Sociology: Couples

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What are the 2 types of roles according to Parsons? +who plays them?

  • The instrumental role= husband- achieveing sucess at work+provides financial support

  • The expressive role= wife- homeaker, primary socialisation of kids and meets families emotional needs.

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What does Parsons argue that his view of the division of labour is based on?

Biological differences between men and women (women 'naturally' suited to the nurturing role and men to the provider)

  • this benefits everyone

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What are 2 criticisms of Parsons' view? +sociologists

  • Young and Willmott: argue that men are now taking greater responsibility for domestic tasks and more women are becoming wage earners

  • Feminists reject Parsons' view that the division of labour is natural & they argue that is only benefits men- patriarchal society

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What are the 2 types of conjugal roles? +sociologist is meant by segregated conjugal roles?


  1. SEGREGATED congual roles: couple have separate roles: a male breadwinner and a female homemaker - as in Parsons' view. Their leisure activities also tend to be separate

  2. JOINT congual roles: couple share tasks such as housework and childcare and spend their leisure time together

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What did Young and Willmott find in their study of families in Bethnal Green to support Bott and Parsons?

  • That men were the breadwinners who played little part in home life and spent their leisure time with workmates in pubs.

  • Women were full-time housewives with sole responsibility for housework and childcare, helped by their female relatives.

  • The limited leisure time women had was also spent with female kin

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What view do Young and Willmott take of the family? what did they find in their study in London?

March of Progress - they see the family as gradually improving for all its members, becoming more equal and democratic.

  • there has been a shift from segregated conjugal roles to joint conjugal roles and the symmetrical family

  • in their study, they found that symmetrical family was more common in younger, geographically and affluent couples

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What are the features of a symmetrical family? [3]

  • Women go out to work, although this may be part-time rather than full-time

  • Men now help with housework and childcare

  • Couples now spend their leisure time together

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What do Young and Willmott see as reasons for the rise in the symmetrical family?

  • Changing social position of women

  • Geographical mobility (living away from where you grew up)

  • New technology (labour-saving devices)

  • Higher standards of living

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How do feminist sociologists criticise Young and Willmotts thoery? +stats

  • They reject the 'march of progress' view

  • They argue that little has changed: men and women remain unequal within the family & women still do most of the housework- OAKLEY- Y+W found that 72% of married men help in the house at least once a week- Oakley asrgues this could be anything and 28% did nothing

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What did Ann Oakley (1974) find in her own study of the symmetry in families? +who was she supported by?

no trend towards symmetry -only 15% of husbands had a high level of participation in housework -only 25% had a high level of participation in childcare

  • dads only shared enjoyable aspects(more time for woen to do housework) e.g. playing with kids which meant women lost rewards of childcare which was better than housework BOULTON- agrues that Y+W exaggerated- dads helps withspecific tasks- mother had full responsibility

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What do Feminists blame for the segregated conjugal roles within the family?

They see the inequality as stemming from the fact that the family and society are patriarchal - women occupy a subordinate and dependent role within the family and wider society

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Are couples becoming more equal? what is the evidence for and against?


  • march of view progress

  • pooling in money management AGAINST

  • the feminst view

  • taking responsibilty for children

  • decision making

  • allowance system in management

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How does the March of progress view provide evidence for couples becoming more equal? +sociologist, BSA stats


  • men are becoming more involved in housework and childcare, just as women are becoming more involved in paid work outside the home

  • reflects change in traditions

  • British Social Attitudes survey(2013) found in 1984, 45% men + 41% women agreed it was man's job to earn money and women stay home. In 2012 it was 13% men+ 12% women

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How can money management give evidence for and against couples becoming more equal? +sociologists

feminst sociologists Pahl and Vogler found 2 types of control over families income:

  • The allowance system: where men give their wives an allowance out of which they have to budget to meet the family's needs, with the man retaining any surplus income for himself

  • Pooling: where both partners have access to income and joint responsibility for expenditure; for example, a joint bank account (this type is on the increase and is now the most common money management system)

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Why does pooling money not necessarily mean that there is equality within a couple?

