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As a result of these changes, families are now less stable than in previous generations. The number of women of working age in paid employment has increased significantly over the past 30 years. In 1973 only 48% of families with dependent children had both parents in paid employment, this is compared to 60% in 1993 (General Household Survey), and rising to 68% in 2003 (Office for National Statistics, 2003).
New forms of family composition: The changes in marriage, divorce and cohabitation have contributed to the growing number of new types of family. Two in five of all marriages are now remarriages, which makes stepfamilies one of the fastest growing family forms in Britain, currently making up one in ten of all families.( Office of National Statistics, (2008) In the decade to 2006, the number of single parent families also increased to 2.3 million, making up 14% of all families.( Cabinet Office/ The Strategy Unit (2008). A growing number of couples are also now living apart together, often following failed marriages or cohabitations. Initial estimates suggest that around two million people have regular partners in other households (Office of National Statistics (2005) 'Population Trends').
Progression in the labor market: These include employment practices; family friendly policies; access to training; partner support; the balance of roles within the household; the availability of family support; and societal pressure (Jenkins. S. (2004) "Gender, Place and the Labour Market" Hampshire, Ashgate). The single parent employment rate is currently 56%, compared to 72% for women in two parent households and 91% for men in two parent households ( Office of National Statistics (March 2009). Single parents often face enhanced barriers in moving into employment and the right support needs to be available. In "Ready for work: full employment in our generation" (Department of Work and Pensions, (2007) 'Ready for work: full employment in our generation' London: HMSO)
Family stability: As the majority of children stay with their mother, four in five stepfamilies consist of a natural mother and a stepfather. Just under half of stepfamilies also have their own children within the family as well as stepchildren (Office of National Statistics (2008) 'Stepfamilies'). However, more than half of remarriages involving children end in divorce and one in four stepfamilies break down in the first year regardless of whether they have married or not (Social Policy Justice Group (2006) 'Fractured Families' Centre for Social Justice, p15.). This means that the structure of a family can change several times while a child is growing up.
Families are more likely to be affected by poverty: Research using British Household Panel Survey data from 1998-2004 found that after a marital split mothers are on average 12% worse off the following year.( Jarvis, S and Jenkins, S., (1999)'The Income Consequences of a Marital Split: Evidence from the British Household Panel Survey', Population Studies 53(2): 237-254). Measures to tackle in-work poverty such as improving job quality and strengthening progression routes are therefore vital.'(Oppenheim, C. & Lawton, K (2009)
Families are more likely to experience poor health and wellbeing: Evidence suggests that children of single parents whether single or widowed, are twice as likely to have a mental health problem (16%) as those living with married or cohabiting couples (8%), (The Camelot Foundation (2005).
Demographic changes affecting UK families: In general, there has been less marriage with those marrying tending to doing so later in life, more cohabitation, more same sex partnerships, more divorce, childbearing has been delayed to later in life and there are more births outside of marriage (McConnell and Wilson, 2007:12). The optimists see the new family units within modern day Britain as being more open and democratic and producing more rewarding relationships, with love acquiring a greater significance (Williams,F, pg 24, 2004)
Functions of the family
Four out of five people say that 'my family is more important to me than my friends', (Ipsos MORI Real Trends (2008). In most cases female cares are more likely than men to be carrying the main responsibility for care giving of elderly dependants, whilst at the same time looking after their own siblings, undertaking household chores, being engaged in paid employment and looking after the needs of their husband or partner (Glendinning & Millar, pg 34, 1992).
It is estimated that at least five million people in England today already provide care and support for family members or friends (Maher, J., and Green, H. 2002). As people are living longer, demand for informal care from family, friends and community members is projected to rise by 40% by 2022 (Cabinet Office (2008). However, childlessness in Britain has been increasing in recent years, a trend that, if it continues may provide a new set of challenges for the care of older people who do not have family relations to rely upon.( Office of National Statistics (2008) 'Benefits and Challenges of an Ageing Population' Population Trends 130.)
The fact that everybody has had experience of family life also means that families appear as natural and inevitable ways of organizing human social life (Nicholas Abercrombie and Alan Warde with Keith Soothill, John Urry and Sylvia Walby, Contemporary British Society: A New Introduction to Sociology, Polity Press, Oxford, UK, 1994, Pg. 270).
The changes to family dynamics have had a profound effect on parents' requirements of the welfare state, childcare and early year's provision, and conditions of employment. Statutory maternity leave and pay was extended in 2003 and 2007 and is now amongst the longest in Europe (Cabinet Office/ The Strategy Unit (2008) 'Families in Britain: An Evidence Paper' Department for Children, Schools and Families, p.55.). The availability and take-up of flexible working is on the rise. 95% of employers offer at least one of the six main flexible working arrangements to employees; an increase from 88% in 2003 (Hooker, H., Neathy, F., Casebourn, J., Munro, M., (2007) 'Third Work Life Balance Survey).
Families have always been and will always be important to society and individuals. They are in charge of different aspects of individual's development. They also help to the advance of society. In the past decades families have experienced several changes on its roles, expectations and patterns. Due to the development of the society, the maintenance of the extended family has been weakened. The nuclear family now can be seemed to be dominant pattern for the family life in the British society. In my opinion, to consider the society as a whole, the family's functions are changing passively and in the modern Britain, the family's functions and structures are changing actively, due to that the people have more choices of life than that before.