Category Archives: Family

Proactive Women and Individualised Men? Gender Differences in Mid-Life Solo-Living


The long term increase in Single Person Households in well documented – as in the infographic below.

Single Person Households UK

As is the fact that older people are more likely to live alone that younger people.

Single Person Households by age UK

As can be seen from the above chart, most of the increase in solo-living has come from middle aged people (45-64 year olds) and a recent longitudinal study: The Demographics of Living Alone in Midlife explores this in more depth:

The headline news (see the chart below, unfortunately going back to  2007) was that

  • At ages 35-49 there are approximately twice as many men living alone as women  – On average about 13% of men live alone compared to about 7% of women in these age categories.
  • At ages 50-54 the numbers of men and women living alone are approximately equal.
  • From age 55 and upwards the numbers of women living alone outnumber men and ratio gets larger as the population ages.

Percent Living Alone age and sex

To break this down into more detail….

  • The percentage of both men and women living alone has increased in all age categories.
  • For ages 35-39 approximately 15% of men live alone, compared to 6% of women.
  • For ages 40-49 approximately 12% of men live alone compared to 6% of women.
  • For the age categories 35-39, 40-44 and 45-49 the proportions of men living alone approximately doubled between 1984 and 2007 and in all of these aged categories there are twice as many men living alone as compared to women.
  • For the same age categories for women, the number of 35-39 year olds trebled over this period, and for women in their 40s, the the number living alone doubled between 1984 and 1997 and then stabilised from 1997 to 2007.
  • For the age category 50-54 roughly similar proportions of men and women live alone, with men rapidly catching up with women.
  • For people aged 55 and over, there are more women than men living alone and numbers have increased at similar levels.

This research also takes a more in-depth and comparative look at the social characteristics of middle-aged men and women who live alone – which reveals some of the possible reasons for the increasing numbers of men and women living alone.

Firstly – women who live alone are much more likely to be educated than men:

males females living alone education

Women living alone aged 35-64 are much more likely to have degrees – 38% of women living alone have degrees compared to 25% of men.

Men living alone aged 35-64 are twice as likely to have no qualifications – 15% of women have no qualifications compared to 27% of men living alone.

Given that men and women tend to couple up with people of similar (ish) ages (actually women on average go for men 6 years older, but that’s fairly similar) and people of at least similar class backgrounds  and levels of educational achievement  – the overall increase in people living alone across both sexes could be down to 20 years of women outperforming men in education resulting in a much higher proportion of educated women compared to men.

So possibly, we’re now living in a society in which millions of educated women aged 34-49 are living alone because they don’t want to settle for an uneducated male partner.

The converse of this is that we’ve also got millions of uneducated men aged 34-49 who are living alone, not out of choice, but because their more educated female peers don’t see them as a viable prospect.

Thirdly (I’m sure there are two reasons above!?) – If we look at the situation of people living alone in relation to children, we find that the increase in men living alone is probably mostly down to two combined factors – the long term increase in divorce and the fact that children (where they exist) are more likely to go and reside with the mother than the father…

families - children

As the table above shows us, for 35-64 year olds, an average of 15% of men living alone have at least one dependent child compared to only 2% of women, reflecting the fact that hardly any women with dependent children live apart from them.

To conclude on some Social Theory, one might tentatively say that the above research supports Giddens’ idea that increased gender equality has led to women being less prepared to settle for shallow relationships, as there is evidence of more (educated) women choosing to live alone rather than settling for any old relationship.

However, where men are concerned, perhaps Beck’s individualisation Thesis applies more – they appear to have less choice than women about whether they live alone or not – middle aged male solo-livers seem to be the ones being left on the shelf altogether or abandoned by their partners and children after a failed relationship.

Of course the above is hypothetical, you’d need to do some qualitative research with middle aged men and women to uncover the extent to which they’ve ‘chosen their solo lives.

Explaining the Rise of Solo Living

This post aims to provide a mini review of a recent book by Eric Klinenberg on the rise of single person households. It is relevant to the AS Sociology families and households increasing family diversity topic.

