Changing families, Changing roles by Yvonne Thackray

I recently read in the Economist a particularly interesting feature, “Changing families: The Post Nuclear Age” (March 16th 2013) of how the class society in the UK is changing. The traditional family, which is a remnant of the Victorian era, is something of the past. The status of the male, in terms of his profession, education and fashion, no longer dictates where a family belongs within a social class: the underclass, the working class (blue collar), the middle class (white collar) and the upper class. An interesting fact: the number of marriages has collapsed to Victorian levels since the 1980s whilst the number of divorces annually has increased from 16,000 in 1945 to over 117,000 to date. Since the emancipation of women and the socio-economical changes e.g. both parents need to work to maintain their standard of living as the cost normally far exceeds income, new models are needed to understand how we belong in what seemingly is becoming an opaque ‘classless’ society.

Broadly speaking, there are three family types identified: the university-educated professional classes, the native working classes and the immigrants. The educated professional classes (white collar) typically hold onto the old-fashioned ideals of marriage, and married professional women generally wait until they are almost 33 before having their first child as they both put their careers first.  The native working classes are those who do ‘routine’ or ‘semi-routine’ (blue collar) manual jobs. They are moving in the opposite direction of more children being born out of wedlock and women are far less dependent on the spouse’s income because of UK's generous welfare system and women’s capability to out earn their partner’s income (Resolution Foundation). The immigrants, the final group, who want to come to the UK for better opportunities are often more conservative, but with each preceding generation, they adapt to the norms of the nation.

This change in the arrangement of family unit types is resultant of the changes of the needs and desire of an individual across all strata of our society. The drive for accumulating wealth will vary for each individual in order to have financial independence, and so, it seems that marriage may now become an ideal for finding a partner for emotional well being rather than the traditional reasons for marrying in your early 20’s. Understanding our evolving role in society as an individual, partner, and professional may cause confusion as it can conflict with our perceptions and values. Asking probing questions about what we take for granted, reflecting on them and finding our truths will help us to regain balance and a sense of calmness in the complex and stressful lives we now live in – the new normal.