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Family can be classified into two types nuclear family and extended family. A nuclear family consists
of the immediate family members such as mother, father and their dependent children and is a
small unit. Extended family is a larger family grouping that consists of other members related by
birth, marriage etc. another distinction is between co-resident families and kinship network.

Families and the social structure

George Murdock looked into 250 societies and found some form of family existed. He defined family
as a social group characterized by a common residence, economic cooperation, reproduction
through adults of both sexes maintaining a socially approved sexual relationship through which
many produce children. George concluded that nuclear family is universal. However many children
both today and in the past have been raised without parents of both sexes. For example Kathleen
Goughs analysis of Nayar society in pre-colonial India where women with several husbands who
took no responsibility of their children. Another example is that of the black families in the West
Indies, Central America where societies where matrifocal (families-headed) families and do not
include males. Sheeran argues that the female carer core is the most basic family unit. For example
in Britain, children mostly have one woman who is primarily responsible for their care and she not
necessarily may not always be the biological mother. Callahan argues that gay and lesbians and gays
should be seen as families because their relationships are not significantly different from others.
Whether the family is regarded as universal ultimately depends on how the family is defined.

Functionalist Perspective

An analysis of the family from a functionalist perspective involves three main questions. What are
the functions of family for society? What are the functional relationships between the family and the
wider social system? And what are the functions of family for individuals? Murdock argues that
families serve/perform four main functions for individuals and societies. These are reproductive
function which is necessary for the continuation of society, economic function which is essential for
the survival of individual and society and the educational function which is essential for passing on
societys culture and knowledge to the next generation. However Murdock is criticized for not taking
into account whether the same functions described above could be performed by any other social
institutions. Morgan criticizes Murdocks depiction of nuclear family as a totally harmonious and
functional institution.

Talcott parsons argues that the family retains two basic and irreducible functions that they are found
common in all societies. The primary socialization of children and then the secondary stabilization of
adult personalities. Primary socialization of children refers to socialization during the early years of
childhood. The childs personality is molded to absorb the central values of societys culture. For
parsons family was the embodiment of warmth, security and mutual support necessary for the
successful socialization of individuals. Stabilization of adult personalities emphasize upon the marital
relationship and the emotional security that couples provide each other. This acts to balance out the
stresses of everyday life. The family allows an individual to act out the childish parts of their
personalities. Parsons argues that the extended family was typical in the pre-industrial era. This was
due to the agricultural occupation that many families practiced. Thats why each generation tended
to stay on the land farmed by the family, leading to the formation of the extended families. Parsons
describes the isolated nuclear family as the typical family in the industrial society. It is isolated not
because of an obligation but by choice. Three key reasons for its suitability in industrial societies are
the evolution of society involves a process of structural differentiation where specialists such as
businesses, schools and hospitals take over many of the functions of the family. The isolated nuclear
family is more suitable to geographical mobility due to their skill demand and are not tied to their
obligations to the wider kin. Also the isolated nuclear family is the best family form for societies
where status is ascribed rather than being achieved. This makes sure that conflict dont arise i.e.
between father and son. Parsons also believes that society functions more effectively if father
specializes in earning while the mother specializes in emotional roles.


Parsons presents an idealized view of the family, based largely on the American middle class. Like
parsons fails to explore alternative family structures among different classes and ethnic groups.
Parsons also ignores the active role that children play in creating their own personalities. Feminists
reject as sexist the idea the women should stay at home as mother housewives.

Research in Britain does not support the idea that the Industrial Revolution led to change from
extended to nuclear families. Laslett found that only about 10 percent of households contained
extended kin before the industrial revolution. Young and Wilmott found that as late as 1950s
extended kinship network were still strong.

Marxist Perspectives

Friedrich Engles attempted to trace the evolution of the family through time. In his theory nuclear
family developed to solve the problem of the inheritance of private property. Property was owned
largely by males who needed heirs to whom they could pass it on. They needed greater control over
the women so that the paternity of their offspring was certain. The monogamous family provided
the most efficient device for this purpose. Zarestsky sees the family as a major element to the
capitalists systems. The system is based upon domestic labor of house wives who reproduce to
create future generations of workers. The family consumes the products of capitalism and enables
bourgeoisie to maintain profits. Family also distracts workers so they can carry on working in their
conditions. However many including Somerville believes Engles exaggerates how well the family
provides comfort as there is so much conflict within families.