  • we don't know who controls the pooled money or if they equally contribute to it e.g. if the man earns twice as much as the woman but puts they both put the same amount into the joint account

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How does the feminst view give evidence against couples becoming more equal? +stats

  • Reject that women going into paid employment has led to greater equality

  • only small signs of the 'new man' as women now have dual burden

  • women do twice work as men and there is still a divide in household tasks along traditional gender roles e.g. women do laundry and care for sick while men do small repairs.

  • men spent 10hrs on care for family members women spent 23hrs

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How do sociologists show that taking responsibilty for children is evidence against couples becoming more equal? [4 sets sociologists]

  • Boulton: father's may only take part in certain childcare but mum's responsible for child's security +wellbeing.

  • Dex and Ward: 78% fathers played with their kids but only 1% cared when kid becae sick.

  • Braun, Vincent+ Ball: 3/70 fathers were main carer- they were background fathers, did it for the relationship rather than childs wellbeing. Most fathers held a provide ideology that they were the breadwinner and women were primary carers- driven by media's 'intensive mothering'

  • Duncombe and Marsden: women did triple shift- emotion work

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What does Hochschild mean by emotion work?

Being responsible for managing the emotions and feelings of family members e.g. arguing siblings and ensuring everyone is happy whilst also controlling their own

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What did Edgell's study of professional couples find with regards to decision-making?

  1. very important decisions, e.g. those involving finance, a change of job or moving house, were either taken by the husband alone or taken jointly but with the husband having the final say

  2. important decisions, e.g. those about children's education or where to go on holiday, were usually taken jointly, and rarely by the wife alone

  3. less important decisions, such as the choice of home decor, children's clothes or food purchases, were usually made by the wife

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what are the 2 different explanations for the unequal division of labour by Crompton and Lyonette? describe them

  1. CULTURAL/ideological

  • The division of labour is determined by patriarchal norms and values that shape the gender roles in our culture.

  • Women perform more domestic labour simply because that is what society expects them to do and has socialised them to

  1. MATERIAL/ economic

  • The fact that women generally earn less than men means it is economically rational for women to do more of the housework and childcare while men spend more of their time earning money

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What must happen from the perspective of the cultural explanation of inequality in order to achieve equality in the division of labour?

A change in the norms about gender roles - this would involve changes in men and women's attitudes, values and expectations, role models and socialisation

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What did Gershuny find to support the cultural explanation of inequality put forward by Crompton and Lyonette?

Couples whose parents had a more equal relationship are more likely to share housework equally themselves - - parental role models are important, with social values gradually adapting to the fact that women are now working full-time, establishing a new norm that men should do more domestic work

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From the view of the material explanation of inequality, what must happen in order to achieve equality within the division of labour?

if women join the workforce and earn as much as their partners= them doing equal amounts of domestic work

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what is a piece of evidence the material explanation? [2 sociologists]

  • Ramos found that were a woman is the full time breadwinner and the mna is unemloyed, he does as much doestic labour as she does.

  • Kan found that for very £10,000 a year a woman earns, she does 2hrs less housework each week.

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What do feminists argue with in regards to cultural vs material explanations for the inequalities in decision-making?

  • Not simply the result of inequalities in earnings

  • In patriarchal society, the cultural definition of men as decision-makers is deeply ingrained in both men and women and instilled through gender role socialisation.

  • Until this definition is challenged, decision-making is likely to remain unequal

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What is the 'personal life' perspective on money? +evidence from sociologist

  • The personal life perspective focuses on the meanings couples give to who controls the money

  • Whilst we may assume that one partner controlling the money is a sign of inequality, some couples may not see it this way

  • Smart found that some gay men and lesbians hold no meaning to who controls the money- doesn't mean equality or inequality to them

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What is the home office definition of domestic violence?

  • any incident or patern of incidents of threatening behaviour or violence/abuse to those past 16 years old by an intimate partner or family member

  • includes psycological, sexual, financial and emotional violence/abuse

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Give two statistics on domestic violence? +who found the stats

  • Women's Aid Federation (2014): domestic violence accounts for between a sixth and a quarter of all recorded violent crime

  • Coleman and Osborne (2010): two women a week - or one third of all female homicide victims - are killed by a partner or former partner

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who are the main sociologists for domestic violence?