Increasing numbers of people are living on their own in the UK.

increase solo living UK

This trend is, in fact, mirrored globally as shown by this somewhat bewildering infographic from Euromonitor 

increase single person households
This is an extremely important social trend which presents a fundamental challenge to the centrality of the family to modern society. In the USA, the average adult will now spend more of their life unmarried than married, and single person households are one of the most common types of household. We have entered a period in social history where, for the first time, single people make up a significant proportion of the population.

There is often a tendency to see people living on their own as sad, lonely people who have ended up that way because of unfortunate circumstances – such as never having met ‘Mr Right’ and being desperate to do so (as in the ‘Bridget Jones’ character), or having gone through a relationship breakdown.

However, according to relatively new research from America, such stereotypes are not correct.

goingsolo2-385x584Eric Klinenberg spent seven years interviewing 300 single Americans who lived alone, and the general picture he got was that these people were exactly where they wanted to be – living on their own was not a transitory phase, it was a genuine life choice. On the whole, living alone is seen as a mark of social distinction, living as part of a couple is for losers.

While single by choice is very much on the up among younger people who have never settled down into a long term cohabitating relationships and have no intention of doing so, it is also the norm among older people who have come out of relationships. Where older people living alone are concerned, and these are mostly women, they are not all chasing the dwindling population of men in their age group (given the higher life expectancy for women). Most of them are in fact wary of getting involved in relationships because doing so will probably mean becoming someone’s carer (again), and similarly they are skeptical about moving back in with their children (and possibly their grand children too) because of fear that they will become an unpaid domestic and child-sitting slave.

NB, as a counter to the above, not all singles are happy about it, however. One such group consists of mainly men on low wages who are unmarriageable and live in ‘single room occupancy facilities’ often suffering from various addictions and who practice ‘defensive individualism’ in order to cope with their bleak situation.

So how do we account for this increasing in single person households?

Klinenberg provides four reasons…

Firstly the wealth generated by economic growth and the social security provided by the modern welfare state – Klinenberg’s basic thesis is that the rise of single living is basically just a reflection of increasing wealth. When we can afford to live alone, more of us choose to do so. We especially see this where Scandinavia is concerned, and nearly half of the adult population live alone.

Secondly, the communications revolution – For those who want to live alone, the internet allows us to stay connected. An important part of Klienenberg’s thesis is that just because we are increasingly living alone, this doesn’t mean that we are becoming a ‘society of loners’.

Thirdly, mass urbanization – Klinenberg suggests that Subcultures thrive in cities, which tend to attract nonconformists who are able to find others like themselves in the dense variety of urban life. In short, it’s easier to connect with other singles where people live closer together.

Fourthly, increased longevity – because people are living longer than ever and because women often outlive their spouses by decades rather than years — aging alone has become an increasingly common experience.

Personally, I’d like to tag on a fifth…. There’s an obvious link between the increasing divorce rate and the number of Single Person Households – When people get burnt in relationships, many of them are unwilling to go back, as with the older women mentioned above.

Brief Analysis – the differential trend in solo living in the UK.

According to the info below, money seems to have an impact on the trend in solo living – the increasing trend has been driven over the last decade by older people, who can afford to live alone, while the number of 16-44 year olds going solo has actually decreased…. It looks like this trend is set to falter, and possibly mainly due to economic reasons!

Single Person Households by age UK


How can you use this information?

Firstly, it’s directly relevant to the ‘reasons for the increase in single person households’ topic (obviously), part of the AS Sociology families and households diversity in family life aspect of the course.

Secondly, you could also use it to criticise The Functionalist Perspective on the importance of the nuclear family – the rise of single living is hardly resulting in social collapse!

Thirdly, it’s a nice example of how in-depth qualitative data generated from interviews can challenge media stereotypes about singledome, and add some flesh onto some dry statistics.

Related Posts

Not quite adults – why do so many twenty somethings live with their parents?

Explaining the decline in marriage, via sociological perspectives and Plotagon

You may remember a great piece of software called Xtranormal that allowed you produce videos like this….


Unfortunately Xtranormal’s been offline for over a year now. In the meantime I’ve been digging around for alternatives – one of which is Plotagon, available on the iPad. It doesn’t have quite the functionality of Xtranormal, but it does the job. Below is a brief video on the decline of marriage….


