Families and Relationships
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This option focuses on the family as a central agency of socialisation and a main transmitter of culture in contemporary society. It allows learners to explore contemporary family structures and relationships in the UK. This option is broken down into two subtopics, the first exploring the extent and nature of family diversity. This is developed into an exploration of the ideology of the family, looking at various theoretical views on the role and function of the family in contemporary society. The second section explores the ways in which roles and relationships are changing in the family.
1. How diverse are modern families?
This section looks at the extent of family diversity in the UK. Family diversity relates not just to different family structures but also to diversity in terms of roles and relationships within family structures. This will involve exploring definitions of the family as well as contemporary alternatives to these definitions. This topic involves an exploration of up to date research which reveals new and interesting emergent family types, such as beanpole families. This is followed by an exploration of the reasons for changes in family structure. This involves looking at the changing nature of relationship patterns such as marriage, cohabitation and divorce. Various types of diversity will be applied to different variables such as social class, ethnicity and sexuality.
These changes are interpreted from a number of theoretical perspectives; both consensus and conflict theories of the family, as well as considering the extent to which traditional social theories, are useful in helping us to understand contemporary family life. The theme of this section considers the extent to which the ideology of the nuclear family continues to shapes attitudes, roles, relationships and structures of family life in the UK.
2. To what extent are roles and relationships within families and households changing?
This section takes a detailed look at the nature of change in relationships in the family, focusing on adult relationships. This involves discussing classical debates about the domestic division of labour but also developing these ideas to explore more contemporary measures of power within relationships. In this section, students should be engaged in thinking about a variety of dimensions of relationships within the context of closer emotional relationships between men and women, as well as considering the impact of alternative relationship arrangements on deciding who is responsible for which roles. Exploring the nature of relationships in families also extends to relationships between adults and children, where there is emerging research about the nature and variety of new and traditional arrangements. As well as this, relationships with extended family members and non-family members should be considered.
There are central concepts which run throughout the course such as socialisation, identity, power and stratification, which are discussed in various ways in this topic. These core concepts are discussed in the context of changing families and relationships and in particular of the shift in attitudes that has occurred over the past 30 years. This will involve a brief look at the historical context from which the ideology of the nuclear family emerged. Students might want to consider their own perceptions and assumptions about family life before they research and examine current patterns in the UK. It is important to encourage students to be critical of some concepts, such as reconstituted families, since there are such a variety of relationship types that have emerged in recent years from this one family type.
Students can and should be encouraged to make links with the concepts found in this topic and wider changes in society such as the changing role of women, greater individualism and the shift from modernity to postmodernity. This also applies to theories; students might want to consider how useful traditional social theories and concepts are in explaining contemporary family life.
The following list contains some of the basic concepts for this topic. This list, however, is not exhaustive and teachers may wish to add to this list as they progress through the course.
Child centred society
Empty Nest family
Empty Shell family
Infant Mortality Rate (IMR)
Living apart together (LAT)
Lone person household
Monogamous nuclear family
Push and Pull factors
|Same sex families
Single parent/Lone parent family
The ageing population
The Birth Rate
The Death Rate
The dependency ratio
The Fertility Rate
Total Fertility Rate
Unit of consumption
Students often lack an awareness of the historical context that led to the changes in the family in the past 30 years. Therefore it is important to encourage students to understand what family life was like before, in other words to understand the prevailing ideology of the nuclear family. Although the focus is on contemporary society, it is also important to acknowledge important social changes such as the second wave of feminism, which influenced many of the changes that we see in the family today. Similarly, students do not need to have in depth knowledge about the history of the role of the state but they need to be aware that the state has not always played such an extensive role in shaping family life.
The theory section of this topic needs to be approached in an applied way, otherwise students are at risk of feeling that the theories are abstract. Therefore it is a very good idea to encourage students to carry out role-plays and engage with other application activities that enable them to see how theories of the family can be drawn upon. Students’ knowledge of sociological theories can then be developed in further depth throughout the course.
The key to overcoming students’ difficulties in approaching this topic is to develop their higher-level skills rather than focus on a knowledge driven approach. Encouraging students to consider the links between various issues such as the causes of changes in the family being linked to wider social changes gives them a much better change of applying their knowledge more successfully in the exam. For example, if students understand the significance of the changing role of women in society then this can be applied to changing patterns of divorce, cohabitation, marriage, the increase in family types such as single parent families and so on.
