Functionalist and New Right views of the family workbook answers



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TOPIC 1

Functionalist and New Right views of the family



WORKBOOK ANSWERS

AQA AS Sociology Unit 1

Families and Households


This Answers book provides some possible answers that might be given for the questions asked in the workbook. They are not exhaustive and other answers may well be acceptable, but they are intended as a guide to give teachers and students feedback.

The responses for the longer essay-style questions are intended to give some idea about how the exam questions might be answered. Again, these are not the only ways to answer such questions but they can be treated as one way of approaching questions of these types.

Topic 1 Functionalist and New Right views of
the family

How have functionalist and New Right thinkers explained family life and the relationship between families and social change?

1 The organic analogy refers to the extended comparison made by functionalists between the human or other living body and society, with the organs of the body equivalent to institutions and structures in society.

2 Primary socialisation refers to the first and most important stage of the socialisation process by which young children absorb the norms and values of their culture, mainly from their parents.

Note: make sure your answer explains both ‘primary’ and ‘socialisation’.



3 One way in which the nuclear family is more suited than other types of family to modern industrial society is that it allows for geographical mobility; it is easier to move a nuclear family to a new area for, say, a new job than to move an extended family. A second way is that the division of roles by gender means that the male breadwinner can work long hours in a workplace while his wife cares for the children and home.

Note: the word ‘suggest’ in the question indicates that you do not have to provide evidence that your answers are correct. There will be more than two possible answers.



4 One change that New Right thinkers would see as undermining the traditional nuclear family is the growth of cohabitation (living with a partner outside marriage) because the bond between the two adults is not as strong as it would be if they were married. A second change is the growth of lone parent families; they are seen by the New Right as less effective than the nuclear family in socialising children because the lone parent has to try to carry out both the instrumental and expressive roles. Finally, the New Right would see the increase in the number of mothers of young children in full-time work as threatening the nuclear family because they would doubt that these mothers could fulfil the expressive role well enough for the wellbeing of the children.

Note: there are many possible answers, including:



  • higher divorce and separation rates

  • increasing number of births outside marriage

  • number of children not being raised by their biological parents

  • same-sex couples raising children

It is not necessary to explain your answers (because the question doesn’t tell you to do this) but to do so can help you to be sure that your answer is right and to convince an examiner that your arguments are tenable. Be careful though not to write too much — you have other questions to answer.

5 This is not an exam-style question; it is included here to get you to think about the theoretical perspectives, not only in terms of what they say but why they should do so. This helps you to practise the skill of analysis. Points you could make include:

  • Belief that the nuclear family is the type of family that provides greatest stability both to families and their members, and to society as a whole.

  • This can be used to show how the New Right share some of the assumptions of functionalists.

  • Belief that the instrumental and expressive roles suit the natures of males and females respectively.

  • Belief that the nuclear family is essential for socialisation and so for society’s survival.

  • Concern that changes in families and relationships are undermining the nuclear family.

  • Belief that society was more stable during the ‘golden age’ of the nuclear family and that social problems such as rising crime are associated with the decline of the nuclear family.

  • Research evidence supporting these claims.

Exam-style short essay questions


Note: there are two types of 24-mark questions in the exam. After the 2, 4 and 6-mark questions, the next question, carrying 24 marks, will normally use the word ‘examine’. For this type of question, there are 14 marks available for AO1 (knowledge and understanding) and 10 marks for AO2 (interpretation, application, analysis and evaluation). For the fifth and final question, also carrying 24 marks, you will be asked to ‘assess’. You will be able to draw on some material from the item for this question; it will contain wording such as ‘Using material from the item and elsewhere...’ For this type of question, there are only 10 marks available for AO1 (knowledge and understanding) with 14 marks for AO2 (interpretation, application, analysis and evaluation). Both questions require both AOs to be demonstrated, therefore, but the balance of marks is different.

It is good practice in both types of question to refer to a number of studies or research findings. For ‘assess’ questions it is essential to consider different points of view or explanations, which will almost always involve using the theoretical perspectives.



01 14 marks for AO1, 10 for AO2

Good answers will show knowledge and understanding of both the functionalist and New Right approaches and will be able to explain several similarities and differences.