Feminist Perspective

Feminism has had more influence on family life than any other approach. Feminism have criticized
the effects of family life upon women. Feminism have introduced study areas of family life such as
housework and domestic violence, challenged established views about male dominance in families,
highlighted economic contribution of women and focused on power relationships within the family.

Marxist feminists argue that family and its exploitation of women serves the needs of capitalism.
Benston points out that due to the husbands obligation to provide for his family and upkeep of the
next generation, this weakens his bargaining power at work i.e. he cannot go on strike. Ansley
argues that the emotional support of women serves as a safety valve for husbands frustration
caused by working within the capitalist system. Cooper argues that family is a ideological
conditioning device in which children learn to submit to authority. This approcach to feminism is
criticized for not considering variations in family life such as those of class and ethnic groups.
Morgan criticizes the Marxist approaches often assume the existence of highly traditional families
which is becoming less common. Marxist feminists also may exaggerate te harm done to them in
family life. They are reluctant to concede that there may be positive sides to family life. They also
portray women as the passive victim of exploitation.
Radical feminists sees the oppression of women as the most significant aspect of patriarchal and
male dominated society. Delphy and Leonard argue that family is a patriarchal and hierarchal
institution through which men dominate and exploit women. It is an economic system in which the
male head of household gets unpaid domestic, sexual and reproductive work done from women in
return for subsistence and the occasional gift. Greer argues that wives get less out of a mirage than
husbands for example a single women tends to be happier than a married women though opposite
is true for men. The increased divorce rate shows women are less willing to accept this situation.
Motherhood may be rewarding but may not be valued by society. Greer concludes that women
would be better off living away from patriarchal families. Many of criticism to Marxist feminism
applies to radical feminism. Radical feminists ignore the progress made by society in regards to
women rights and make stereotypical assumptions that all families are patriarchal.

Somerville offers a more moderate assessment to women rights by taking a liberal feminist
approach. She argues that many feminists fail to acknowledge the progress women have made in
society especially in Britain. Also more and more men are now advocating for gender equality.
Additionally if men do not live up to their responsibilities, most women also do not wish to live
without a male partner too. Somerville concludes the need to adopt principled pragmatism by which
practical policies produce greater equality for example improved childcare provisions for working
mothers. Radical feminists believe that gradual liberal feminists policies have not produced genuine
gender equality i.e. the rate of success is quite low.

Marxist and radical feminism are criticized for failing to acknowledge the variety of domestic
arrangements and effects family life can have on different individuals. Increasingly such feminists
have started to highlight such differences. Thats why they have been referred to as difference
feminists. Their work has links to postmodern theories of the family. Nicholson believes that
alternative families are often better than traditional ones for the women living in them. Nicholson
believes that all types of family life and households should be accepted because they could suit
different women better in different circumstances. Calhoun focuses on lesbian families. She believes
that gay and lesbian relationships are just as much family relationships as those of heterosexual
couples. Difference feminists lose sight of inequalities between men and womenin stressing the
range of choices open to people.

Postmodernist sociologists have many perspectives in common to that with difference feminists.
Both do not believe that a single type of family is dominant or is the norm in contemporary society.
They disagree with functionalist, Marxists and feminists that a single theory of family life is possible
i.e.no meta narrative for family life. Judith Stacey believes that contemporary societies such as USA
developed the postmodern family. She sees the changes in the family type as a move away from a
single dominant family and type towards a greater variety in family types and relationships. The
development of the postmodern family has eradicated the assumption that any particular form of
family is accepted as best or normal family type. It is however questionable to what extent diversity
and the postmodern family have become a common place.

Some sociologists think that important changes have taken place in the family but it is still in the
modern era and has not yet entered postmodernity. Anthony Giddens argues that intimate
relationships have undergone important changes. For example in the 18th century marriage was seen
as a lifelong arrangement. In the most recent era of modernity plastic sexuality has developed where
better contraception has meant sex can be for pleasure rather than conceiving children.
relationships are now based on confluent love which depends on both partners getting what they
want from the relationship. Thats why breakups and divorces are now quite common. People are
unwilling to stay with unsatisfactory partners because of the reflexive projection of self- a constant
reflection of ones life and a bid to improve it. Beck Grenshiem sees individualization as the main
characteristic of modern life. Individuals tend to make their own decisions about more and more
prospects of their lives. There are more opportunities for more people. As there is little security or
intimacy in everyday life so people seek emotional security in families. People have to work out a
formula for their relationships and without a fixed cut out roles there is surely to be more conflict.