Conceptual links to other areas of the specification – useful ways to approach this topic to set students up for topics later in the course
There are many links to the core themes of socialisation, culture, identity, norms and values that are also in component 1 (Socialisation, culture and identity), as well as debates such as the nature/nurture debate. It is advisable to teach the unit in the order it is written so that the study of the family can be seen as building upon the foundational first part of the component. This will help reinforce students’ understanding of the core concepts and provide them with different examples and applications.
The families and relationships section links to further areas of the AS and full A level course. Within component 2 (Researching and understanding social inequalities), methodological issues are explored, so students should be encouraged to conduct small scale research into family and relationship issues so that they can become aware of how sociologists ‘know’ about social issues. For example, if a piece of research is being taught, it may be worth briefly discussing the methods used and the potential issues with the research. Further, there are issues of inequality throughout the families and relationship topic, which can develop the students’ sense of the inequalities that exist in UK society. For example, when considering the impact of social class on family life and relationships, it is worth discussing the way that economic inequalities affect many different aspects of a person’s life chances, for example the increased risk of family instability for the poor, as evidenced in the increased risk of divorce. These inequalities can be developed by considering theoretical explanations such as Marxist or feminist interpretations.
In terms of component 3 (Debates in contemporary society), the ideas, concepts and broader grasp of changes in wider society will help to inform and support the skills and knowledge needed for debates in contemporary society, for example, the connection between globalisation and immigration, cultural diversity within the family and the impact of new social media on children’s lives, feeding into the debate regarding the improvement of childhood or the exploitation of children.
There are links to crime and deviance through socialisation or inadequate socialisation, which is alleged by some to be a cause of law breaking and antisocial behaviour. This topic links well to education, which is a form of secondary socialisation. In education, the role of primary socialisation is considered in relation to the role that parents play in a child’s educational success. Family life is understood and explained through the declining influence of religion, therefore there are key links to this topic as well, which the families and relationships option can help lay the foundation for.
Teachers can ask students to work through Learner resource 2 and consider proportions of different family types in the UK today. Teacher resource 2 gives some suggested answers / further teaching guidance.
NB The link in the Learner resource is broken - please use this instead.
A number of tasks follow that explore some of the reasons for the increase in family diversity:
a) Shift from modernity to postmodernity
Teachers can ask students to cut out the statements from Learner resource 4 and complete the blank table. (see Teacher resource 4 for suggested answers).
b) Changes in the law.
In this activity, teachers will need to construct a washing line in the classroom, so that the students can sort out the following policies into date order using Learner resource 5 provided. These could be laminated and/or enlarged. Once they have done this, they should then suggest the possible effects of each policy on family life and record these on Learner resource 6. See Teacher resource 6 for suggested answers.
c) Changing attitudes
Teachers issue Learner resource 7 and ask students to fill in the gaps using the key words given. Teacher resource 7 shows the completed task.
Teachers ask students to summarise the effect of secularisation on increased family diversity. See Learner resource 8 for worksheet.
Divide students into small groups and ask them to select one topic to research (see topics in Learner resource 9). Students are not expected to remember large amounts of statistical data about each trend, but they should be aware of the overall trend and any significant changes. (See Teacher resource 9).
Once they have carried out their research, use the worksheet to ask students to share their findings. Then ask students to work in pairs and consider the impact of these changes on family diversity, in terms of the structure, roles and relationships found in the UK. This sheet could be blown up to A3 for more detail. The 'National statistics' website is a good place to start.
- New Right
Teachers can encourage students to consider all of the possible areas of relationships that might reveal important information about what changes have taken place over the past 30 years. It is a good idea to introduce the idea that in the past sociologists have tended to focus on researching housework, whilst, more recently there are studies emerging in more subtle and complex areas of relationships which relate to power.
Using a range of research, weigh up the evidence for and against relationships becoming increasingly egalitarian. This evidence can be evaluated with recent studies exploring the emergence of new forms of relationships with new or adapted ideas about relationships. (See Learner resource 12).
Some studies are shown within the 'Bibliography'.
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OCR acknowledges the use of the following content:
Learner Resource 1: Family images. a: fotoluminate LLC/Shutterstock.com, b: wavebreak media/Shutterstock.com, c: Stocklite/Shutterstock.com, d: F. Young/Shutterstock.com, e: DNF/Shutterstock.com, f: Mike Elliott/Shutterstock.com, g: auremar/Shutterstock.com, h: Gowanlock/Shutterstock.com, i: dubora/Shutterstock.com