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Study notes

Contemporary Economic Change and Families

  • Levels: AS, A Level
  • Exam boards: AQA, Edexcel, OCR, Eduqas, WJEC

There has been considerable social change since the 1950s, and it is important to acknowledge some of these changes.

Nickie Charles (2012) conducted household surveys and participant observation and identified several key social changes since the 1960s, which included:

  • The much greater use of technology
  • The entrance of women into the workplace on a large scale
  • Greater equality of opportunity and equal treatment for different social classes, for women and for minority-ethnic groups

However, despite these very significant social changes, Charles concluded that changes to the family had been quite minor in that time. She found that men were more geographically mobile than women (women were more likely to remain living near their extended family); individuals from higher social classes were more geographically mobile than those from lower social classes; minority-ethnic individuals tended to have particularly strong bonds with their extended family. However, those bonds and networks with extended families (for all social groups) were increasingly conducted at long distance and visiting relatives often included significant travel, and communicating with relatives was often down via social media and between countries.

Evans and Chandler (2006) further commented that a significant social change since the mid 20th century was much greater disposable income for families and also a much wider array of products available for purchase and particularly those aimed at children. They concluded that this has influenced family relations in that parents have to make decisions about which products to buy for their children and which not, based on a wide range of factors: problems that their parents would not have experienced.

Perhaps the most significant social change in the late 20th century was the process of globalisation. Globalisation is the process whereby the world has become increasingly interconnected. It is particularly recognised by postmodernists as a fundamental feature of contemporary society. It can be said to have influenced the family in the following ways:

  • Globalisation has caused significant economic change, including traditional male jobs being exported to developing countries, which in turn has impacted gender roles.
  • One feature of globalisation is immigration and the increasingly multicultural nature of many societies has led to some changes in the structure and role of family and greater family diversity.
  • The globalisation of popular culture through the media has, according to some sociologists, had a major impact on childhood. Children and young people have easy access to a world of information, some of which might have changed the nature of childhood (and contributed to what Sue Palmer calls a toxic childhood).

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