Since the introduction of marriage in the middle Ages, British families have evolved as a prominent social-unit within society. This development has been ongoing through the centuries with more and more emphasis placed upon its structure and functioning. Post –War Britain brought with it solidarity a togetherness with people searching more and more for that sense of belonging that family life provided. Family life has since been portrayed, sometimes adversely, as the cohesive unit that provides this. But what actually constitutes a family, and more so, an ideal family? Is it a relationship through blood, in-laws, step-relatives or even friends, or do all of these examples constitute a family? The “Nuclear” or “Cereal Packet Family” was once regarded as the most prominent within society and was often regarded as its cornerstone yet there has been an apparent decrease over recent years with regard to the number of “Nuclear Households” and a subsequent increase in other forms of family living taking place. Where, the “Nuclear Family,” was once thought by sociologists as the type best suited to society, Bilton.T. Et al. (1996 p.518), support the view of, Rapoport, Fogarty and Rapoport. (1982)” that there is now a plurality of norms which are recognised as legitimate and indeed desirable.”
A number of factors outside of the family have led to a far greater diversification, such as, ethnicity, policymaking, religion and economics. Although the government sees the “Nuclear Family” as the one most effective in society some of the policies introduced in parliament have had an adverse affect in their promotion of the “Nuclear Family” unit. Take divorce for instance, information obtained from Marcus. M. and Ducklin. A. (p.144), states that since the introduction of the Matrimonial Causes Act, 1857, was made available to the courts, six further amendments implemented since have contributed to broaden the grounds and means for a divorce. One such amendment was the Divorce Reform Act of 1971, an act introduced in 1969 but not implemented until two years later, making it easier to petition for divorce. This led to a marked increase in the number of divorce cases initiated by the courts. The government obviously realised this to be of some concern and introduced the “Family Law Act” in 1996 in an attempt to halt the rising divorce rate. Further concern was, that during the same time period, statistical evidence given by Social trends 33 (2003) and confirmed by Hallarambos and Holborn. (2004 p.518) shows that the number of first marriages was also on a steady decline.
Although there seemed to be a considerable shift away from marriage this was not- as stated by Bernardes. (1997) and corroborated by Hallarambos and Holborn (2004 p. 518)- because people were choosing never to marry, in fact 90% of British women married at sometime, in their lives compared to just 70% in Victorian Britain. This could possibly be explained as a shift away from traditional Victorian family values with less people now seeing co-habitation as morally incorrect. In fact living together or co-habiting was not seen as an alternative to marriage but rather as a trial period with most co-habiting couples eventually marrying. Chester. (1995) in Hallarambos and Holborn .(2004 p.518).
Since the 1960`s there has been a considerable change in peoples attitudes, towards sex and marriage. This could possibly be attributed, at least in part; to the `Summer of Love` and the permissiveness created from the worldwide publicity it gained through television and media coverage. Gone were the days of good old-fashioned family values. We were now living in a promiscuous society where birth control was now widely available. People were now seeing sex outside of marriage as less of a moralistic issue. With birth control measures not being one hundred per cent, there was obviously going to be the resultant rise in births outside of marriage. Although not an entirely new phenomenon `Lone Parent Households` were increasing and becoming more recognised as an alternative type of family living. Official figures collated by the `General Household Survey` (2001) and evidenced in Hallarambos and Holborn (2004 p.499) show that a quarter of all families with dependent children were of a lone parent status. The majority of these are of women, outnumbering men seven to one. All parents naturally want what is best for their offspring and because there is now more opportunities open to them, single mothers are developing a new life for themselves outside of marriage. Even so, lone parents are still stigmatised in relation to the benefits system. In some cases this has become a contentious issue.
The Labour government of 1945-50 initiated the setting up of the `Welfare State` and `Benefits System` Their aim was towards promoting family living by giving those people in society with less of a chance a greater chance, through welfare payments, to support family living. However the `New Right` under Margaret Thatcher attacked the benefits system by accusing previous governments of `taking money from conventional families and giving to deviant households` Hallarambos and Holborn (2004 p.526).
Another type of diversity in the family can be attributed to `ethnicity`. This is also considered as one of the most important aspects of family living in Britain. There has been a prolific rise in the number of immigrants entering Britain over recent years. A number steadily increasing and now causing concern in government. According to B.B.C. News (29th Oct 2007) there are now 200,000 net cases of immigration per year into Britain. Since our joining the E.U. ten years ago this totals some 2 million new inhabitants. Ethnic Groups bring with them their own culture and respective religions with Britain now being recognised as a multi-cultural society. Different cultures bring with them different family types creating an even greater British family diversity. In the case of Asian families these are of an` extended family` type this is an extension of the nuclear family that also includes grandparents. I feel their way of family living very much corroborates `Marxist Feminist` theories. They have the family business, the mother producing and nurturing the next generation of workers to go on serving the capitalist society. There are fewer lone-parent households arising from an Asian ethnic culture. This could possibly be a confirmation of Asian family values and could also be partly due to arranged marriages and the practising of their respective religions.
In my researching for this assignment one of the more interesting statistics and points of interest that I discovered was in relation to immigrants of a Caribbean descent. During one term of imprisonment and while mixing with members of a Caribbean community, I heard talk of a `Baby Momma` culture. This was the first time I had come across such a term thought very little of it, in fact I dismissed it as merely boasting from young `black men`. However I soon realised that this was prevalent around the small `black communities`. Recently I heard the same phrase mentioned on television during some news program. It was with reference to having the term recognised into British language or phrases. During further research Marcus. M. and Ducklin. A. (1998 p.118 ) provided me with more evidence in relation to this subject. I was intrigued to discover that this was a culture they had imported from their country of origin and I discovered that the family unit within the West Indian community actually consist of a mother and her children with the sometime addition of her own mother creating what is recognised as a `matrifocal family`, one that is based around the mother. I believe that this strongly supports `feminist theories`, even `radical feminism` to some extent, whereby the man is seen to violate the woman for his own pleasure, to serve his own needs, then leaves her to raise the children on her own. Marcus. M. and Ducklin. A. (1998 p. 118) state that fifty per cent of West Indian mothers living in Britain constitute lone-parent households. A statistic seldom quoted because of its racist undertones.
1. Bilton. T. et al. Introducing sociology. London: Macmillan. 3rd edn
2. Hallarambos. And Holborn. (2004). Sociology. Themes and Perspectives. London: Collins. 6th edn.
3. Marcus. M. and Ducklin. A. (1998) Success in Sociology: London. John Murray.
4. B.B.C. Television News. (29th Oct, 2007) Immigration