Points that could be made in an answer to this question include:


  • Similarities: both approaches see the conventional nuclear family, and the gender division of roles associated with it, as desirable, and based on human nature.

  • The conventional nuclear family is seen as essential to the stable, ordered nature of society, particularly because it is where primary socialisation happens.

  • Moving away from this type of family runs risks of social breakdown and disorder.

  • Both approaches can be seen as ignoring or downplaying both the negative aspects of the conventional nuclear family and the evidence that other types of family can be successful.

  • Differences: the functionalist approach is from the early- to mid-twentieth century, when the nuclear family was assumed to be widespread; the New Right approach dates from the more recent period when the nuclear family was seen as under threat or in decline.

  • The New Right approach is therefore concerned with trying to return to a supposed ‘golden age’ of the conventional nuclear family around the 1950s; other approaches, such as feminism, would see the idea of a ‘golden age’ as a myth for which functionalism is partly responsible.

  • While functionalists were most interested in how the nuclear family carried out its functions, the New Right are more concerned with other types of family, such as lone parent families, and how these allegedly fail to carry out the necessary functions.

02 10 marks for AO1, 14 marks for AO2

Suggested answer:

The functionalist approach to studying families was the dominant theoretical perspective for much of the twentieth century. Functionalism suggests that the family can be seen as one essential part of society that contributes to the overall wellbeing of the whole, rather as different organs of the body work together to keep a person healthy (the ‘organic analogy’). Different functionalist writers have suggested different functions; for example Talcott Parsons argued that the nuclear family in modern industrial society has two essential functions, primary socialisation of children and stabilisation of adult personalities. Each society in this view will have the type of family best suited to it; in the medieval period, extended families were more common because they could fulfil functions such as caring for the sick and elderly which the state had not then taken on.

One advantage of this approach is that it draws attention to the many positive aspects of family life, fitting in with many people’s experience and expectation of the family as a haven, where they are safe and cared for. There are, however, several problems with this approach. One is that it is very much focused on the conventional nuclear family, with its associated gender roles, as essential in modern industrial society. Sociology has since moved on, adapting to changes in society by focusing on families (a diverse range of families) rather than ‘the family’. The functionalist approach is also one that is based on structure — people seem to have to fit into a set role in a set type of family. More recently, interactionist and other approaches have been more interested in the ways in which people actively create and negotiate their own roles and identities within families.

Functionalism emphasised the positive aspects of nuclear families; from the 1960s onwards feminist and other approaches increasingly drew attention to the negative aspects or ‘dark side’ of the conventional nuclear family, domestic violence (researched by Dobash and Dobash), the ways that the ‘housewife’ role restricted women’s lives (Ann Oakley) and the ways in which tensions and emotions can build up when the family is privatised and isolated from neighbourhood and wider kin. Feminists particularly criticised the functionalist assumptions about the instrumental and expressive roles being necessary and being ideally suited to males and females respectively. Breaking free from these prescriptions enabled both men and women to live happier lives, without their families becoming dysfunctional, as functionalists would have it.

The functionalist view now looks like an idealised view, taking the most common form of family in the USA in the mid-twentieth century as the best form by ignoring its negative aspects. It is still, however, useful as a corrective to other approaches; the nuclear family remains part of most people’s life course, is what many people aspire to, and is able to carry out important functions.

Topic 2 Alternative views of family

How have feminists, Marxists and postmodernists explained family life and the relationship between families and social change?

1 When feminists describe the nuclear family as patriarchal they mean that the father/husband is the dominant figure, in a position of power and authority over his wife and children.

2 According to Marxists, the nuclear family supports capitalism by allowing men to work long hours in workplaces such as factories, because children and home are the responsibility of the woman carrying out the housewife role. A second way is that it provides for inheritance of private property, with the eldest son inheriting from his father.

3 One problem in trying to accurately measure the extent of domestic violence is the identification of victims (and perhaps offenders); it is known that many cases are not reported and so there is no sampling frame that would allow researchers to identify potential respondents.

A second problem is that victims may be unwilling to take part in any research, either because they do not wish to talk about what has happened with a researcher or even possibly because they fear further violence if the offender finds out they have talked about what happened.

