In what ways can the UK be described as a diverse society? Choose three examples of diversity and write and essay which:
- describes each of them in turn
- considers which aspects of diversity are negative and which are positive for one of the examples.
The diversity of family life in the UK today
The diversity of places in which people live
The diversity of cultures in the UK
Britain today is a richly diverse society in which people with very different ways of life coexist. Diversity means being different, being unlike and variety. Diversity can describe differences within a society or between societies and applies to the unique contributions to the group characteristics made by the individuals such as beliefs, sexual orientation, ethnic background, cultural perspective, and so forth. Family, place and culture mean different things for different people but are usually associated with connectedness. This essay, though, will first analyse family, place and culture as causes and consequences of social diversity and, secondly, it will describe the relationship between places and life chances and how diversity can bring inequality.
During the past decades, social change in Britain has brought structural and functional diversity into family (Sherratt et al. 2004, p.30). Families today come in many shapes and sizes, there is no right or wrong structure. The main types of family, nuclear and extended, have increased with reconstituted and single-parent families. Families can be formed by married, unmarried or same sex couples with dependent, independent or no children at all. National statistics for 2001 (ONS, 2002 data set ST32217 and ST33218 ) show that one in five families with dependent children are headed by lone mothers, three times the number obtained in 1971. This may be explained by rising rates of divorce, cohabitation and live births outside of marriage. These figures suggest evolving family structures but also a general maintenance of conventional gender ideology. Hence, different beliefs and practices in relation to the division of labour may bring diversity to family life. In this respect, Young and Willmott (1973, cited in Sherratt et al. 2004 p.26) predicted a more egalitarian family whilst Morris (1990, cited in Sherratt et al. 2004 p.26) denied the attrition of the traditional gender roles. Another source of diversity in family life is regional diversity. The inner London boroughs have higher concentrations of minority groups than the rest of the country (ONS, 2001). Ethnic diversity as a source of family diversity is defended by Berthoud (2001) among others. This author argues that Asian families are more traditional, have high rates of marriage and are more likely to have extended families comprising three generations. By contrast, West Indian households have a higher proportion of lone mothers and low rates of partnerships.
Similarly, geography and ethnicity bring diversity to the places where people live. Whether rural or urban location, owner-ocuppied or rented, house, flat or even a caravan, there are multiple places to live in Britain today. Places where people influence their experiences and social relations (Sherratt et al. 2004, p 88). In inner London boroughs, like Islington and Camden, not only there is more ethnical diversity than in the rest of Britain (ONS, 2001), but affluent professionals inhabit the same street as jobless, low-income families or live next to council estates while having no connection with them, as exemplified by Graef (2003). In other parts of East London though, Mumford and Power (2003, cited in Sherratt et al. p. 97) noticed how diverse neighbourhoods can still maintain a sense of community spirit through local social networks. The transition from dwells and neighbourhoods to homes and communities can be done via a sense of attachment and belonging that is part of the broad meaning of culture (Sherratt et al. 2004, p.96).
Culture is all shared beliefs and socially communicated demeanour, that distinguishes a group of people, whether this is a family, a neighbourhood, a community or a nation (Sherratt et al. 2004 p.38-45). People identify with others within their culture but distinguish from people in other cultures. Hence, diverse cultures lead to diverse ways of living, and these can bring people into conflict over how it is acceptable to live. On the other hand, cultural diversity brings richness and choices and shapes identities bringing connectedness. The culture in Britain, including language, food, arts, clothes, leisure activities, religion or relationships can be seen as a sum of the diverse cultures that constitute its society. Cultural mixing is not a new concept, as noted by Sherratt et al. (2004 p. 76). It started with trading in prehistoric times and was further fueled by imports and immigration. The only thing new about cultural exchange is how easy it is now. With modern information technology it is possible to experience other cultures on a whim. But the globalisation of culture has a downside. Scott-Clarke and Levy (2003) exemplify the devastating social effects of cultural imperialism caused by American television in Bhutan.