Dobash and Dobash

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What did Dobash and Dobash find in their research? where/who is the data collected from?

  • used pocile and court records abd interviews of women in women's refugee centres

  • found that violent incidents could be set off from what the husband saw as a challenge to his authority e.g. asking why he came home late

  • marriage legitimises violence againts women by giving power and authority to husbands and dependacy on wifes.

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What data did Crime Survey find to show a narrow gender gap?

1.6 million women compared to 786,000 men reported having experinced domestic abuse in 2019 and overall increase of 24% from 2018

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what studies show a wider gender gap in domestic violence? [3]

  1. Walby and Allen: women were more likely to be victims of multiple incidents of abuse and sexual violence

  2. Ansara and Hindin: women suffered more severe violence+control with more serious psychological harm

  3. Dar: it can be difficult to count separate domestic incidents- it may be continuous or it happens so often the victim can't reliably count them.

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What are the two reasons are there that the true extent of domestic violence is underestimated by official statistics?

  1. Victims may be unwilling to report it to the police

  2. Police and prosecutors may be reluctant to record, investigate or prosecute those cases that are reported to them

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what does Cheal say about recultancy of police to record/ investigate DV? +3 assumptions

-police and state agencies are not willing to become involved in the family

  1. family is a private sphere, so police have limited access

  2. family is seen as a good thing, so agencies tend to avoid the dark side of family life

  3. individuals seen as free agents so it's assumed that if a woman is experiencing DV, she is free to leave relationship

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why can't women just leave a violent relationship? CHEAL

women are financially dependant on men

  • the women who sre being abused are challenging their lower status as the man has more economic power since he earns more money

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what are the 2 types of explanantion for domestic violence? +definition

  1. Radical feminist explanations- emphasises the role of patriarchal ideas

  2. Materialist explanations -emphasises economic factors e.g. lack of resources

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What did Yearnshire find regarding the average number of assaults suffered by women before they make a report?

  • Yearnshire (1997) found that on average a woman suffers 35 assaults before making a report. Domestic violence is the violent crime least likely to be reported

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What is the radical feminist explanation of domestic violence? +who do they use as evidence?

  • widespread domestic violence is an inevitable feature in a patriarchal society and it serves to preserve the power that men have over women

  • male domination of state institutions help explain the reluctance of courts and the police to effectively deal with cases of domestic violence

  • they use DOBASH and DOBASH as evidence

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Give 3 criticisms of the radical feminist explanation of domestic violence

  • Elliot rejects that all men benefit from violence against women (not all men are aggressive and most are opposed to domestic violence)

  • Fail to explain female violence (child abuse by women and against male partners- 18% men have experienced DV since 16 years old)

  • fail to explain which women are more likely to be victims

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Which social groups are most likely to experience domestic violence?

  • Young women

  • Those in the lowest social classes and those living in the most deprived areas

  • Those on low incomes or in financial difficulties

  • Those living in shared and rented accommodation

  • Those with high levels of alcohol consumption of using illegal drugs

  • Those with a long term illness or disability

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What is the materialist explanation of domestic violence? +sociologist

  • Wilkinson and Pickett see domestic violence as a result of stress on family members caused by social inequality

  • Those on low incomes or living in overcrowded accommodation are likely to experience higher levels of stress

  • Worries about money, jobs and housing may spill over into domestic conflict as tempers become frayed

  • Lack of money and time restrict people's social circle and reduces social support for those under stress

their findings show that not all people are in equal danger of DV- those with less power, status, wealth or income = greater risk

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what is 1 criticism of the materialist explanation of domestic violence?

  • Do not explain why women rather than men are the main victims

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Which sociological group agrees with the materialist explanation for domestic violence?

Marxist feminists

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How did Marxist feminist Fran Ansley explain the cause of domestic violence? +criticism

  • wives are the 'takers of shit'

  • Domestic violence is the result of capitalism (male workers exploited at work and they take out their frustration on their wives)

  • fails to explain why not all male workers commit DV and female domestic violence

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What do sociologists mean by 'childhood is a social construct' ?

Childhood is created and defined by society; it is not fixed and it differs between different times, places and cultures.

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What is the modern western notion of childhood?