Note: questions about research methods are not asked on this paper, but points about the way in which research has been done can be relevant in some essay questions; being aware of methodological issues is an important sociological skill.

4 Sociologists tend to refer to ‘feminisms’ rather than ‘feminism’ to show that they recognise that the label ‘feminist’ is very broad and covers a wide range of different emphases and interests. It is conventional to classify feminists as liberal, socialist/Marxist and radical, and other types such as black feminism and post-feminism can also be identified.

Note: this is not an exam-style question, but the answer is important for all areas of sociology, not just families and households. Within other theoretical perspectives also there are significant differences of opinion and emphasis.


Exam-style short essay questions


01 14 marks for AO1, 10 for AO2

Points that could be made in an answer to this question include:



  • Feminist concepts such as patriarchy, age patriarchy, the triple burden.

  • Drawing attention to some of the negative aspects of the conventional nuclear family, such as domination by the male, housework as unpaid drudgery, unequal power relationships, abusive and violent relationships, the concept of familial ideology.

  • Correcting the functionalist and New Right approaches which emphasise positive aspects of the nuclear family.

  • Drawing attention to the importance of the female role and to the experiences of women.

  • Recognition of different types of feminism: liberal, Marxist/socialist, radical.

  • Use of more qualitative research methods which draw out personal experiences (e.g. through unstructured interviews) and give more valid data about experiences of family life.

02 10 marks for AO1, 14 marks for AO2

Points that could be made in an answer to this question include:



  • Feminist views of the family — including different types of feminism, and using concepts such as patriarchy and the triple burden.

  • Links between families and wider society, including Marxist/socialist feminist views.

  • The housewife role and the ways in which it ‘fitted’ capitalist work practices.

  • The dominance of men within families — power relationships, domestic division of labour, age patriarchy — linked to the dominance of men in society.

  • Alternative views of the main role of families, such as functionalist views on the importance of primary socialisation and the stabilisation of adult personalities.

Topic 3 Families and social policies

What is the relationship between families and social policies?

1 One way in which social policies might affect roles within families is that they might make it easier for women to break away from the expressive role. For example, state-subsidised nursery places have made it possible for women to work while their children are at a nursery.

A second way is that men might be encouraged to take a greater role in the upbringing of their children, for example improved paternity leave provisions give the message that the father’s place is at home as well as at work.

Note: the inclusion of specific examples can help make it clear what you mean.

2 The Labour government introduced civil partnerships, giving much greater rights and recognition to homosexual couples who chose to enter a partnership. This recognised that more same-sex couples were choosing to live together but did not until then have rights similar to those of heterosexual couples.

A second Labour policy was that parents were able to ask for flexible working hours; this recognised that in many families both father and mother were sharing the roles and were sometimes finding it difficult to balance work and childcare commitments.



3 One policy that can be seen as promoting the traditional nuclear family is the Child Support Agency’s role in ensuring that absent fathers contribute financially to their children’s upbringing, thus fulfilling part of their instrumental role even when not physically present.

Another policy is the setting of school opening hours which do not recognise that both parents may be working full time and are unable to take their children to school or pick them up.

A third policy is tax allowances, which make it financially advantageous for a couple to be married rather than unmarried.

Note: for this question, your answers do not have to be current policies, and you do not need to know details (for example how much the tax allowance might be), although these can be helpful in demonstrating your sociological knowledge. It might be tempting to add a sentence that makes an opposing point (e.g. for the second point, ‘However, more schools now offer breakfast clubs and after-school care...’) but this does not help you answer the question and so will not gain you marks.



4 Note: this is not an exam-style question. Use it to test your knowledge of the origins of ‘moral panics’ and related family social policy, and your understanding and correct use of relevant terms.

Points that you could make include:



  • Examples of moral panics: teenage mothers, lone parent families being unable to socialise male children adequately.

  • Make sure that for your examples you have included the resulting social policies as well as the focus of the moral panic.

  • Include and explain the terms ‘folk devil’, ‘deviancy amplification’ and ‘self-fulfilling prophecy’ if appropriate.

  • Explain that moral panics involve media reporting that is exaggerated and predicts growing problems.

  • Show how media reporting influences politicians and others in authority, putting them under pressure to be seen to be doing something.

  • Show how moral panics can often be related to ideological concerns, such as those of the New Right.

