The family unit has undoubtedly changed significantly over the last few decades. The nuclear family unit consisting of a set of parents and their children is now much rarer, with new structures such as lone parent families and step-relatives much more common-place. Several issues arise from this evolution; these will be discussed individually.
Changing Family Structure
The decline of the nuclear family unit is well-documented in the U.K; today it is estimated that nuclear families make up only 36% of British families. Societal and cultural evolution have brought about considerable change with reference to the family; today more women are employed than ever before and legislation relating to divorce, contraception and abortion has certainly effected the nature of the woman’s role in the family. A high rate of divorce and an ever-decreasing number of marriages has signified a considerable increase in the number of single parent families and co-habiting couples. The changing nature of relationships coupled with the increase in divorce has also led to an increase in the number of families with step- relatives and children who have one parent in common. The birth rate has also fallen to an estimated 1.9 children per woman in England and Wales in 2008 which is considerably lower than the figure of 3 children per woman recorded in 1971.
Marriage and Divorce
In addition, for the first time ever, this decade has witnessed the age of women giving birth for the first time creep lower than that of getting married. Deciding to settle down at a later age, as well as higher divorce rates, also means that the number of adults living alone is higher today than ever before.
Teenage pregnancy is also peaking at an all-time high, despite multi-million pound Government campaigns designed to curb this trend. Britain has the highest rate of teenage pregnancy in Europe and this has several implications relating to child poverty, unemployment and general wellbeing.
Due to the nature of the economy, adults are choosing to live in the parental home for a much longer period of time than in previous years; university students, in particular often return home after completing their degree programmes in order to save money and prevent getting further into debt. A record level of unemployment has hit young people particularly hard and many are now forced into the unenviable position of not being able to find work; this in turn means the number of people seeking benefits and Government help is higher, creating added pressure on Government finances.
The Older Generation
Britain’s population is ageing and the issue of caring for the older generation is one of great debate. History maintains that many generations used to live together in the family home and while this may be true in some cultures today, it is not common in modern British society. Despite trends indicating that adults are staying longer in the parental home, it is extremely rare to find three generations under the same roof today. The problem of looking after the older generation therefore surfaces and now old people are heavily reliant on health and social services, rather than their own relatives.