Young and Willmott suggest that family has gone through several stages for example the pre-
industrial family which was the unit of production it was however gradually ousted by the industrial
revolution. Then was the early industrial family which developed in the early nineteenth century.
The family ceased to be a production unit and responded to the new industrial society by extending
its network to include relatives beyond the nuclear family. By the early 1970s the early industrial
family had largely disappeared and instead a nuclear and home centered family i.e. a symmetrical
family developed. This sort of family resulted in increased geographical mobility, reduction in
number of children per-family and more amenities and entertainment in the home, making it a more
attractive place. Young and Wilmot argue that their theory of stratified diffusion explains many of
their changes in family life. The home-centered nuclear family began in the middle class and
eventually filtered down to the rest of the society. Families remain an important source of help and
support which is why family contacts are still maintained. Willmott claims that dispersed extended
family is becoming more and more common in Britain. It consists of two or more related families
who cooperate with each other even though they live some distance apart. New technology allows
extended dispersed families to keep in touch. Barnnen claims that the contemporary family
structure resembles a beanpole as there are strong intergenerational links between parents and
children across two or more generations but intergenerational links tend to be weaker.

On the typical/cereal packet image of the family Leach considers it misleading as contemporary
societies are characterized by a plurality of household and family types. For example there has been
a 22% decrease in households consisting of married couples and instead an increase of 29% in single
parent households. The proportion of households with single parent households have risen from 3%
to 7%. Rhona and Robert identify five types of family diversity in Britain. Organizational diversity is
basically variations in family structure, household types, patterns of kinship and division of labor.
Cultural diversity is the difference of lifestyle of families of different ethnic origins and religious
beliefs. Class diversity is the difference of class in relation to child rearing and adult relationships.
Cohort diversity refers to the periods at which family has passed through different stages of family
life cycle such as unemployment. Life cycle diversity refers to the differences in life cycle of the
family. Allan and Crow see the trend towards family diversity as being caused by a rising divorce
rates, a rise in lone parenthood (pregnancies does not have to be legitimized by marriage). The
acceptance of cohabitation before marriage, declining marriage rates and growth in stepfamilies.
Gay and Lesbian households have become more common since the 1980s. Gays and lesbians
according to Weeks look at their households and even their friendship networks as chosen families
and chose who to include and negotiate relationships. New reproductive technology such as
surrogate motherhood has also resulted in an increased diversity in family life. This means that
human biology will not restrict the possibility of enlarging families. Figures show that single
parenthood had become increasingly common however these figures are a snapshot and do not
represent the full extent and the full diversity. Causes of single parenthood are due to high divorce
and separation rates along with death of spouse. Other factors include an increase in births outside
marriage. Allan and Crowe both argue that this reflects an increased acceptance of diversity. Brown
suggests that in previous eras couples would marry to legitimize pregnancies. Today partners may
rather choose to cohabit. British Social Attitude Survey shows that younger couples are much more
accepting of births outside marriage than older age groups. Rappaport argues that single parent
family is an emerging form and will soon be accepted as an alternative to the traditional family
structures. Murray suggests that over generous welfare payments have allow and even encourage
mothers to become single parents. However there is little evidential backing of this claim. Opposite
is suggested in a study done by Burghes and Brown where lone mothers aspired to form a two
parent household.

Charles Murray has gone for suggests that single parenthood has contributed to the creation of an
anti-social underclass in which the parent remains unemployed and refuse to support the children
who end up growing into crime. However many sociologists disagree. Mcintosh believes that lone
mothers have been stigmatized and blamed for problems such as youth crime and umemployment.
However single parenthood is without a doubt associated with low living standards compared to
that of cohabiting couples. Some research indicates that lone parenthood has negative effects on
children. American studies indicate that children are harmed by single parenthood and are likely to
experience poverty, become delinquent or engage in drug abuse. However these issues tend to stem
more from low income and poverty than otherwise. Cashmore suggests that it is often preferable for
a child to live with one caring parent than in a mix of caring and an uncaring parent. Single
parenthood gives women more independence than they have in other family structures.