In the same way, the aforementioned diversity of places where people live reflects choices, variety and opportunities but there is a drawback. Utilizing the Weberian term “life chances” (Weber 1948, cited by Sherratt et al. 2004, p. 85) to describe an estimate of an individual’s ability to enjoy the economic and cultural goods of a society, it is easy to see how the distribution of such goods is usually asymmetrical. People’s life chances are influenced by salary, wealth, housing and education (Sherratt et al. 2004, p 87). Therefore, family, culture and where people live shape life chances. The importance of housing tenure in life chances is debated amongst sociologists. Saunders (1988, 1990, cited in Sherratt et al. 2004 p. 88) outweighs the importance of home-owning status to occupation but this argument is contradicted by Forrest and Murrie (1995, cited in Sherratt et al. 2004, p. 89) and criticised by Watt (1993, cited in Sherratt et al. p. 89). Clearly, home equity can be used as collateral or improve children with inheritance, giving control to people’s lives. On the other hand, Sherratt et al. (2004 p. 94) points out how the UK shows a general pattern of geographical clustering of poverty and wealth and how this clustering affects people’s ability to access housing, education and employment opportunities and directly impacts in the quality of health services. A direct consequence could be seen in the different life expectancy for different areas in Britain in 1998-2000 (ONS, 2002) accounting up to 10 years of difference for men between Westminster and Glasgow city. Personal wellbeing is then affected by the ability to afford a home in a neighbourhood that improves rather than limits life chances.
In conclusion, Britain’s society is undeniably diverse. Living in Britain has implications on how people live, whom they live with and where they live and these differences shape British society. Social change has brought diversity to family, neighbourhoods and culture. There are many different types of families today. Diverse neighbourhoods may or not share a sense of community. Cultural diversity shapes our identity. Where people life affects their health and prosperity. Diversity brings richness but also inequality.
Berthoud, R. (2001) ‘Family formation in multi-cultural Britain: three patterns of diversity’, paper resented at Changing family patterns in multi-cultural Britain Institute for Social and Economic Research University of Essex. Available at:
http://www.sociology.org.uk/as4fm1.pdf [Accessed 24-27 January, 2008]
Graef, R. (2003) ‘Two families living side by side. But the gulf between rich and poor keeps them worlds apart’ The Observer, 20 July.
Available from: http://observer.guardian.co.uk/focus/story/0,6903,1001753,00.html [Accessed 24-28 January, 2008]
ONS (2001) National Statistics: Ethnicity: Regional Distribution. Available from:
http://www.statistics.gov.uk/cci/nugget.asp?id=263 [Accessed 24 January 2008]
ONS (2002) National Statistics: Families with dependent children headed by lone parents: Social Trends 32, data set ST32217. Available from:
http://www.statistics.gov.uk/STATBASE/ssdataset.asp?vlnk=4992&More=Y [Accessed 24 January 2008]
ONS (2002) National Statistics: Births outside marriage as a percentage of all live births: Social Trends 33, data set ST33218
[Accessed 24 January 2008]
ONS, 2002 Health Statistics Quarterly, issue 13. London. Available at
http://www.statistics.gov.uk/downloads/theme_health/HSQ13_v4.pdf [Accessed February 2, 2008]
Scott-Clarke, C. and Levy, A. (2003) ‘Fast forward into trouble’ The Guardian,14 June. Available from: http://www.guardian.co.uk/weekend/story/0,3605,975769,00.html [Accessed 24 January 2008]
Sherrattt, N., Darkes, T., Pearson, C., Williams, C. and Woodward, K. (2004) Understanding society, Milton Keynes, The Open University.
Write no more than 250 words to answer the following questions:
- In what ways do you feel that your study skills have improved during the course?
- What do you now think are the strengths and weaknesses of your study skills?
- How would you like to make further improvements?
My study skills during this course have improved qualitative and quantitatively. From a natural science background I have had to leap into social sciences, where comprehending the material is more important that memorising it. Multiple-choice questions have been substituted by essay writing, where you have to reason, argument and reference your statements, not just tick the correct answer. Reading and note taking have been tasks of outmost importance. I feel I have had to strip texts to their bare bones and build their bodies again with my own words.
One of my skills is interpreting graphs and numeric data, as this is something I do very frequently in my job. One of the most difficult things has been to accept that there is usually more than one answer in social science questions, and there are no right or wrong, but different opinions and an open debate. It has been a revelation to discover that, in social sciences, we, as individuals and as a society, are the researchers and subjects of study, and the dynamic implications of this duality.
I have signed up for DD100 to further improve and polish my new skills. Y157 has opened my appetite for social matters and I want to learn more. My newly acquired skills are going to be put to the test.