What I like about the Software….

  • Firstly, limited options mean it’s relatively easy to get the hang of.
  • It’s very easy to publish and share.
  • You get a decent selection of settings and characters for free.


What I don’t like about the software

  • It’s only available on the iPad.
  • The above means it’s difficult to pre-script in word and cut and paste because you need to keep switching back and forwards between apps.
  • It’s quite ‘clunky’ to use – especially when editing – with several second pauses between touching a part of the script and the key pad popping up, although this might just be my ancient iPad 2
  • You can’t change the camera angles like you could with Xtranormal
  • The characters are (at the moment) a little bland – I really liked the bears (especially the stripey one) from Xtranormal

Still, all in all, not bad for free!


How to Revise AS Sociology Efficiently – Focusing on Marriage and Divorce

Riveting title I know, but then again it is ‘revision season’. Basically I’m trying to get the point across that there are 5 stages to effective revision (none of which have got anything to do with ‘learning styles':

1. Know what you need to know!
2. Get your hands on/ make some revision notes – effective teachers would have already got students to do this during the year. Students who haven’t already got these before revision season stand a much higher chance of failing the exam. This is good – this is meritocracy.
3. Refine your notes into mind maps – these are the most effective and efficient way of memorising material
4. Practice short answer questions
5. Practice longer essay questions – planning is more efficient than writing.

More details on all of the above in the Screencast.

NB – A secondary point of this Screencast is to demonstrate what you can do with some software called ‘Explain Everything’ which I’ve been playing around with the last couple of days. It’s great software – you can basically drag any kind of document you want into a ‘slide’ and then point at things, move things around, scribble over things, all while doing a voice over – I ended up with this Screencast. It’s not perfect, and the topic’s awfully dull (but at least timely!) but it does demonstrate what you can do with the software.




Three Score Years and Twenty – An Analysis of the Ageing UK Population.

I just listened to this useful Radio 4 Analysis podcast – Three Score Years and Twenty on Ageing Britain. It’s of clear relevance to the demography topic within the SCLY1 families and households module….

Here are some of the main points.

In 1850,half the population in England were dead before they reached 46. Now half the population in England are alive at 85; and 8 million people currently alive in the UK will make it to 100 years or more. And if we extrapolate that to Europe, we can say 127 million Europeans are going to live to 100.

Hans Rosling points out that: We reached the turning point five years ago when the number of children stopped growing in the world. We have 2 billion children. They will not increase. The increase of the world population from now on will be a fill up of adults.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt: The two biggest issues that we face as an ageing society are the sustainability of the NHS and the sustainability of the pension system; and within the NHS, I include the social care system as part of that.

The basic problem we have in Northern European countries is the generational tension between individualism and communal responsibility – Across the generations within a typical family we have become more individualistic and less collective/ communal:

People in their 80s (who grew up in the 1960s) are generally very individualistic – they have retired into property wealth and are unwilling to relinquish the independence this gives them. They have also socialised their children into being more independent: most people today in their 50s (the children of those who are in their 80s) have bought into this – The family norm is one of the typical 50 year old living an independent life with their family, miles away from their own parents. Grandparents today of course help out with childcare occassionaly and pay regular visits, but they are generally not taking a day to day role in childcare, and finances are kept seperate.  This arrangement is mutual – People in their 80s don’t want to be burdens on their children, they want them to have the freedom to live their own lives – to be able to work and raise their children without having to care for them in their old age. (So I suppose you might call the 2000s the era of the individualised family).

(This is very different to what it used to be like in the UK, and what it is still like in many other parts of the world where grandparents live close by and are an integral part of family life, taking an active role in raising their grandchildren on a day to day basis. Various interviewees from less developed countries testify to this, and to the advantages of it.)

Within this context of increasing ‘familial-individualism’ a number of problems of the ageing population are discussed:

Firstly, one of the main problem which this increasing ‘familial-individualism’ creates for people in their 80s is one of increasing isolation and lonileness as their friends and neighbours move away or die.