The Labor Market Trend shows that there are differences in household types among different ethnic
groups. Black African and black Caribbean families have much higher rates of single parenthood than
any other group. rates among Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi families are low almost near the
average along with whites. Asian families are more likely to have extended kin in the household
while one person households are common among black ethnic groups. Ballard examined south Asian
families in Britain and concluded that children in such families had experience of two cultures and
behaved in ways which conformed to both the culture. Although children expected to have some say
in their marriage partner they did not reject the principle of arranged marriage. Despite the distance
involved most families retained close links with their village of origin in south Asia. Bhatti found that
the idea of izzat i.e. family honor very strong as did the roles of traditional male breadwinner and
female child rearer. Barrow on African Caribbean families in Britain found that mother centered
families could rely less on the support of female kin than they could in West Indies. Berthoud and
Breishon identified a low emphasis on long term partnership especially formal marriages. They had
high rates of divorce and separation and were more likely to have children outside marriage.
Reynolds emphasizes the importance of visiting relationships in African Caribbean families where a
female head of the house has a male partner but they do not cohabit. The evidence from different
ethnic communities suggest that immigrants and their descendants have adapted to fit British
society but still retain distinctive features of their culture.

Chester argues that changes in British family life have only been minor. Nearly half of the population
still lives in nuclear family households. Chester accepts that many families are no longer
conventional i.e. in the sense that husbands are no longer the sole breadwinner of the family instead
Chester sees this type of family as a neo-conventional where wives are working for at least part of
their married lives. Since Chesters writings British society has moved away from nuclear family as
the biggest type of family structure and instead there has been an increasing acceptance of
alternative households and family structures as Rapoport argues.

Changing Functions of Family

Sociologists argue that family has lost a number of its functions in the modern industrial society.
Now institutions such as schools, businesses and other welfare organizations specialize in functions
previously performed by the family. Parsons a functionalist maintains that family still has a vital role
in preparing members of the society to meet requirements of the society. Fletcher argues that family
has retained its functions and these have increased its importance. The family is no longer a unit of
production but still is a vital economic unit of consumption. Feminists on the other hand also agree
that family hasnt lost its function. They oppose the concept of women doing all the unpaid labor in
order to keep the family functionable. Postmodernist and difference feminists reject the view that
any single type of family always performs certain functions. With increasing diversity there will be
functions that appear and disappear over time.

Conjugal roles

Wilmot and Young claimed that the major characteristic of symmetrical family was the sharing of
domestic work and leisure activities between spouses. Relationship of this type is known as joint
conjugal roles as opposed to segregated conjugal roles. There however is no generally accepted way
of measuring inequality between husbands and wives. Small scale research in 1970s done by Oakley
and Edgell found out little sharing of household tasks. The British Social Survey found more sharing
of child rearing than household tasks although there was a movement towards a more egalitarian
division of labor overtime. Ferri and Smith used survey data and in almost every kind of household
even where women had paid employment and the man did not the women usually took the main
responsibility for childcare. Inequality can also be measured in terms of time use. For example
Willmott and Young found that the difference between mens and womens total work was not that
great. Gershuny found that women continued to do less than half of the total paid and unpaid work
done by their spouses. Gershuny and Laurie found that over time there has been a slow drift
towards men taking on more domestic responsibilities. Lader conducted time-use surveys and found
that in 2005 men and women in partnership had similar amounts of leisure and work time. However
between all men and women females had less leisure time than males.

Hardill found that although males dominated decision making in most households this was not the
case in a significant minority of households. Power can also be measured in terms of money. Pahl
found that only a quarter of couples had a system of money management that was fair and equal.
However in about 60% of the families the husband was in control. Wife control was more common
in poor families where managing the budget was a burden. Research by Vogler largely confirms Phals
findings. She did however found an increase in the proportion of relationships with egalitarian
financial setup. Duncombe and Marsden identify an invisible element of womens work called
emotion work i.e. the management of individuals own feelings in a relationship. Many women were
dissatisfied with their partners emotional input into the relationship. Women end up doing a triple
shift which is the paid employment, the domestic work and the emotion work. A study of lesbian
households by Dunne suggests that an equitable domestic division of albor can be achieved. it is
however difficult to do so in an environment that clearly differentiates between masculinity and
femininity. Evidence points out that women are still away from achieving equality within a marriage.


Lifecycle implies a series of inevitable stages through which you pass based upon biological ageing.
Pitcher defines life course as a socially defined timetable of behaviors deemed as appropriate for
particular stages within the society. For example western societies view youthfulness and having a
higher status than non-western societies. Some minority ethnic groups are more deferent to the
elderly than white ethnic groups. form this point of view chronological age doesnot determine the
nature of age groupings in society. Instead their meaning is defined by society. Post modernist such
as Featherstone believe that even the life course has been deconstructed so there is no clear
distinction between the behaviors expected at different life stages. Childhood like others is seen as a
natural stage of life. What is expected of children and the social roles they take is seen as a product
of the chronological age. If this however was true then childhood would be very similar throughout
the world but is not the case. This is why today some children live very different lives to those in
western societies. Wyness notes that in Mexico until recently most children did paid work. According
to Amnesty International there are child soldiers in more than 30 countries. Furthermore in Samoa
children are expected to perform dangerous and physically demanding tasks.