  • childhood is a special time of life and that children are fundamentally different to adults due to being physically and psychologically immature. Unlike adults, children lead lives of leisure and play, largely excluded from paid work.

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What is Pilcher's view on the modern western notion of childhood?

  • most important feature is separateness to adults.

  • Childhood is seen as a clear and distinct life stage with its own status.

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How is the separateness of childhood emphasised in modern western society?

Laws and regulations on what children are allowed to do The way they dress Special toys, food, books and entertainments (play areas) Special doctors

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Why is childhood described as the 'golden age' ? PILCHER

  • childhood is seen as a time of innocence and happiness.

  • children are vulnerable and so spend most of their time in the sphere of family and education so adults can protect them from the outside world.

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What is Wagg's view of childhood?

'Childhood is socially constructed' ... 'There is no single universal childhood, experienced by all.

  • so childhood isn't "natural" and should be distinguished from mere biological immaturity.'- separate age status is not fiound in all societies

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what does the comparative approach show?

treatment of children in other places and times

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What did Benedict argue about children? [3 ways] + conclusion

kids in simpler, non-industrial societies are treated differently to modern western children in 3 ways

  • There is much less of a dividing line between children and adults

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what are the 3 ways BENEDICT argues children in non-industrial societies are different? +example sociologists

  1. They take responsibility- PUNCH found kids in Bolivia are expected to take responsibility in home+community

  2. Less value in children showing obedience to adult authority- FIRTH in Tikopia less valued is placed on children showing obedience to adult authority

  3. Children's sexual behaviour viewed differently- MALINOWSKI found Trobriand islanders were amused by interest towards children's sexual explorations

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What is evidence for the globalisation of western childhood?

Humanitarian and welfare agencies e.g. UNICEF have exported and imposed campaigns against child labour, or concerns about 'street children' and child labour in developing countries where they may be the norm and the campaigns may have little impact.

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What was Aries' view on childhood in the middle ages? +what is his evidence

  • 'the idea of childhood did not exist'

  • Childhood as a separate age was short, soon after being breastfed, the child entered wider society

  • The law often made no distinction between children and adults- same punishments

  • they worked from a young age

  • kids were seen as 'mini adults'- same rights, duties and skills Aries used artwork from the time to show the lack of separateness 'they have simply been depicted on a smaller scale'- same clothes+working together with adults

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What did Short argue about attitudes towards childhood in the middle ages?

  • High death rates encouraged indifference and neglect towards infants

  • It was not uncommon for babies to have the same name as their recently dead sibling or to be called 'it'

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How did Aries see the modern notion of childhood emerge from the 13th century onwards? [3]

  1. Schools began to specialise in educating the young -forming the idea of children being fragile, in need of protection and discipline.

  2. A growing distinction between adult and children clothing- by the 17th century, upper-class boys would dress differently from adults.

  3. By the 18th century, childrearing handbooks were widely available.

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what does Aries describe the 20th century as?

'the century of the child'- obbesed with children

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How did Pollock criticize Aries view of childhood through history?

She argued that it is more correct to say that in the middle ages, society simply had a different notion of childhood from today as he said childhood didn't exist then.

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what is a postive evaluation of Aries?

  • his work is vauable as it shows that childhood is a social construct as he clearly demonstrates how ideas about childhood change overtime

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What are 4 reasons for the changing position of childhood in the 19th and 20th centuries?

  1. the introduction of compulsory schooling in 1880

  2. child protection and welfare legislation: 1989 Children Act

  3. the growth of the idea of children's rights

  4. Laws and policies specifically for children

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describe how the introduction of compulsory education changed childrens position


  • essential for all students to attend, even w/c

  • extended the period of dependency so they were an economic liability.

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Describe how the child protection and welfare legislation changed children's position?

1989 Children Act made child welfare very imprtant which is the foundations for work agencies e.g. social services

  • this meant parents would have to look after they children well.

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Describe how the growth in children's rights changed children's positions

  • the Children's Act defines parents as having a responsibility rather than rights.

  • BUT the UN convention of Rights of Children lay down the basic rights of the child e.g. to healthcare and education.

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How are laws and policies changing the position of children?

  • laws that apply to kids e.g. minimum ages set for a range of activities e.g. sex and smoking.