One proposed solution is for older people to be prepared to move into communal supported housing where there are shared leisure facilities, like many people do in Florida. However, people are quite set in their ways in the UK and so this is unlikely. A second solution, which some immigrants are choosing is to return to thier country of origin where there are more collectivist values, trading in a relatively wealthy life in the UK for less money and more community abroad.

A second problem is that healthy life expectancy is not keeping pace with life-expectancy, and there are increasing numbers of people in their 80s who spend several years with chronic physical conditions such as arthritis, and also dementia – which require intensive social care. As with the above, this is more of a social problem when children do not see it as their duty to care for their elderly parents – It is extremely expensive to provide round the clock care for chronic conditions for several years, and this puts a strain on the NHS. Basically, the welfare state cannot cope with both pensions and chronic care.

On potential solution to the above is mentioned by Sally GREENGROSS: The Germans in some cases now export older people to Eastern European countries because they can’t afford – or they say they can’t – to provide all the services they need in Germany itself. Could this be the future of chronic elderly care in the UK – Exporting demntia patients to poorer countries?

However, the idea of care-homes themselves are not dismissed when it comes to end of life care – the consensus seems to be that the quality of care in UK elderly care homes is generally very good, and better than your typicaly family could provide (depsite all the not so useful scare programmes in the media).

A third problem is for those in their 50s – with their parents still alive and ‘sucking money out of the welfare state’ there is less left for everything else – and this has been passed down to the youngest generation – As a result people in their 50s now face the prospect of their own children living at home for much longer and having to help them with tuition fees and mortgage financing, meaning that their own plans for retirement in their late-50s/ early 60s are looking less likely – In other words, the next two generations are bearing a disproportionate cost of the current ageing population.

Worringly, there is relatively little being done about this in government circles – Yes, the state pension age has been raised, and measures have been taken to get people to bolster their own private pensions, but this might be too little to late, and it looks like little else is likely to be done – The issue of the ageing population and the cost of welfare for the elderly is not a vote-winner after all.

The programme concludes by pointing out that pensions and care homes are only part of the debate. What will also be needed to tackle the problems of the ageing population is a more age-integrated society, a possible renogiation at the level of the family so that granparents are more integrated on a day to day basis in family life (trading of child care for a level of elderly care) and also social level changes – to make work places and public places more accessible for the elderly who might be less physically able than those younger than them.

Here’s the full transcript of the show -analysis-ageing


Increasing Life Expectancy – It’s far from certain!

According to this eye-catching infographic from the Office for National Statistics  1/3rd of babies born in 2013 are expected to reach 100 years of age, meaning that there will be well over 100,000 centanarians alive in the UK in 2113, which is more than 6 times the estimated 14000 alive today.

According to this scenario, the expected averarage national life-expectancy is projected to be 90.7 for men and 94.0 for women, a ten year increase compared to current (2010-12) life exptencies which are 81.7 and 82.7 years respectively.

The government has used these data (unsurprising giving that this is the ONS) to justify the rising of the state pension age, given that according to these projections people will, on average spend a third of their life in receipt of a state pension, as evidenced below (full document here)


However, this future is far from certain, and such an increase depends on a number of underlying social developments taking place – such as a reduction in the number of people smoking, an increase in medical interventions to prevent deaths from heart disease, stroke and cancer, and healthier diets and lifestyles. It is also the case that a number of other factors may serve to reduce future life-expectancy – such as the increasing cost of living in real terms driving up the number of people in poverty and the increase in inequality causing more status anxiety.

In fact if you read down the infographic, this lack of certainty is recognised as the initial figures are only the ‘principal projections’ but the low and high estimates for the number of babies born today likely to reach 100 varies from as low as 16K to as high as 259K for men and as low as 31K and as high as 271K for women.

To my mind, the real story in this data is actually the very high level of uncertainty surrounding projections in the ageing population, and the difficulties society faces planning for the future in the light of such uncertainties.

It’s unfortunate that the infographic or the government fail to highlight this, but instead focuses on the principal data in order to tell a story that might (but only might) happen.

Then again, I guess this particular manifestation of uncertainty doesn’t suit the present government’s ideological war against the public sector, whereas the message that we are all living longer serves as a plausible justification for raising the pension age and reducing the overall public sector commitment to ‘caring’ for people in their old age. It is also, of course, another effective means of punishing the poor, because the poorer you are then the earlier you die.