Exam-style short essay questions


01 14 marks for AO1, 10 for AO2

Note: there are many policies and laws, and good answers need to include some examples of these; however, they do not need to be those given in this suggested answer.

Suggested answer:

A wide range of policies and laws affect families in many different ways. They can be grouped into two broad types — those that are specifically about families and those that are about other aspects of society but which have an effect on families.

In the latter category are education, health, work and welfare policies. For example, the age at which children end their compulsory education has risen over the last few decades. Raising the school-leaving age has had the effect of making young people dependent on their families for longer, and as they cannot work it may restrict the families’ income. On the other hand, state subsidies for nursery education and the availability of childcare through before- and after-school provision has the effect of freeing parents to work longer hours and increase family income, while more of the child’s socialisation happens outside home and family. Policies improving sanitation and water supplies, the introduction of a National Health Service and of child immunisations have reduced mortality and increased life expectancy, with the result that families are changed as people have smaller families.

There are also policies specifically affecting families. For example, the Divorce Reform Act which allowed ‘no fault’ divorces resulted in an increase in the number of divorces and this led to more lone parent families and reconstituted families, and also to more people living alone. The availability of benefits to lone parents has been particularly contentious, with New Right thinkers like Charles Murray alleging that benefits encourage young women to have children when, without benefits, they would be unable to support them. Some policies, often from a New Right agenda, encourage the traditional nuclear family and its associated gender roles at the expense of other types of family; other policies, such as civil partnerships and other measures introduced by Labour between 1997 and 2010, recognise and support a wider range of families and living arrangements.

In other countries and in different periods of history, policies have sometimes affected families in more dramatic ways. For example, China’s one child per family policy has reduced the average size of families, and also, because many parents want a boy child, has led to a gender imbalance in the population with males outnumbering females. Romania, under the Communist dictatorship of Ceausescu, pushed couples, through a variety of measures, into having more children than they wanted to or could afford.

02 10 marks for AO1, 14 for AO2

Points that could be made in an answer to this question include:



  • Explanation of what is meant by a traditional nuclear family, including the instrumental and expressive roles taken by male and female respectively, and some explanation of ‘other types of family’.

  • A range of social policies (not necessarily recent) in the UK that have affected different types of families — both policies relating directly to families (e.g. payment of child benefit) and those relating to other policy areas that affect families (e.g. compulsory schooling).

  • Clear indication of those policies that promote the traditional nuclear family (e.g. tax concessions for married heterosexual couples) and those that do not (e.g. child benefit paid to the mother regardless of family type or circumstance).

  • Good answers will distinguish the effects of policies on different types of families, e.g. lone parent families, extended families.

Topic 4 Changing family patterns

What changes have there been over recent times to patterns of family life such as marriage, cohabitation and divorce?

1 One reason why there has been an increase in cohabitation is that the stigma attached to living and having a sexual relationship with someone when not married to them has largely disappeared; it is no longer referred to as ‘living in sin’.

A second reason is that the cost of weddings is now very high; more couples may be cohabiting while saving up for a wedding later.



2 Separation is the term used to describe two people who have been a couple splitting up and starting to live apart; divorce is the term used when this situation is legally recognised, a divorce being granted by a judge.

Note: make sure that you explain both terms. If you explain both fully you will in doing so show how they differ.



3 One reason for the increase in the number of births outside marriage is that more couples are cohabiting; that is, living together without being married.

A second reason is that more women are choosing to have and raise a child without being married or necessarily in a long-term relationship with the child’s father.



4 One reason is that although there are statistics on divorce, there are no official statistics on separation and so the true extent cannot be measured.

A second reason is the meaning of the word ‘breakdown’, which could be defined in different ways — for example, to cover situations such as the ‘empty shell relationship’ where the relationship no longer has any reason or purpose but the couple may still be living together.


