Commentators still tend to talk about lone parenting, gay parented families, the decline of marriage and step-families as if they are a new development, but these trends away from the ‘nuclear family’ are now firmly established in western societies: in fact the nuclear family has rarely been the dominant family form in western Europe in the last century. How different are contemporary conceptions of family from previous generations? To what extent can we still talk about a ‘normal’ family structure? Are people accepting of ‘alternative’ families and does the increasing variance in family form have implications for the way we approach social issues? Can we have a coherent family policy and support services when ‘family’ has become such a nebulous concept?
Teenage pregnancy has been a defining issue for the noughties, and we are yet to understand what drives the internationally high rates of early sexual activity and conception amongst British teenagers. But is it just the high rate of teen conceptions in the UK that we care about, or is it that we feel uncomfortable about teenagers having sex at all? Opponents in the IVF/fertility debate say we need to start encouraging young women to have children earlier by teaching them about their biological clocks at school. Should we do more to protect young people from over-exposure to sexual content and imagery, or from engaging in sexual activity too early? Or, in a society where sex is ubiquitous, sexual development is occurring earlier in the life cycle, and many women are putting off child birth until it’s unhealthy or too late, do we need to rethink our views on sex, and the way we regulate sexual conduct?
If the gender debate in the latter half of the 20th century was focused on women’s struggle for equality, the 21st century has shifted the focus to men. The past decade has seen a big interest in men’s and boy’s issues – with health, educational attainment, and parental rights rising up the political agenda. The achievements of feminism over the past 50 years add up to nothing short of a revolution, but much of the work still left to be done – tackling gendered expectations for child care, addressing the inequalities between mother’s and father’s rights towards their children, narrowing the pay gap and representational disparities – require taking a closer look at men’s identities and how their roles need to change. Just as the expectation that women will look after the kids has limited their opportunities in the world of work, expectations about masculinity and men’s responsibilities have limited the scope of men’s lives – neither group wins. But the gender debate is not a zero sum game – how can we reframe the debate?
There has been increasing debate over how we should and how we do view success in the UK. David Cameron’s calls for an index of ‘General Well Being’ have sparked interest in alternative means of analyzing achievement, but how far do they chime with the reality of our expectations and measures? Should Britain learn from Bhutan in adopting a measure of Gross National Happiness rather than GDP? Or, is the truth that we still rate material possessions and wealth as the main markers of success? What do modern Britons count as successful?
Class may have become less potent as a means of measuring success or indicating status but have we replaced it with an even more polarized measure? As the arrival of a post-industrial, gloablised economy brings with it a new world of work for the ‘haves’ - ‘thinking jobs’, innovation, flexible hours, self-management – what is it like for the ‘have nots’? Are there two Britains, one that works and one that doesn’t? As the recession leads to greater unemployment it highlights the fact that, for some families, worklessness has been a generational expectation for much of the past thirty years.
British children are known to be more brand aware than US or European peers: we attach more significance to the ability to buy and own products and branded clothing than others. But there is a suggestion that we may be rebelling against the consumer pressures associated with advanced capitalism: parents are worried about the effects of consumption culture on children, and concern for sustainable behaviour and authenticity is widespread. How far are we defined by what we buy? What do our purchasing habits say about modern Britain? Is there evidence of a culture shift away from the mass produced market?
Anorexia, bulimia and body dysmorphia have become noughties buzzwords. Are we more health conscious than ever before, or is the obsession with body image and attractiveness? Are we – both men and women – under more pressure to be beautiful? And is this pressure pushing people to become ‘beautiful’ in unhealthy ways? How can we reconcile the trend to be more body conscious with rising obesity? Is there a growing divide between the healthy and the unhealthy? How far have issues of health and issues of image converged for modern Brits?
Issues of etiquette seem particularly relevant to Britons: we seem to care more than others about the behaviour of our young people and have firmly established expectations about manners and public behaviour. Yet we are often more willing to break the law in minor ways than our European counterparts and are less litigious. Why is this? Do we prize good manners over legality? To what extent are norms of behaviour influenced by the law, or by British tradition? Do different generations hold different views about what is acceptable in terms of behaviour and etiquette – is there a growing generational divide?
Britain is one of the most culturally diverse countries in the world. It’s commitment to diversity and multi-culturalism have grown its economy, increased people’s freedoms, and contributed to the UK’s rich history and heritage. At the same time, cultural-relativism and a liberal commitment to choice, that has characterized British public policy over the past couple of decades, has pushed people’s tolerance to the limit, given legitimacy and voice to many illiberal views, and created huge rifts between different communities.
Have we sacrificed shared morality to achieve diversity? As multiculturalism continues to throw up political and moral dilemmas – from the burqa to gay adoption in Catholic agencies – there are increasing fears that moral consensus will become impossible. This chapter will aim to understand whether we can claim to have a British conception of morality, broadly shared, or whether this concept has become outdated.
From assisted suicide to the debate over expensive, but life-extending, new drugs; death has become increasingly controversial. An ageing population has put huge financial pressure on the NHS. The concept of ‘quality adjusted life years (QALY)’ developed by NICE has led to controversial decisions around the funding of medical treatment for people with terminal illnesses. Are there moral and financial rationales for ending human lives, or rather not extending them as long as possible? This chapter will look at the British conception of death, our expectations and aspirations around mortality and the impact of longer-lives on our deaths.