Related posts

This is a nice series of infographics from the ONS focussing on current (2010-12 figures Life Expectancy among people aged 65+, looking at such things as the very signficant gender divide that persists into the 80 and 90 years age brackets.

The rise of the yummy mummies, and why you shouldn’t tolerate them

The rise of the ‘yummy mummy': popular conservativism and the neoliberal maternal in contemporary British culture

Jo Littler

This is a brief post summarising (much of it paraphrased) the above article,  which analyses the rise of the ‘yummy mummy’ – I’m not a huge fan of cultural studies, but I like this…. It’s helped me understand why I’m so intolerant of them, and why I’m right to be.

What is the yummy mummy?

In short, she is a white, thirty something in a position of privilege, shoring up the boundaries against the other side of the social divide (so-called ‘pramfaces’).

The yummy mummy, as constructed through autobiographical celebrity guidebooks and ‘henlit’ novels espouses a girlish, high consuming maternal ideal as a site of hyper-individualised pyschological ‘maturity’. ‘Successful’ maternal femininity in this context is often articulated by rejecting ‘environmentally-conscious’ behaviour – disavows wider structures of social political and ecological dependency in order for its conservative fantasy of autonomous, individualising retreatism to be maintained.

Whilst the characteristics of the yummy mummy might appear as changeable as her clothing, most often the term is used to symbolise a type of mother who is sexually attractive and well groomed, and who knows the importance of spending time on herself. She is, according to Liz Fraser’s book ‘The Yummy Mummy’s Survival Guide’ (2006) ‘the ultimate modern woman: someone who does not identify with the traditional, dowdy image of motherhood… who knows her Gap from her Gucci’.

There are various blogs and websites maintained by women ready to embrace the term, and is frequently used to describe glamourous celebrity mothers – books by Myleen Klass and Melanie Sykes are two well known examples in the UK.

Yummy mummys tend to think of themselves as exemplary successful individuals who are making the most of their lives and through their high-consumption lifestyles they demonstrate to the rest of us that it is possible to ‘have it all’ – the children, the job and the looks. Truly, they are (in their heads) the ultimate modern women.

However, just as with the yuppie, or the new man, the emergence of the yummy mummy can also be read as indivative of an underlying social crisis, in which case her emergence can tell us about how ideas of feminity and parenting are changing and about the times in which we are living….


Most obviously the yummy mummy positions the mother as a sexually desirable being. This is a substantial cultural shift – previously, mothers had been perceived as asexual.

For generations, patriarchal norms had typically constructed women as either Madonnas or Whores – either asexual Sacred Virgins or sexual beings deserving of brutalisation (hence witches being burnt at the stake) – It was precisely this myth of the asexual female which second wave Feminists such as Germaine Greer, Ann Oakly and Kate Millet criticised, (although little was said by any of them about the constructued asexuality of mothers in paprticular).

A brief history of motherhood in western cultures looks something life this (from Woodward 1997)

  • The 1950s domestic goddess – groomed yet chaste
  • The 1970s oppressed housewife – made-up and miserable
  • The 1980s working mother – powerful and besuited

Given this history, the yummy mummy’s positioing as desirable and sexually active might be regarded as emancipatory because now mothers themselves are encouraged to look hot, however, there are other ways of intererepting the yummy mummy – as outlined below…

A) As expressing a very limited (traditional) femininity and sexuality

Littler points to three limitations with the yummy mummy’s sexuality

Firstly, certain aspects of performance come to be expected – mothers are not just allowed to express their sexuality but are expected to express a particular kind of sexuality. Treatments like facials, for example, are now advised as necessary and routine. As minor UK celebrity (I love this description) Melanie Sykes tells us….

‘Being a gorgeous mum just takes a bit of imagination and more planning than it did before, but you  really have no exuse for sinking into frumption and blaming it on parenthood’

It is harder to imagine a clearer expression that this of how the onus, no matter the extent of resources or income, is on a self-governing subject to regulate herself. Such urgings are part of a wider canvas of neoliberal responsibilising through self-fashioning. In this context the yummy-mummy is an aspirational figure, with the specifics of how to become her outlined in various guidebooks suchaas The Fabulous Mum’s Handbook.