Many sociologists see childhood as a social construct a role that is socially defined. Philippe Aries
sees childhood as the construct of modern times which did not existed in medieval times. Children in
this time period were treated as little adults. This is highlighted from a couple of illustrations for
example in the medieval times people didnt bother to note their chronological age. Additionally
children were not seen as innocent or kept away from the adult world and were also expected to
work alongside adults. After the sixteen century modern conceptions of childhood developed where
chronological age was seen as important and so was schooling of children in order to keep them
away from adult world. Families also became more child centered. This all as a result of a couple of
reasons as Aries explains. The introduction of education kept children away from the adult world.
The infant mortality rate also fell. By the 20th century specialist sciences such as psychology and
pediatrics emphasized the need for parents and society as a whole to care and nurture for the
children. Shorter puts forward other reasons for modern ideas of childhood developing. For example
the idea of romantic love developed which made children seem more important as they were the
product of a special relationship. Philosophers such as Rousseau emphasized the need of taking care
of children. Additionally the idea of motherhood also developed. Postman argues that the invention
of the printing press meant that children were more accessible to different forms of literature and so
had to spend years learning to read and write before becoming adults. Pilchers on the other sees
the 19th century banning of children from factories as crucial. Some sociologists believe that
childhood is again in the process of change. Postman puts forward a postmodern view in which he
argues that the distinction between childhood and adulthood is breaking down leading to the
disappearance of childhood. This is due to the development of mass media and the world wide web
which exposes children to the adult world including images of sex and violence. Jenks disagrees that
childhood is disappearing though there is concern of antisocial behavior by children. however they
are still restricted and regulated. For example children are not allowed to vote or drink before the
age of 16-18 years. However Jenks think that parent child relationships are growing because of the
fact that long term relationships with partners is decreasing due to a increase in divorce rates. Jenks
also disapprove of the theories generalizing childhood without taking into account different
variations such as class, gender, and ethnicity. Prout agrees with Jenks and emphasizes the massive
difference in experience of childhood between wealthier and poorer countries for example the lack
of education and the requirement to work from a young age.


A number of threats to marriage have been identified. For example threats resulting from
alternatives to marriage and the threats resulting from the breakdown of marriage. The rate of
marriage has fell and statistics show that it has become less popular. This may be because today
women give greater priority to their careers than to marriage. Feminism has also had an impact on
women which has resulted in marriage becoming less attractive as a whole. Also individualization
and its development over the years has resulted in people feeling that they can choose to get
married rather than feeling they have to get married. People also marry on the basis of what
Giddens calls confluent love i.e. personal fulfillment of each other. Due to all the reasons mentioned,
people are choosing cohabitation as a long term alternative. However some see the decline as the
result of people delaying marriage rather than not getting married. The average age of marriage has
been steadily increasing from about 24 in 1961 to 30 in 2005. Cohabitation might be just a prelude
to marriage rather than an alternative.

Morgan sees cohabitation as a trend in which marriage is going out of fashion. Cohabitees are much
more likely to break up than married couples. Morgan sees cohabitation as part of the general
increase in the number of sexual partners. Chandler takes a different point of view and notes that
the time spent cohabiting is gradually increasing and more and more couples are choosing
cohabitation as a long term alternative to marriage. Her claim is further backed by the British Social
Attitude Survey which found that British population is becoming increasingly accepting of long term
cohabitation. This suggests that marriage like cohabitation would become more of a life-style choice
than a social obligation. A further threat to marriage comes from declining fertility and birth rates.

