Examine the Ways in Which Government Policies and Laws Affect the Nature and Extent of Family Diversity Essay
Some sociologists have suggested that social policy has caused families to become more diverse while others disagree. Social policies are the laws and practices put in place by the government that effect social issues, in this case the family. For example, in the 1930’s the Nazi government in Germany wanted to encourage Aryan families and put in place policies that involved sterilising certain groups to prevent them from having children. More recently in China they have a one child policy, if individuals have more than one child the government have put in place a series of penalties try and control their population.
In the UK sociologists are interested in if social policy has caused families to become more diverse or different. What this means is has social policy caused more families to be non-nuclear families such as same sex families, single parent families, etc? One way in which families have become more diverse is an increase in same sex families. This is lesbian and gay couples living with children. Social policies that can be linked to this type of family diversity are laws to do with homosexuality in the UK.
For example, in 1967 male homosexuality was legalised in the UK this has made homosexuality more socially accepted; this would allow gay individuals to start a family. However, other social policies have made same sex families even more accepted. For example, in 2002 the UK adoption laws were changed, these changes meant that gay couple were now allowed to adopt children meaning that they could have a family of their own without relying on surrogates or reproductive technology.
Furthermore, in 2004 the Civil Partnership Act meant that gay individuals could now have a type of marriage; this may have meant that gay people felt that they had the stability and long term commitment that may be linked to starting a family. All these changes could be linked to the growth of same sex families. Some sociologists are really happy with these changes. For example, feminists believe that society is patriarchal, that men dominate and exploit women. They suggest that many laws in society are unequal and oppressive to women and campaign for all women to have equal rights.
Before the introduction of civil partnerships this meant that homosexual women were denied the same rights as heterosexual women and this could be evidence of patriarchy. However, things like civil partnerships and changes in adoption laws give women an equal basis to form a committed relationship and a family free from the patriarchal control of men. This would particularly appeal to radical feminists some of which are lesbian separatists. However, some sociologists are deeply unhappy with these changes; the New Right believe that the nuclear family is needed for the correct socialisation of children.
They believe male and female role models are required for children to become functional adults. They would reject other family types such as same sex families as they damage children’s upbringing. However, the New right are often criticised for sexist and outdated views as they suggest that women would best suited to staying at home and raising children. Some sociologists have suggested that other family types have been encouraged by social policy. For example, in the UK around 33% of Asian families live in extended families, while 48% of Afro Caribbean families live in single parent families.
These trends could be linked to immigration laws that encouraged these groups to come to the UK in the 1960’s. One other way in which families have become more diverse is that there has been a great increase in single parent families. There are a range of social policies that could be linked to this trend. For example, in the UK over time divorce laws have changed and divorce has become easier and cheaper over time. What this means is that that more marriages may break up leaving a single parent families this could also be linked to the increase in reconstituted families that have been seen in the UK.
Furthermore, there are now a range of welfare benefits that are available to single parents that may mean that they are now in a position to support children on their own. These include housing benefits, child benefits and tax credits. This could encourage some individuals to have single parent families. The New Right are opposed to this type of diversity, suggesting that single parent families produce an underclass in society. This is because they are mainly headed by women and are welfare dependent, without a male role this produces irresponsible and antisocial young men that do not go out and be a breadwinner.
This pattern is passed from one generation to the next. However, feminists would be highly critical of these arguments as sexist as it suggest women cannot successfully bring up children free from the patriarchy of men. They suggest that the benefits that women receive as single parents can help them escape domestic violence and abusive relationships. A single parent environment could be far better for a child than a nuclear family where domestic violence occurs at the hands of men. In contrast to all of the above arguments some sociologists have suggested that social policies encourage the nuclear family and discourage diversity.
For example, marriage laws in the UK only allow you to marry one person, encouraging the nuclear family. Furthermore, the coalition government intend to introduce a married person tax allowance to encourage marriage and the nuclear family. Similarly recent changes to the child benefit system, would seem to penalise single parents in particular. As a single parent earning over ?44,000 will no longer receive the benefit whereas a couple earning ?80,000 between them still will. In conclusion, even though some policies have tried to encourage the nuclear family the majority of social policies have caused diversity.