alternative family forms and living arrangements. Ghazala Bhatti carries out her study in 1999 on Asian families living in the southern England. She found that the conflict between generations has created a new family type as the children may not marry someone with the same background. However Bhatti stresses that these families were not the norm. Within black families there is high rate of female-headed houses, lone-parent black families has sometimes been seen as evidence of disorganisation which link back to slavery. This is because under slavery when people were taken the children would stay with their mothers.
Also due to high rate of unemployment among black men has meant that they cannot provide for their family which as a consequence lead to high rates of desertion or marital breakdown. Also among Asian families their household do contain three generation but most are in fact nuclear rather than extended families. Larger Asian households also to some extent reflect the value placed on the extended family in Asian cultures. These differences are likely to have resulted from the fact that many Asian immigrants have come from a traditional agricultural economy where family patterns are more like pre-industrial Britain. Thus, minority ethnic families have not just contributed to family diversity through each group having its own distinctive family pattern. They have also contributed to it through developing diverse family patterns within each ethnic group.
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