Second, sexuality is delimited because the preferred model of femininity is ultra-feminine – well-groomed, wearing fashionable clothes and being very slim. In other words, this is the extension of a fashion and beauty complext to the post-pregnant body.

Even the ‘slummy mummy’ still aspires to the yumm-mummy, the former being a Bridget-Jones type of mother – Still accepting the ideal, but endearing through her failure to live up to it. Both types (according to Mcrobbie) share in common a rejection of Feminism.

Third, the yummy mummy is more of a desired than a desiring object, although unlike with the pornoised MILF, there is something eerily infantile about the yummy mummy construction – part of the identity inolves a coming down to the level of the child and depoliticsing yourself, suggesting you are incapable of dealing with political issues, rather all you can do is consume.

(B) The yummy mummy as neoliberal agent (a social class based analysis)

In the UK there are generally two routes to motherhood, and there is now a signficant gulf between working class younger mothers who are demonised and middle class mothers in their 30s who are the ideal, and it is from this later type that the yummy mummy emerges.

The yummy-mummy is basically a high-consuming, stay at home mum drawn from the top 10% of society.  She does not think about the wider social context which affects all mothers, because she does not have to, and rather than doing politics she retreats from public life and and focuses on a very delimitted range of concerns – deciding what consumer-oriented activities her and her child should engage in. The message of the yummy mummy is clear – you have the power to solve your own problems, and the solution to these problems is conusme more – no need to get political.

The problem with this is that the very visiable yummy mummy construction ignores completely the wider structural context of motherhood and parenting….

This context is that neoliberal policies have reduced support for working mothers make it very hard for most mothers to stay at home for any length of time outside a year’s paid maternity leave – Working conditions remain very unflexible and radically unfriendly to families. On top of this there is still an expectation that the mother will be the ‘foundation parent’ (NB recent changes to paternity leave may help change this). This makes it very hard for parents (and especially women) to combine work and soical care in equitable and supportive fashion –

As a result the majority of mothers (say 90%) simply do not have the resources to be yummy mummys, only (say 10% do), and it is these 10% who get the air-time and get to publish books and tell the other 90% what they should be worrying about.

Thus in sociological terms the yummy mummy is a neoliberal agent whose function is to encourage individualisation and responsibilisation on the part of all mothers and to demonise mothers who are working class, in any way political and/ or do not subscribe to a tradtionally feminine (infantalised) sexuality.

C) – Finally, the yummy mummy is inherently anti-environmental

She is basically a pro-corporate consumer, and she has wider agency in encouraging and driving consumerism. In many contemporary novels, high end consumers are often contrasted against frugual-consumer mothers who are cast as freaks and social misfits.

It is not hard to see why the yummy-mummy is anti-environmental when you think that environmentalism is overtly political whereas the YM is high-consumption, individualistic and narcissistice.

In conclusion

This article has helped me understand my own high degree of irritation at yummy mummys and thier brats disturbing my peace and quiet in coffee shops around Reigate. Before reading this I was somewhat concerned that I should find this so annoying.

Now, however, I realise that I haven’t just been being irritated by the mums their brats, it must have been my unarticuclated subconscious telling me that these people are the shallow, selfish, narcissistic agents of neoliberalism.

In short, my peace in those coffee shops was being disturbed by the agents of everything that’s wrong with global politics, not to mention the reproduction of it at the level of the life-world.

Why does it cost so much to raise a child?

How much, on average, does it cost to raise a child?

It topped £225 000 in 2014, for the first 21 years of a child’s (/kidult’s) life, including university tuition fees. (No prizes for spotting the middle class bias in this analysis). The costs break down as follows:

  • £86 K – Childcare
  • £74K – Education (includes university fees)
  • £20K – Food
  • £17K – Holidays
  • £11K – Clothes
  • £10K – Hobbies
  • £7K – Leisure
  • £5K – Pocket Money

How does this compare historically?

