Family change 7: the growth of the lone parent family

Another major change that happened within the family is the growth of the lone parent family, also known as single parent, or one parent family. This type of family has tripled since 1971 and Britain has one of the highest proportions of lone parent families in Europe. Statistics show 'more than one in frou families with dependent children were lone parent families in 2005 - nine out of ten of them headed by women. Nearly one in four (23 per cent) of dependent children now live in such families, compared to just 7 per cent in 1972.

Why are there more lone parent families?

The fast rate of growth in the number of lone parent families can be explained by a number of factors. These include:

- 'The greater economic indepenence of women' - Through job opportunities and support from the welfare state means that women have greater economic independence today and that marriage and support by a husband is less of an economic nexessity today compared to in the past.

- 'Improved contraception, changing male attitudes, and fewer 'shotgun weddings' - There are all different types of effective contraception to use these days which are under approval and easy to get. It is now legal and safe to have abortions which may make men feel they have less responsablility to marry women if they become unintentionally pregnant and women feel under less pressure to marry the future father. Shotgun weddings are were 'reluctant couples are forced into marriage by the father of the pregnant women wielding an imaginary shotgun to ensure that the man marries his daughter' and by having other means of contraception therefore means less shotgun weddings.

- Reproductive technology is avaliable to women - This makes the women able to bear children without having a male partner, through either a surrogate mother or fertility treatments like IVF (in virto fertilization)

- Changing social attitudes - With lone parenthood today there is less social stigma or social disapproval and condemnation. Women are therefore less afraid of the social consequences of becoming lone parents

Views from the New Right blame the generosity of the welfare state for growth in lone parenthood. Writers such as Charles Murray (1990) argue this view by saying that 'generous welfare benefits encourage women to have children they could not otherwise support.'

One of the major signs of the decline of the conventional family life and marriage is seen as the growth in lone parenthood. Lone parent families especially lone parent mothers have been portrayed within some of the media and by conservative politicians of the New Right as 'promiscuous parasites, blamed for everything from rising juvenile crime through to housing shortages, rising drug abuse, educational failure of children and the general breakdown of society'. They say that problems created by lone parenthood, particularly for boys, are usually explained by the lack of a male role model in the home, and consequently inadequate socialization.

Lone parenthood has become a major social problem with moral panics within the mass media. A moral panic is a 'wave of public concern about some exaggerated or imaginary threat to society, stirred up by exaggerated and sensationalized reporting in the mass media'.

The Child Support Agency came around in 1993 to cut the welfare costs to the state of lone parents. It was designed to encourage fathers who are not there for their children to take financial repsonsability for them which then reduces benefit costs to the state. There have been many attempts to encourage lone parents to try and support themselves though paid employement. The national minimum wage is there to help avoid any exploitation of lone parents within work, this mainly applies to women and the New Deal for Lone Parents enabled many of these lone parents to find employement causing 57% in 2006 to be in paid employment. A new Childcare Tax Credit was established in 1997 to help with the costs of childcare along with a national childcare strategy to ensure good quality affordable childcare, the expansion of nursery places for children 3 and 4, and more pre and after school clubs. Lone parents working is a major deterrent from policies arising from the fact that it is the lack of affordable childcare.

Nailing the myths

Lone mothers that have never been married account for only less than half of all lone parents with lone parenthood arising mostly from divorce, seperation or widowhood. Even among the lone mothers that have never been married, a vast amount cohabitied with the father and have registered his name on the birth certificate of the child.

It is not the presence or absence of the father that is important but whether the father actually involves himself within the children's upbringing. Even though most of the time the blame is put on lone parenthood for the children not being brought up properly because they do not father, there are probably many fathers in two-parent families who also fail to involve themselves in the care and discipline of their children and are also just as likely to face juvenile delinquency arising within their household where the children have been inadequately supervised and disciplined. A Home Office report had found that there was no difference between the crime rates between the youngsters within these two different families. If there was such a link it is more likely to have been caused by poverty rather than lone parenthood because of he lack of childcare facilities which means that many lone parents have to depend on their inadequate state benefits to live, and are more likely to live in overcrowed or poor quality housing.

Lone teenage mothers getting pregnant to jump in the queue for social housing (council and housing association) is also a misleading myth that has very little evidence to support it. the Economic and Social Reseach Council found in 1996 that 'only 10% if the small minority of women who were not in a regular relationship with the father when they became mothers were living alone with their child in social (council) housing six months after the birth. Many live with their parents, and many single, never-married parents have been in cohabiting relationships which break down. In effect, this is no different from marriages that break down.'

Family change 8: the decline in marriage and the growing incidence and acceptance of cohabitation

Two of the major social changes at the turn of the twenty-first century was 'the decline of marriage and growth of living together before or outside marriage'. More and more couples are cohabiting rather than seeking oddicail recognition of their relationship through getting married making marriage rates decline in Britain today. Statistics show that 'in 2005, there were 244,710 marriages in England and Wales - 19 per cent fewer than in 1991 and the lowest number ever. Over a quarter of non-married males and females in Britain under age 60 were cohabiting in 2005-6, twice the proportion recorded around 20 years ago. A number of these included people who were seperated but not divorced. By the early 2000s, the majority of people in first marriages had lived with their partner beforehand, and cohabitation is now the norm rather than the exception. Seven in ten couples mearried in 2000 gave identical adresses, and this 'living in sin' included 56 per cent of those getting married in a religious ceremony. There are well over a million and a half cohabiting coupldes who have refused to tie the marriage knot - more than one in ten of all couples. Around 11 per cent of dependent children are now being brought up by unmarried cohabiting couples. Many cohabiting relationships eventually end up in marriage - about 60 per cent of first-time cohabitations turn into marriages.'

Here are reasons for the decline of marriage and growing cohabitation:

- 'the chaning role of women, whose growing economic independence has given them more freedom to choose their relationships'

- 'the growing divorce rate, and the message it is sending out to potential marriage partners'

- 'growing secularization'

- 'changing social attitudes and reduced social stigma: young peopel are more likley to cohabit than older people, and this may in part reflect the evidence that older people compared to younger people are more likely to think that 'living outside marriage is always wrong'; this reveals more easygoing attitudes to cohabitation amoung the young showing the reduced social stigma attached to cohabitation'

- 'the greater avaliablilty of, and more effective, contraception'

- 'higher expectations of marriage'

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