Exam-style short essay questions


01 14 marks for AO1, 10 for AO2

Suggested answer:

The recent changes in patterns of marriage referred to are that fewer marriages are taking place, with people marrying for the first time at a later age. Cohabitation has become much more common; sometimes this is a long-term relationship similar to a marriage in all but name, but more often in the UK cohabitation is a ‘trial marriage’ in which the two people test their suitability as marriage partners. Many children are now born to cohabiting couples who may or may not subsequently marry. The divorce rate rose steeply in the 1970s after changes in the law and, although this has now levelled off and even fallen slightly, divorce is high by any historical comparison. However, many divorced people remarry, so that there are more reconstituted families than in the past, and more people have over their lifetime several marriage partners — ‘serial monogamy’.

The New Right approach to the sociology of families places a high value on the importance of the conventional nuclear family, of a married heterosexual couple raising their own children and following traditional gender roles, with the male taking the instrumental role and supporting the family financially, while the female’s role is expressive, caring and nurturing, and taking main responsibility for the home and for childcare. This type of family has become less common in recent decades and the New Right sees this as a negative development; it sees the conventional nuclear family as the cornerstone of a stable society, as functionalists did. The recent changes referred to in the question all point to a decline of the conventional nuclear family, and so would be seen as negative by New Right sociologists.

Marriage is seen by the New Right as giving a stability to relationships that cohabitation does not, and it therefore favours policies that offer advantages to married couples over unmarried couples, such as tax allowances. Both cohabitation (because it is easy to end) and divorce are seen as contributing to the increase in lone parent families. The New Right is concerned that boy children growing up with only their mother will not have a male role model; they will therefore be less likely to be good fathers themselves and may underachieve at school, be unemployed, get involved in crime and drugs and so on. Moreover, says the New Right, generous welfare benefits to single parents encourage young women to have children they could not support otherwise. For Charles Murray, this leads to the emergence of an underclass which threatens the stability of society. Feminists and others respond that many children do well in lone parent families, and that the problems are associated with poverty and low income rather than lone parenthood.

02 10 marks for AO1, 14 for AO2

Points that could be made in an answer to this question include:



  • Outline of changes in the divorce rate — rising steeply in 1970s then stabilising — and in attitudes towards marriage and divorce (e.g. as suggested by the fall in the marriage rate, the rising age of first marriage for both men and women, reduced stigma for divorce, examples of divorced people in the public eye, increase in cohabitation).

  • Other potentially relevant facts and ideas about divorce (e.g. most divorces are initiated by women, mothers are more likely to have custody of children, access arrangements, bi-nuclear families, the effects of divorce on children).

  • Reasons for changes in divorce rate — changes in attitudes will be assessed against a range of other possible reasons such as changes in legislation, availability of welfare, the changed situation of women including careers and earning power, the longer length of marriages due to rising life expectancy, secularisation.

  • Changes in attitude towards marriage and divorce might include rising expectations.

Topic 5 Contemporary family diversity

In what ways have contemporary family and household structures become more diverse?

1 Increasing diversity means that there is a wider range of types of families in Britain today, rather than there being one dominant type such as the conventional nuclear family.

2 The term ‘life course’ means the developments and changes in people’s lives over a period of time.

3 One reason why there is a high rate of lone parent families among Black Caribbean and Black African families in Britain might be that because of high rates of unemployment or other reasons, males from these ethnic groups find it difficult to carry out the traditional breadwinner role.

A second reason that has been suggested is that they follow a different family type, which has been imported to Britain, where the mother relies more on female relatives than on her male partner to support her family.



4 One reason for the increase in the number of beanpole families in Britain is that women are having fewer children on average; this means children have fewer siblings and then in the next generation there are fewer aunts, uncles and cousins.

A second reason for the increase in beanpole families is increased life expectancy, meaning more generations of a family are likely to be alive at any time, making the family ‘tall’ as well as ‘thin’.



5 One reason is that more young women are entering professional or other careers, living alone for a longer period than did earlier generations before settling in to marriage and motherhood.

A second reason is that because of the number of divorces there are more divorced people living alone.

A third reason is that modern work and life can make it difficult for couples in long-term relationships to live together, so they may live apart and on their own.

Exam-style short essay questions


01 14 marks for AO1, 10 for AO2

Note: for a high mark it is important to give equal attention to reasons and to consequences.

Points that could be made in an answer to this question include:


  • There have always been lone parent families (e.g. as a result of the death of one parent).

  • Facts and ideas related to lone parent families including most lone parents being women, more children born to parents not married to each other.