To be honest, I spent several minutes digging around the net and couldn’t find anything specifically focussed on this relating to the UK, but I did find this infographic from the US…..

rising costs of kids USA

From my own experience in the UK, if I think back to my own childhood/ kidulthood (’73 -’94) the cost of raising moi would have been nowhere near £225K. The combined cost of childcare and education would have been precisely £0, I couldn’t comment on food, but the cost of everything else would have been about half of what it is in 2014. Then again I am proper working class roots, so I would have had below the average amount spent on me (and it never did me no harm!)

Why are parents spending more money on children today?

In this article Christopher Carr points out that we need to look at what exactly parents are spending more money on – He points out that relative expenditure on basic needs such as food and housing have decreased since the 1960s, and most of the increase is being spent on caring for children’s emotional and psychological needs – With the biggest areas of increased expenditure being on child care, education, and (in the US) health care, and to a lesser extent hobbies and leisure.

He interprets this as a positive trend – simply indicative of the average family being wealthier now than they were in the 1960s, able to invest money in their children’s well-being. He does, however, point out that poorer families still struggle to meet their children’s needs on low incomes and some of the health-care expenditure is being spent on managing new health problems amongst kids such as obesiety and range of emotional disorders, so this is good for most but certainly not for all.

Personally I don’t see this as a positive trend at all. This analysis misses out a number of underlying ‘structural’ changes which effect the cost of raising a child….

(1) Given that the largest expdenditure item is on childcare, the single most obvious trend which lies behind this is that today both parents work which means they have little option but to spend £86K on childcare.

(2) The changing nature of childhood – children grow up later, and parents increasingly think its normal to assist their children financially into their 20s, by paying for some of their children’s university tuition fees for example (of course the introduction of these fees is something which has itself raised the cost of raising a ‘child’).

Behind this second factor lie a number of other factors (which I’m not going into here) – Such as greater gender equality, social policies (or lack of them), rising norms of consumption, probably house-ownership, probably also the ageing population.

(3) Originally I thought this would be more signficant, but advertising to children and pester-power also contribute –  as parents feel the need to give into their children’s demands for unnecessary crap. However, given that the major expenditure areas are on childcare and education, and only a measly £30K on leisure etc., this only makes up a relatively small part of overall expenditure on children. However, for lower income families, this kind of figure will serve to ‘lock them in’ to the system for a couple more years at least.

(4) Finally, you might like to consider whether the colonisation of the lifeworld of today’s love-struck couples have anything to do with the rising costs of childcare – It could be that today’s 20 somethings have been socialised into a historically unusual high-consumption norm – so they spend a fortune on keeping their relationship going (holidays/ home-decor/ 2 cars/ shopping trips/ gifts/ days out) during their 20s, which pushes them into a situation where they have a relatively small deposit for their first house,  and so require a large mortgage, with the attendant massive interest payments over 25 years, and it is this in turn that causes number one above – both partners needing to work – in order to maintain this high-consumption lifestyle which they then go on to socialise their children into.

In Conclusion…

If you’re a parent reading this I suggest that you grow up yourself (in the spiritual sense of the word) and stop buying crap you don’t need. If you’re a child, ditto. Instead, try and find ways of being happy/ constructing an identity (if you must do this) which are not rooted in uncessary consumption, ultimately you’ll end up being much less shallow and much more interesting.

Finally – Here’s a nice alternative parenting style - which avoids spending shed loads of money on them. Or you could just not have kids, and save yourself £225K, not to mention the planet.

For richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until one of us decides that we should part

After a year’s break I’ve now got the time to start blogging again…. here goes…

Lots of useful ideas in this 30 minute Thinking Allowed podcast on Love, which focusses on the idea of lifelong love and its relationship to marriage…

Just a few of the key points made throughout the programme (NB this is from memory)…

While the feeling of being ‘in love’ might be the same in all socieities, our ideas and expectations surrounding this emotion, and especially its relationship to marriage are shaped by the society in which we live, so yes, even elements of love are socially constructed! To my mind the key point of the podcast is that we now have higher expectations of marriage than ever before in history – The norm today is to see marriage as primarily about love and passion, as a sort of constant high of mutual emotional fulfilment and not primarily about duty.

