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Power Theories In The Changing Family In Britain


Family life has changed in Britain and the media has not been left behind in discussing the issue. Concern has been raised about the change of typical family. There is an increase of households headed by lone parents, divorce rates, cohabitation, same-sex unions, the rise of teen pregnancies, and artificial reproduction thanks to technology. This paper will look at how the theories of power help us to understand transformations in Britain society in the latter half of the twentieth century and the focus will be on the changing family in Britain.

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Modernity versus tradition

The world is in transition and the societies of the world keep changing. Modernity has been taken to mean or be in opposition with tradition. Giddens sees modernity as having rebuilt tradition as well as changing it. In western cultures, a recreation of tradition was very central to power legitimation because this enabled the state to enforce its rule on the people (Giddens 1994:57). The traditional society had social aspects concerning the family as well as sexual life. The tradition continues to have influences on modernity and this has led to the transformation of society. The order in society has changed with modernity and in this era where the world is interconnected more than ever before through globalization, modern institutions have spread very fast around the globe. On the other hand, there are deliberate processes of change and this is called “radicalizing of modernity” (Giddens 1994:57). Therefore we have problematization of tradition and everyone can see the influence of modernity on their local activities. For example, capitalism has had to expand far and wide and people wrote about the reasons, for instance, Karl Marx. However, with the transformation, there is a shift of countries towards greater interdependence, especially on the economic level. Individuals have not been left out any their actions too can have global consequences for example when one buys a particular product from another country the people of that country benefit from foreign exchange. Therefore with the connectedness, the global orders influence individuals’ lives.

With information about the world, it is hoped to bring more control over human beings. This is because knowledge has a close relationship with control. With knowledge, people are more open-minded and this would probably explain why many in the British society would be willing to accept cohabitation, same-sex marriages, and so on (Giddens 1994:72).

Family order

Family life in Britain has changed and continues to change. The normal order of the family has changed. In the traditional setup, households were headed by males. Society was patriarchal. Today the values and norms of the ancient British families have changed. In the past, a typical family had two parents but in the latter half of the twentieth century, it has changed substantially. To be specific the number of households headed by singles has increased and the larger numbers of these households are headed by women. Could this be a challenge to the order of patriarchal society? Some say yes that the women are challenging the order and have found a way to free themselves from male domination. They are taking up roles that were predominantly male for example working because in the traditional settings women were homemakers. They raised children and took care of their homes while the men worked and brought home an income (Hughes & Ferguson 2004:46). It is estimated that by the year 2020 more people will be single than married. Yet about fifty years ago this would not have been acceptable in British society. For people married and live together divorce cases were rare because they were difficult costly and took long to be formalized. On the contrary in modern society divorce laws have been liberalized and it is easier to get divorced (Bradshaw 2006:22).

Children born out of wedlock

Today this is not the case people are cohabiting and having children and only sixty percent of them are likely to get married. In ancient times people gave birth after getting married while today about forty percent of the children are born out of wedlock to parents who are in cohabiting relationships. In the year 2000, about twenty-five percent of the people ranging from sixteen to fifty-nine years were living together as unmarried couples. These cohabiting couples were also found to be giving birth which would have been unusual before the 1960s. By 2001 about twenty-three percent of children in Britain were born to unmarried couples (Bradshaw 2006:19).

Marrying age

The marrying age has also changed and more people are getting married later in their lives. In the traditional society men were the breadwinners and so a woman had to get married so as to get support from a man. However, the trend has changed with the women’s educational opportunities on the increase in addition their participation in the labor market has increased. Therefore they are able to earn their own income and this has given them financial independence while reducing their financial dependence on males. Consequently, marriage is postponed until the completion of education and establishment of a career; marriage has become a choice because women have found a way to fulfill their economic necessity (Bradshaw 2006:17) A study done shows that the popularity of first marriages was on the decline. (Bradshaw 2006:14). The percentage was highest in the UK (Bradshaw 2006:15). For the women who get married, they prefer to have children later because they would rather concentrate on their chosen careers first.

On the other hand, single-parent households are on the increase due to the rising numbers of divorces and some women who opt to have children out of wedlock and raise them alone. Most of the women who divorce have been found not to remarry The level of teenage pregnancy is very high in Britain and this has led to the increase in lone parents (Bradshaw 2006:23). The number of children being born has reduced and thus British homes have an average of 2.4 people and this number is smaller compared to many other European countries.

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This new trend in the family life of many Britons will likely be repeated by their children. It has been noted that when one reaches adulthood their childhood experiences do not leave them. Therefore as adults, they tend to recreate what they observed as they were growing up. A good example is when a woman marries an alcoholic man after having had an alcoholic father and this kind of marriage is more likely to end up in a divorce thus more households are led by lone parents as well as children brought up by single parents. (Giddens 1994:72). The above scenario is an illustration of a system that we operate in even though many times we do not recognize it. It is the system that we internalized in the families we grew up in. What we know seems to be the way even though there may be other options available for us.

Same-sex unions

More importantly, to note is that the role of the homemaker and breadwinner has been challenged in modern society (Silva 1999:60). In same-sex unions, the partners have to share roles that traditionally were set out for each gender. According to a study, most women in lesbian relationships say that they share the roles equally compared to a lesser number of women in heterosexual relationships (Silva 1999:68). Most of the lesbian partners who have dependent children took equal care of the children. It is important to note that they got pregnant through artificial insemination a thing that was not there in the traditional families, where the husband made the wife pregnant after marriage. The partners in lesbian relationships work part-time so as to take care of the children because this is considered very important. In these relationships caring for the child is not seen viewed negatively like in many heterosexual relationships. On the other hand family roles as shown by the sex theory have changed especially for women who now combine paid work and caring for their children as well as their households (Giddens, 2006:378-450).

People being able to make decisions about the kind of families they will have for instance some women will choose to be lone parents, others will opt for same-sex unions and probably adopt children to raise while others choose to be married as others opt for divorce just shows what power the power have. One cannot make a decision without power. Thus people will even choose what is considered odd and they do not care about being excluded from social groups (Giddens 1994: 76).


Society has changed as well as the family. The male-dominated households have been challenged. Women have taken additional roles to the ones stipulated in the traditional families and they now are breadwinners as well as caregivers. This means that these kinds of families have two sources of income. Though these developments have occurred the balance of domestic work between men and women is still unequal where women have to shoulder more. Men need to support their women more in domestic chores or giving care to their children. This will make it less stressful for the women and hence increase their productivity both at home and at their workplaces. Failure to do so has resulted in men and women running away from the domestic obligations in their workplaces. Therefore it is important for changes in the family to be taken seriously; more studies done on the new families.


  1. Bradshaw, J and Hatland, A 2006, Social policy, employment and family change in comparative perspective Edward Elgar Publishing, Camberley.
  2. Hughes, G and Fergusson, R 2004, Ordering lives: family work and welfare. 2nd ed. USA: The open university,
  3. Giddens, A. 1994 ‘Living in a post-traditional society’ in Beck, U., Giddens, A. and Lash, S. (eds) Reflexive Modernization: Politics, Tradition and Aesthetics in the Modern Social Order, Polity, Cambridge.
  4. Giddens, A and Griffith, S, 2006, Sociology 5th ed., Polity, Cambridge.
  5. Silva, EB and smart, C 1999, The New family? Sage, London.

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