  • Reasons for the increase in lone parent families include higher divorce rate, changing attitudes and values, availability of welfare, women choosing to have children without a male partner, easier for women to combine work and childcare, increase in cohabitation (less commitment than marriage so may be more likely to end, leading to a lone parent family).

  • Consequences include children raised without male role model (leading, in New Right view, to social problems), financial difficulties, increased welfare spending leading to policies to reduce this.

  • Children in lone parent families are more likely to be in poverty and to be affected by a range of associated problems such as underachievement at school and unemployment — good answers will explore the question of whether the problem is lone parent families or lack of income.

02 10 marks for AO1, 14 for AO2

Points that could be made in an answer to this question include:



  • Increasing diversity covers a wide range of types of families, including lone parent families, reconstituted families, same-sex couples, beanpole families, cohabitation.

  • Diversity is usually contrasted with the supposed prevalence of the conventional nuclear family in the postwar period.

  • Diversity might also be related to ethnic groups (e.g. matrilineal families among Afro-Caribbean people and extended families among Asian minorities) and to locality.

  • ‘Different interpretations’ means that answers should refer to different theoretical perspectives and/or research findings and their implications.

  • Broadly speaking, increasing diversity is welcomed by feminists and postmodernists, but seen as a problem by the New Right.

  • Good answers will consider the view that while there may be greater diversity, the conventional nuclear family remains an important part of most people’s life course.

Topic 6 Roles and power within families

To what extent and in what ways have roles within families, domestic labour and power relationships changed?

1 A symmetrical family is one in which the traditional gender roles within a marriage have changed so that both the husband and wife have similar roles, both doing paid work and sharing housework and childcare.

2 The term ‘double burden’ refers to the situation of women who are doing paid work as well as carrying out the traditional female role within the family of housework, childcare and emotional support.

3 One way in which grandparents can be important in families today is that they may provide practical and emotional support to their children, for example helping with caring for grandchildren.

A second way is that the burden of caring for them as they age may fall on their adult children, who may also be raising children of their own.



4 One problem is the definition and operationalisation of ‘domestic division of labour’, for example what tasks are included (questions could unintentionally miss out tasks).

A second problem is that the husband and wife might give different and incompatible accounts of the amount of domestic labour they do, basing their accounts on their perceptions rather than an accurate record.



5 One reason why victims of domestic violence may be reluctant to report the crime is that they fear further violence.

A second reason is that they may also doubt that reporting the crime will result in any action ending or reducing the abuse.

Finally, they may not wish any punishment to be given to the offender, either because they still believe their relationship can be saved or because they believe this would not be in the best interests of children.

Exam-style short essay questions


01 14 marks for AO1, 10 for AO2

Suggested answer:

The traditional view of the role of fathers was as head of the family and breadwinner. In functionalist accounts of the family, the father takes the instrumental role, supporting the family by earning a wage while the mother takes the expressive role, caring and nurturing and taking main responsibility for the home and childcare. The father was thus often away from home, and his main role with the children would be as the source of discipline. Norms and values enforced these roles until the mid-twentieth century; men who did ‘women’s work’ (for example, pushing a pram or changing nappies) risked being stigmatised by other men and even thought of as effeminate.

The position of men in society has changed, with more women working, including in traditionally male areas, and with more men unable to be the breadwinner in times of high unemployment. The rise of feminism led to the male role being questioned; women can now support families alone, and divorce laws have been used mainly by women to divorce their husbands rather than the other way around. Sociologists also drew attention to the extent of violence and abuse within families (usually by men against their wife and children) and to how the gender division of labour limited women’s opportunities. Taken together, these have led to what has been called a ‘crisis of masculinity’. As men’s role in society has changed, so has the role of fathers.

Research has shown that men now spend more time with their children than before, though the mother is often also present and the pressures to work long hours (to earn the money needed to raise children these days) works against this. More fathers play an active part in the emotional side of child rearing; there is perhaps a reaction against the more limited traditional view of fatherhood. Norms and values have changed to the extent that fathers are now expected to be involved with children more than before but still to be the main provider — perhaps taking on a ‘double burden’ in a similar way to many women. ‘New man’ was a popular idea in the media in the 1980s and 1990s; he was supposedly anti-sexist, sensitive and fully involved in bringing up his children (David Beckham was often suggested as an example). Many men and women approve of this idea but many couples find it hard to put into practice. Interactionists and postmodernists would suggest that increasingly fathers, with their partners and children, negotiate and create for themselves their identities as fathers, rather than fitting into a predetermined role.