The second type of threat to contemporary marriage is the rise of marital breakdowns. The three
main categories are divorce, separation and empty shell marriages. Functionalists such as Parsons
and Fletcher argue that the rise reflects the increasing value that is put on marriage as people
demand more form marriage. The isolation of the nuclear family places strain on the marital
relationship. Leach suggests that the nuclear family suffers from an emotional overload which
increases the conflict between its members. Allan and Crow suggests that the greater financial
independence for women makes them less willing to accept conflict with their spouse. Gibson claims
that modernity has put a great emphasis on individual aspirations. The ideology of market
emphasizes consumer choice. The stigma that was attached to divorce has been considerably
reduced. Gibson believes that secularization has weakened the degree to which religious beliefs can
bind a couple together and make divorce less likely. Changing attitudes to law has led to changes in
laws thus making it easier to obtain a divorce. Since 1877 the costs of divorce has gone down and
the grounds for a divorce has widened. Abbot and Wallace recognize the decline in family and
marriage but see it exaggerated for political ends by the New Right. Somerville on the other hand
believe that despite the diversification of family forms and relationships most people still believe in
the value of family life.

Family, Politics and Social Policy

State policies have always had an impact on family life. Taxation, welfare, housing, education
policies and divorce laws all influence the way in which people organize their lives. Some feminists
argue that government policies tend to favor the traditional nuclear family with a male breadwinner.
Allan argues that much of the state policy is based on the ideology of a normal family where one of
the parent will put primary emphasis on childcare while the other on work. Johnson argues that
school hours and holidays make it difficult for single parents to work. Additionally there is little help
for women to care for the elderly. Fox harding give some examples of state policies that favor the
traditional family. For example few public funded houses are built to accommodate groups larger
than conventional nuclear families. Married women can only receive invalidity pensions which single
women and men cant. Regulations relating to maternity leave and pay reinforce traditional gender
roles, despite introduction of paternity leave. However not all policies reinforce traditional family
types. For example the civil partnership between gay and lesbian couples since 2005. Almond
believes that recent changes actually undermine the traditional family types
Abbott and Wallace critics of the New Right describe the New Right approach to family in following
ways. The new right support conservative social moral values in favor of the conventional family,
against divorce, lone parenthood, cohabitation, gay/lesbian partnerships, working mothers etc. the
new right is critical of any laws or aspects of the welfare state which might allow or encourage
alternatives to traditional nuclear families. The governments of Margaret Thatcher and john Major in
Britain followed the New Right Thinking. The new right thinking has been heavily criticized. Feminists
see it as ignoring gender inequality and abuse within families, Marxists see it as ignoring role of
families in capitalism, postmodernist celebrate the move away from traditional families rather than
criticizing it. A lot of research contradicts underclass theory suggesting that single parents would like
jobs and would prefer to live in conventional families.


The total fertility rates have been dropping. There has been a corresponding fall in the birth rates.
Partly this is because women are having children later in life meaning they have less time to have
further children. Morgan argues that this is due to rise in cohabitation as cohabitees have fewer
children than married couples. Geographers such as Waugh see the decline as part of a demographic
transition where the birth and the death rates both fall. This according to him results from improved
contraception, increased desire for more material goods and increasing costs of raising children, the
emancipation of women and higher levels of labor-force participation and participation in
education. Sharpe suggests that before love, marriage and children were the highest priorities for
women, today it is career and jobs. Other reason includes the improvements in medicine and
medical care resulting in higher life expectancy. Declining birth and death rates are part of a social
change and does not necessarily reflect a decline in family. Another reason could be
individualization where people see children as restricting individual choices. Between 2001 to 2007
the death rate for males fell by 15 % and for females by 11%. The laboratory medicine has been
crucial in decreasing the mortality rate. McKeown believes that the falling death rate from the 18th
century was due to improvement in hygiene and nutrition rather than improvement in medicine.
This view is supported by studies which show that social factors such as class have strong influence
on death rates. Wilkinson argues that poverty causes high death rates and they fell once income
reaches a certain level.

The ageing population and society

One consequence of reduction in death rates is the increased life expectancy. Combined with decling
birth rates this has led to an increasing ageing population in Britain. In 2006 16 % of the population
was over 65, projected to rise to 22% by 2031. An ageing population can create problems for society.
(demographic time bomb). Vincent argues that there is an exaggerated fear of consequences of an
ageing population. The problem is the unequal distribution of wealth which results in working class
citizens having to face problems financing their own care and have inadequate pensions . Gannon
argues that women are the most adversely affected by the old age because the problems of ageism,
sexism and poverty produce an accumulated disadvantage. Blaikie argues that improved healthcare
results that many people past retirement age enjoy an active and relatively healthy third age as a
time of fulfillment and choice. A more negative view is taken by Hockey and James who argue that
stereotypes of elderly in media mean that elderly tend to be treated like children making full filling
old age very difficult.