The family issues can always attract public attention, because it is so close to people’s life. As Kephart claimed that the family is one of the older social institutions which could be found in almost all societies (1961:3). This report will argue that the family turned into diversity as a result of the varied demands of individual while the alterations of household could affect society in social services, government policy and social safety. There is no denying that the development of society could also influence the family lifestyle. Initially, this report will look at the history of the family. Secondly, this report will introduce the changing nature of the family and the situation of several types of household( cohabitation, lone-parent families, homosexual families ) that have appeared recently. Specifically, what family means to society will be illustrated—-family is not an abstract word, but a basic part for society. Finally, this report will analyse the role of the family has played in society and the impact of changes on British society.
Generally, family is categorized as two basic models: nuclear family and extended family. Nuclear family includes parents and their children while extended family is a family group with a close relationship among the members that includes parents, children and relatives (Oxford , 2005). As Eversley and Bonnerjea (1982:75) said, “Victorian family (between 1830 and 1870) has played an important role in the development about the modern family: whatever forms the contemporary family takes, it is usually considered as a deviation from this supposed former norm”, in other words, the Victorian family is the earliest ancestor for families of British society. Until the 1980s, it was popular within sociology to talk about the “family cycle”. Inherent in this notion was the idea that people typically followed a similar family pathway (Allan and Crow, 2001:2). In contemporary society, families have changed from formation and conditions over time. The average household size fell from 2.9 persons per household in 1971 to 2.4 in 2006 (ONS Focus on Families, 2007). Nowadays, there is no typical example of families, such as single-parent families, cohabiting, step-families, and so on (Harding, 1996). Actually, family could provides a wide range of functions which include socialization, social placement, material and emotional security, child rearing and economic cooperation (Morris and Winter, 1978:46 ; Allan and Crow, 2001:19-20). Families determine the outcomes for children, adults, community and society. Such as in the family, parents bring up children, give them encouragement with love and a good relationship between family members could contribute harmonious development on the community and society as well (Cabinet Office Families in Britain, 2008). So that family could be seen as valuable to the society and to individual.
3. Current Situation
A recent survey showed that 80 percent of people really think that family is more important to them than their friends in British society (Ipsos MORI Real Trends, 2008). As an institution, family is altering continually. Since 1971, the proportion of all people living in “traditional” family households of married couples with dependent children has fallen from 52% to 37% in Britain (BBC, 2007). Today, people usually get later marriage, the one possible factor of this situation might be women paying more attention to their career. It is a common phenomenon to live together without marrying. The number of cohabiting couple families increased from 1.4 million to 2.3 million between 1996 and 2006 (ONS Focus on Family, 2007). More and more children are born outside of marriage, especially occurred among cohabiting couples’ families. A recent survey showed that the rate of births outside marriage has risen from about 10% in 1971 to over 40% in 2006 (ONS Population Trends No.132, 2008). Meanwhile, married couples also have some problems. According to a statistics, there is a increased number of divorces – around 26 thousand in 1950 to over 155 thousand in 2005. Compared with many other developed countries, Britain keep the higher rate in divorce until 2005 (ONS Marriage Stats 2006 (Provisional), 2008).
4. Analyse the Effect
The family could be claimed as an economic and social institution (Jagger and Wright, 1999:3). No matter which form the family is, it seems that family could influence the society both in positive and negative aspect whilst be impacted by social environment.
4.1 Major institution in society
In order to support the family, people have to hunt for a job. Individual plays essential role in different working areas, such as the large number of workers are employed in the services sector, a minority in industry and a little proportion in agriculture (Oakland , 2006:170). Those people create necessity for public need and make income for their family, thus there is a situation that the family workers fulfill the social demands while create wealth. Meanwhile, the family could be impacted by the external environment. For instance, financial crisis hit British families since 2008. According to research, the conflict between parents occurred frequently due to them worrying about the economic risk, therefore, a number of children suffered a hard period during the financial crisis (Hawthorne et al, 2003). Furthermore, families contribute children’s growth. The new generation is the force of the society continually developing. In order to make sure the better outcome for children, parents have to balance children’s state of being fully developed while make the children being a part of family and society by providing love, encouragement and guidance (Bornstein and Bornstein, 2007).
In contemporary society, public attitudes of sexual relationships have moved forward, thus cohabitation has been accepted by a majority of people (Allan and Crow, 2001:64). Review the recent two decades, the number of people who cohabit has rapidly raised (Oakland , 2006:190). When the divorce were difficult to achieve, people likely choose cohabitation (Kiernan, 2002:3). There are several factors enable adults to cohabit, one of the factors is decreasing the living cost. Men and women live together and share the expenses of daily necessities. Moreover, living together lead to learn more about each other. It is an opportunity to test whether the person suit to the other party (Allan and Crow, 2001:67-68). In turn, there is not any data (no data) shows that cohabitation could be helpful to marriage living, meanwhile, some statistics prove that if some people married after cohabiting, they had higher rate to divorce (Popenoe and Whitehead, ?:2 [reference: should we live together]). People in cohabitation families maintain the relationship rely on
4.3 Lone-parent families
The proportion of children living in lone-parent families
in Great Britain more than tripled between 1972 and
spring 2006 to 24 per cent(11 _04_07_social_trends)
Children living with single parents may be at higher risk of experiencing physical and sexual abuse and neglect than children living with two biological parents. Single parent households are substantially more likely to have incomes below the poverty line. Lower income, the increased stress associated with the sole burden of family responsibilities, and fewer supports are thought to contribute to the risk of single parents maltreating their children. In 1998, 23 percent of children lived in households with a single mother, and 4 percent lived in households with a single father. A strong, positive relationship between the child and the father, whether he resides in the home or not, contributes to the child’s development and may lessen the risk of abuse. In addition, studies have found that compared to similar non-neglecting families, neglectful families tend to have more children or greater numbers of people living in the household. Chronically neglecting families often are characterized by a chaotic household with changing constellations of adult and child figures (e.g., a mother and her children who live on and off with various others, such as the mother’s mother, the mother’s sister, or a boyfriend).
4.4 Homosexual families
As a result of what have mentioned, the government is considered that should establish reasonable policy for different type families. Trying to improve the marriage rate, create employment opportunities for lone parent, pay more attention to the mental health of single-parent children and provide help for them. Ensuring each kind of families getting equal rights include homosexual families. Honestly, family is the fundamental part of the society, making each unit running normally is one possible way to boost the development of society.
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In summary, under several period changing, the family developed into many forms, it all depends on individual needs, so that the changing to the family is an inevitable phenomenon. For the society, its development rely on each family’s growing, such as changes to household required a development of services, domestic variety created new demands on government policy, and some of the new type families led to social crisis. Meantime, it could be found that the social environment influenced family lifestyle. Therefore, a interaction between families and society could be discovered.
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