02 10 marks for AO1, 14 for AO2

Points that could be made in an answer to this question include:



  • The instrumental and expressive roles in functionalist accounts of the family.

  • Joint and separate conjugal roles.

  • Aspects of equality could include housework and the domestic division of labour, childcare, power and decision making within the family.

  • The symmetrical family.

  • The concept of the ‘new man’ and accounts of the changing nature of motherhood and fatherhood and of the ‘rise of the couple’ (Giddens).

  • Research findings relating to tasks undertaken by gender, decision making and so on.

  • Feminist accounts of inequality within families.

  • The role of social policies in encouraging and preventing greater equality.

Topic 7 The nature of childhood

What is the nature of childhood, and what changes have there been in the status of children in families and in society?

1 The term ‘age patriarchy’ refers to the power of the male within the family, drawing attention to how it is not just women but also children who are subject to this.

2 One piece of evidence that supports the view that childhood is socially constructed is that the meaning of childhood varies over time; for example, in Europe in the Middle Ages children were expected to work from about the age of seven rather than child labour being seen as wrong, as it is today.

A second piece of evidence is the variation in childhood between different societies today, for example adulthood may be achieved at a significantly younger age than 18 as in Britain today.



3 Note: this is not an exam-style question.

Ariès meant that childhood, as we understand the term today, did not exist then. After infancy, young people were treated as little adults — they dressed in adult clothes, worked and played alongside adults and were held responsible for their actions. There was no separate social sphere of childhood as we know it today.



4 One way in which the lives of children in pre-industrial society were different from those of children in the UK today is that children were expected to work from a very early age, for example helping on a family farm or being an apprentice.

A second way is that there was little school education, which meant that children mixed socially with people of different ages rather than spending a lot of time with children of the same age.

A third way is that entertainment and leisure activities were shared by all age groups rather than there being entertainment aimed at children specifically.

5 One social policy that has affected the status of children is that children are now entitled to have a say in decisions affecting their future, for example custody in divorce cases.

A second policy is the fixing of the school-leaving age; raising this has had the effect of making childhood last longer as those affected cannot earn a wage and become economically independent.

A third way is laws restricting what children can and cannot do at certain ages; for example, the age at which children can buy certain products or join organisations.

6 Note: this is not an exam-style question.

Points that could be made in an answer to this question include:



  • Access of children to experiences associated with adulthood (e.g. images of death).

  • Role of the media and of new media in this — difficulties in restricting children’s access to adult materials, wider availability of pornography and other previously restricted content.

  • Adults and children sharing more interests and consumer products (e.g. the universal appeal of Harry Potter).

  • Sexualisation of childhood through children’s clothing more appropriate for adults etc.

  • How the rights and responsibilities of children have changed in recent years in ways that make them more like those of adults.

  • Good answers may challenge the view in the question and may argue that children’s lives have not become more like those of adults, for example by pointing out the importance of schooling, that children do not have same rights as adults (e.g. cannot vote), the existence of special products, such as food, for children and so on.

Exam-style short essay questions


01 14 marks for AO1, 10 for AO2

Points that could be made in an answer to this question include:



  • Good answers will examine both cross-cultural and historical differences to a similar extent.

  • Cross-cultural comparisons will probably involve comparing childhood in the UK today with, for example, childhood in tribal societies.

  • Historical comparisons will probably involve comparing childhood in the UK today with the medieval period (as this is covered in many textbooks) but might also involve, for example, the Victorian period (child labour for working classes, introduction of compulsory education, children to be ‘seen and not heard’ etc.)

  • The UK today is likely to be considered a child-centred society with children’s rights well protected and a separate world of childhood but with an unclear division between childhood and adulthood.

  • Issues covered could include rights and responsibilities, age of and marking of transition to adulthood (rites of passages), paid work, education, use of leisure/play time, differences between experiences of male and female children, differences in experience by social class.