  • this reinforced the idea that kids are different from adults so, different rules must be applied to their behaviour.

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Describe how the child protection and welfare legislation changed children' s position?

1989 Children Act made child welfare very important which is the foundations for work agencies e.g social services -this means parents have to look after their children well.

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What did Postman argue about the disappearance of childhood?

  • there are growing similarities between clothing and kids committing adult crimes e.g. murder.

  • he says culture is declining and being replaced with TELEVISION CULTURE.

  • during Middle Ages, most people were illiterate and speech was the only skill needed to participate in adult world, therefore kids would enter from young age so adult world not a mystery.

  • BUT in 19th century, mass literacy= everything written down= INFORMATION HIERARCHY between adults and kids.- adults had power to keep knowledge about sex, money, violence etc, so it is a mystery to kids- keeps their innocence.

  • HOWEVER, tv destroyed the hierarchy, it didn't require specialist skills to access it= easily accessible for kids= boundary broken down= diminishes adult authority. innocence replaces with knowledge of children- they have access to everything adults have.

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How does Opie oppose Postman's view on the disappearance of childhood?

  • childhood NOT disappearing

  • Postman's research is valuable but it over-emphasises TV- doesn't consider other factors.

  • children's unsupervised games, rhymes and songs gives evidence for separate children's culture

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How does Jenks see childhood as changing?

  • Jenks agrees with Aries that childhood was a creation of modern society

  • Jenks disagrees with Postman that childhood is disappearing

  • In modern society, childhood was an important stage, preparation for individuals to become productive adults and so kids need to be protected and controlled by child-centred family and education system.

  • However he sees changes being caused by changes in adults relationships from modernity to postmodernity

As adult relationships became less stable, and divorce rates increased, adults became more reliant on relationships with their children for consistency and stability and so children are more valued and protected.

  • children are refuge from constant uncertainty of life.

  • greater surveillance of childhood.

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How can Jenks' view on childhood be criticised?

the evidence for his theory comes from small, unrepresentative data so, he is overgeneralising as he ignores family diversity- position of kids differ according to family.

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What is the March of Progress view on the changes in childhood? +stats

Over the past centuries, the position of children in western societies has been steadily improving e.g. infant mortality rate was 154/1000 in 1900, today it is 4/1000.

  • due to better healthcare and higher standards of living.

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How have higher living standards affected childhood? +stats

  • higher living standards and smaller family sizes mean parents can afford to properly look after their children

  • in 1860s an average of 5.7 births per women to in 2014 an average of 1.83

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what are 2 ways the position of childhood have changed according to the March of Progress View?

  1. the child-centred family

  2. toxic childhood

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who is the sociologist for toxic childhood?

Sue Palmer

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How are families more child-centred today?

  • children are no longer 'seen and not heard' but are a focal point of the family

  • parents invest in their children emotionally and financially having high aspirations for their children

society is also more child-centred with specialised media and leisure activities e.g. cbbc and newsround

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How to conflict sociologists criticise the march of progress view?

  • march of view progress is based on false and idealised images that ignore inequalities

  • there are inequalities among children in opportunities and risks they face; many are unprotected and badly cared for

The inequalities between children and adults are greater than ever as they face greater control, oppression and dependency

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What are the arguments for gender inequalities among children? [3 sociologists]

  • Hillman= boys are more likely to be allowed to cross or cycle on roads, use buses and go out after dark unaccompanied

  • Bonke= girls do more domestic labour, in lone parent families girls do five time more housework than boys

Brennen= study on 15-16 year olds found that Asian parents were the most strict towards their daughters

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What is Palmer's view on childhood?

  • opposes the march of progress view

  • position of child NOT getting better

  • rapid cultural and technological changes have damaged kid's physical, emotional and intellectual development.

  • e.g. junk food= high levels of child obesity,

  • e.g. computer games- 1999 Columbine High School massacre- influenced by DOOM video game

  • e.g. concerns in health and behaviour e.g. drug and alcohol users, teen pregnancies.

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What are the class inequalities between children?

  • poor mothers are more likely to have low birth-weight babies

  • children of unskilled manual workers are over three times more likely to have hyperactivity than children of professionals

  • children born into poorer families are more likely to die in infancy or childhood

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How do Firestone and Holt criticise the march of progress view?