To illustrate this all we need do is go back a hundred years or so and look at Britain and France – Marriage was much more of a practical arrangement – It wasn’t based on choice, your family had much more of a say in who you got married to, it wasn’t based on finding a person you have a special emotional connection with,  it was based on financial necessity (for women especially) and carrying on the family name. Historically, in this context, people had very low expectations of marriage in terms of love – marriage was about duty, not about ‘passion’.

Today (obviously) most of us expect to have a choice over who we get married to, and the norm is that marriage is about an emotional-connection (love) at least as much as duty. The downside of this is that we expect more than ever of our marriage partners. The person we commit to as a life-long love partner is expected to be a superb lover, devoted parent, attentive counsellor… and there is an expectation that the passion is to be kept alive throughout the relationship. There is an incredible pressure put on ‘that one special person’ to meet the emotional needs of the other (and the children) in today’s marriages.

Of course these high expectations of marriage do not live up to the mundane-reality of married life, which goes some way towards explaining the high divorce rate (as well as the number of extra-marital affairs).

According to Giddens this is all just part and parcel of living in a late-modern society characterised by reflexivity and greater gender equality – Today the normal relationship is what Giddens calls a pure-relationship – a relationship which is ‘internally referential and therefore ‘exists solely for whatever rewards that relationship as such can deliver’ (Giddens, 1991). Unlike in the past, the point of a relationship is not something which roots us in our community, or embeds us into society, or connects us to our god, the point of a relationship is to further our own lives for our own sakes. The result of this is that relationships simply last as long as they work for both partners – unlike in the past there is no other reason to keep the relationship going once it has stopped being fulfilling for both partners. 

According to Giddens there is nothing wrong with having high expectations of marriage and then moving on – this is simply the way modern ‘pure relationships’ are –  we pair up with someone, maybe get married, it lasts a decade or so, and then we move onto the next person, it is all just part of the ‘democratisation of daily-life’, and part of what he calls ‘confluent love’ – which, unlike ‘romantic love’ in modern society is based on finding that special relationship, rather than finding that special person, and to assist in this relationship we have (probably thousands, I haven’t counted) relationship and sex guides, and various marriage and divorce counsellors/ lawyers which have emerged to help us navigate through these occassional transitions in our personal lives.

From Giddens’ point of view it seems as if most people going into a marriage for the long-term are kidding themselves, and that the correct attitude to marriage in late-modern society should not be ‘until death do us part’ it should be ‘until one of us simply decides that we should part’.

On a practical and moral level I’ve no problem with this scenario – I think Giddens is simply describing the most appropriate type of relationship/ marriage (described variously as the pure relationship/ confluent love/ serial monogamy) which fits in with a late-modern society characterised by dual-careerism, near gender-equality and the eroding of traditional norms of masculinity and feminity – but I do see two potential problems with Giddens’ easy acceptance of this type of relationship – Firstly, this would be all well and good if people were honest about it – I don’t think people think of themselves as  being in ‘confluent love’ or in a ‘pure relationship’, and I’m sure people don’t talk about their own relationships in these terms (of course Giddens would probably just say this needs to evolve), and secondly (which is pointed out in the podcast – this type of serially monogomous relationship-lifestyle seems wonderfully applicable to kid-free cosmpolitans, but maybe it’s not so great when kids are involved, and long-term relationships do have this strong tendency to end up with kids being produced.

There was more to the podcast than this, but I’ll leave it there for now…..

Love  and  marriage

Related texts

  • The English in Love: The Intimate Story of an Emotional Revolution Claire Langhamer by Claire Langhamer.

  • Love: An Unromantic Discussion by Mary Evans

  • The Transformation of Intimacy – Anthony Giddens

All I want before Christmas is hours of low grade revision fun with Wordle

I just discovered Wordle – And created this ‘Worlde’ of some of the concepts relevant to the perspectives topic within the SCLY1 module on The Family.

A handy ‘revision’ idea might be  to get students to type in concepts to for particular topics to Wordle and then print/ publish them.

This won’t, in itself, test any of those higher oder skills necessary in Sociology, but it’s quite a cool means to get students to copy things out without thinking. And leet’s face it, this late on in the term, are any of us really capabable of anything else.

Obviously there’s a lot you could do to build on this…. but I’ll let you ponder that for yourselfs.