02 10 marks for AO1, 14 for AO2

Points that could be made in an answer to this question include:



  • Legislation and policies affecting children (e.g. Children Act 2004, Every Child Matters policy, United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child [UNCRC]).

  • Rights and responsibilities of children.

  • Protection of children from violence and abuse (e.g. Childline — greater recognition of abuse).

  • Changes in the ages at which children are able to do certain things.

  • Children in poverty and limitations on some children’s life chances.

  • Differences in the position of male and female children and in social class.

  • As the question does not specify a time frame, comparisons may be made with any period in the past so answers could include, for example, changes in ideas about the criminal responsibility of children, child labour, a child’s right to education.

Topic 8 Demography

What have been the main demographic trends in the UK since 1900, and why have birth rates, death rates and family size changed?

1 The dependency ratio refers to the proportion in a population of those who are economically active and those who are not, such as children and retired people.

2 The pivot generation is the age group that is at the same time responsible for or caring for both the generation younger than them and the generation older than them.

3 One reason for the fall in the infant mortality rate was improvements in water supplies and the disposal of sewage and waste, which had led to high rates of disease.

A second reason was improvements in healthcare, with more effective treatments more easily available.

A third reason was general improvement in living standards, with higher wages, better heated homes with less damp, and better nutrition.

4 One reason why the fertility rate has fallen is that contraception has become more widely available, with the contraceptive pill giving women control over their fertility and the ability to choose how many children to have.

A second reason is that women are on average having their first child at a later age, often after working for more years than used to be the case, so that the period of their lives in which they have children is shorter.

A third reason is that the infant and child mortality rates have fallen dramatically, so that women can be fairly certain that their children will survive into adulthood.

5 Note: this is not an exam-style question.

Points that could be made in an answer to this question include:



  • Migration is usually done byworking-age adults, who will be economically active and pay taxes, which will in part be used to support the dependent population.

  • However, these immigrant adults will be of child-bearing age, and often immigrant groups have higher fertility rates than the native population, so the immigrants’ children add to the dependent population.

  • Some emigration from the UK in recent years has been of retired people (to Spain, for example), where the cost of healthcare etc. may be borne by the host country.

  • In a situation of an ageing population, there will be a growing dependent population and immigration may be the only way of redressing the imbalance.

  • Very good answers might also consider the effects of immigration into the UK on countries of origin, for example the emigration of young adults leading to high proportions of elderly people and children.

Exam-style short essay questions


01 14 marks for AO1, 10 for AO2

Points that could be made in an answer to this question include:



  • The demographic changes most likely to be considered are: lower death rate, falling infant and child mortality rates, lower birth rate and fertility rate, higher life expectancy, the changing shape of the population (moving towards an ageing population) and migration.

  • For each of the above changes a range of reasons needs to be examined.

  • Lower death rates: reasons include improvements in hygiene and sanitation, running water to houses, improved housing, better nutrition, improved healthcare, elimination/reduction of some once-common diseases through inoculations, better education about healthy lifestyles.

  • Lower birth rates: reasons include availability of better contraception, especially the female contraceptive pill, changes in women’s lives and expectations, influence of feminism, reduced child mortality meaning that children are more likely to survive into adulthood to support ageing parents, welfare state and pensions, later age of first marriage and first child meaning fewer children per woman.

  • Migration: immigration of working-age adults to take up paid work, 1950s full employment so recruitment of workers from Commonwealth, more recently, immigration from an expanded EU, patterns of settlement, higher birth rate (at least initially) among immigrant groups.

02 10 marks for AO1, 14 for AO2

Points that could be made in an answer to this question include:



  • Answers need to cover a range of demographic changes; these are likely to include lower death rate, falling infant and child mortality rates, lower birth rate and fertility rate, higher life expectancy, the changing shape of the population (moving towards an ageing population) and migration.

  • Ways in which these have affected families include more generations alive at the same time, people having fewer brothers and sisters and smaller extended families, empty-nest families, role of grandparents, increase in numbers of older people (e.g. elderly people coping and living alone).

  • Concepts that could be used include the beanpole family, pivot generation, diversity of family types and of roles and relationships within families.

AQA AS Sociology Unit 1 Families and Households

Philip Allan, an imprint of Hodder Education © Jonathan Blundell




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