  • they believe that what is seen as care and protection from adults is actually oppression

  • e.g. Firestone argues that 'protection' from paid work is a form of inequality.- forcing them to be dependant, powerless to adult control

  • 'child liberationism'- freeing children from adult control

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What is the 'new sociology of childhood?

  • sees children as active agents who play a major part in creating their own childhoods

  • we need to focus on the 'present tense of childhood' to study everyday life from their perspective

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what is some evidence for the oppression kids may face? +sociologists

Hockey and James

  • strategies kids use to resist the status and restrictions of being a child e.g. acting up- acting like adults when kids not supposed to do something e.g. swearing, smoking etc. or even exaggerating their age.

  • acting down- acting younger than their age when resisting adult control e.g. baby talk.

  • childhood is status most kids want to escape.

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what is some criticism of the child liberationist view?

  • some adult control is justified as kids cannot make rational decisions for themselves- unable to safeguard themselves

  • even though children are under adult supervision, they not powerless e.g. Children's Act and legal rights to be protected and consulted.

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What are the different forms of adults control over children?

  • Neglect and abuse: adults have the power+control to neglect/abuse the kids-childLine receives over 20000 calls a year from children saying they're being bused

  • Controls over children's space: children are restricted to certain areas they can play in and go to e.g. no school kids in shops, Cunningham found that 'stranger danger' has lead to the 'home habitat' of children reducing by one-ninth of the size it was since 25 years earlier.

  • Controls over children's time: in modern society, adults control kid's daily routine e.g waking up, eating, going to school, sleeping.

  • Controls over their bodies: adults control how kids sit, walk and what they wear+ adults can touch kids body e.g. with bathing and control how kids touch themselves e.g. no picking noses

  • Controls over children's access to resources: can't work so remain economically dependant, child benefits go to their parents, pocket money depends on 'good behaviour'

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What is age patriarchy?+ sociologist+ evidence

  • adult domination and child dependency

  • 'Family' referred originally to the power of the male head over all the other members= violence for kids and mother

  • 1/4 of the 200 women in their study left their abusing partner because they feared for their children's lives.

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Explain the organic analogy identified by Murdock

Functionalists see society as being like a biological organism -The body is a system made up of different parts that function together to meet its needs and maintain it -Society is a system made up of different but interdependent parts such as institutions like the education system -The function of any part is the contribution it makes to maintaining the social system as a whole

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What kind of view do Functionalists take of the family?

A positive one (benefits individuals and society)

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Identify the four functions of the family outlined by Murdock

-Stable satisfaction of the sex drive -Reproduction -Socialisation -Satisfaction of economic needs

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For Murdock, why is the nuclear family universal?

For the 'sheer practicality' - how it meets the functions

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For Murdock, what does the nuclear family help to maintain by performing the four functions?

Social stability

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Outline Parson's functional fit theory

The kinds and range of functions that the family performs depend on the type of society in which it is found - thus also determines what kind of structure the family will have

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Give the criticisms of Murdock's view of the family functions

-Both Marxists and feminists reject his 'rose-tinted' view, arguing that functionalists neglect conflict and exploitation within society -Feminists = family meets the needs of men and oppressing women -Marxists = family meets needs of capitalism

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Why was the extended family a 'functional fit' for pre-industrial society?

Unit of consumption and production - all members worked on the land together

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Give the two types of family structure identified by Parsons

-The three-generational extended family found in pre-industrial society -The two-generational nuclear family found in modern industrial society

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What are the 2 'irreducible functions' of the family according to Parsons?

-Primary socialisation -Stabilisation of adult personalities

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Why is the nuclear family a 'functional fit' for modern society?

Fits the 2 key needs of modern industrial society: -Geographical mobility - easier to relocate when work emerges -Social mobility - status in industrial society is achieved not ascribed, adult sons can now achieve a higher status than their fathers, allowing them to break free and create their own nuclear family unit, removing the status conflict that would result if they stayed

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Which type of conjugal roles does Parsons believe exists within families?

Segregated Male = instrumental Female = nurturing Gender division is biologically based

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