Relationships and Families

In UK societies it is not uncommon for men and women to share many roles in society and in the home. In many households you will find men sharing the domestic jobs such as washing dishes, cooking, cleaning and laundry with their partner. It is worth noting that this has not always been the case and with older couples you may find that the distinction between what is considered the man’s jobs and the woman’s jobs is very clear. For example, you can find some older men that have never cooked or cleaned for themselves.

Despite this transition towards equality, it is not yet complete and the reality is that women generally undertake the majority of domestic duties in the home.

Most women in the UK also work outside of the home in regular jobs, whether they are full-time or part-time. There are far more women working part-time in the UK than there are men and this creates a gender ‘pay gap’, meaning men typically earn more money than women. A lot of work is ongoing to address this imbalance but like domestic jobs in the home, true equality is yet to exist.

In relationships there are some unwritten rules about how people display their affection for one another. It is common and socially acceptable to see couples walking hand in hand or with arms around one another. Some mild kissing may take place, often referred to as a ‘peck’ on the cheek or the lips. However it is not socially acceptable to kiss passionately in public and amongst strangers. It is not illegal to do so but this type of action may attract some unwelcome looks or comments. You are more likely to see teenagers behaving this way than older adults.

Although there is a move towards gender equality in the UK, it is still common to see a man open a door or pull out a chair for a woman, and less common to see a woman doing the same for a man. It is also more common for a man to ask for a date than it is for a woman to do so.

It is unusual to see people of the same sex holding hands in the UK, as the common interpretation will be that they are a gay couple, whether they are or not. Female friends may do so on occasion, but very few male friends would hold hands.

There are laws in the UK to protect the rights of gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgender people against discrimination, which means that in theory people can be open about their sexuality. Same sex marriage is legal and practiced in the UK. Despite these laws, social attitudes to same sex relationships are very mixed in the UK. While the situation is improving rapidly, some same sex couples are subjected to negative comments and attitudes.

Most adults in the UK choose to get married, though it is not uncommon for couples to live together and raise a family without being married. While this situation is not something that is approved of by all people, older people may think it is wrong, it is generally accepted socially and it does not create significant problems for children. 

The divorce rate in the UK is over 40% and many children will be raised by a single parent. In most cases of divorce involving children, the children remain living with the mother. It is common for divorced fathers to look after their children on the weekend and you will often see fathers with their children in parks and shopping centres at weekends. While a high divorce rate is not something that anyone wants, divorce in the UK does not carry any social stigma of significance, meaning that it is an accepted part of UK life.

Many adults remarry after divorce and so the concept of the ‘step-family’ is a reality for many people in the UK. Many children live in family homes with step-brothers, step-sisters, step-fathers and step-mothers, to whom they do not have any biological relationship. 

The UK has the highest rate of teenage pregnancies, with almost 3% of women aged 15 – 19 giving birth every year. This often results in teenagers setting up homes with their own children at a relatively young age.

In contrast to this situation there has been an increase in the average age that UK adults leave their parental home. This is largely due to the rapidly increasing cost of housing in the UK and changes in the way that banks lend money for house purchases. It is far more likely that men will live longer with their parents than it is for women.

ICD2E1 - Listening Skills

What is the divorce rate in the UK?  

If a couple live together, who is more likely to do most of the domestic duties?  

Why don't many UK couple kiss passionately in public?  

IF two adults of the same gender are holding hands in public, what is the general interpretation?  

If someone's mother is divorced or widowed and then marries another man, what will the new husband's relationship be to this person?  

ICD2E2 - Discussion Activities

1) Working in groups, discuss what is meant by ‘gender equality’ in the UK. Consider specifically what it means in relation to the following contexts:
In the home
In the workplace
Social behavior

2) Homosexuality is legal in the UK, though negative attitudes towards ‘gay’ people still exist.
In your group discuss why you think this is the case. Try to determine the main reasons for different people having negative attitudes.

ICD2E3 - Cultural Comparison

1) How does the UK’s approach to gender equality compare to the approach in your own country? Remember that although the UK is seeking gender equality in all aspects of society, it has yet to be achieved. Think about how the attitudes towards gender equality in the UK compare with attitudes to gender equality in your own country / culture.

Write a short piece that presents your ideas. Share this text with a classmate and discuss both of your responses.

2) The UK has a relatively high divorce rate, leading to the creation of many step-families and situations in which children only live with one of their biological parents.

Write a short piece that compares this situation to the situation in your own country / culture. Share this text with a classmate and discuss both of your responses.

ICD2E4 - Vocabulary

Provide your own definitions

Equality : {}
Part-time : {}
Peck (on the cheek) : {}
Gay : {}
Attitude : {}
Divorce : {}
Step-family : {}
Stigma : {}
Passionate : {}
Project number: 543336-LLP-1-2013-1-DE-KA2-KA2MP - This project has been funded with support from the European Commission. This publication [communication] reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.