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Modern Times: 1950s to The Present Day

Everyday Life

The Family

By Sue Innes

The Welfare State, smaller families, a rising standard of living and intense focus on family life all brought changes to Glasgow in the post-war period. The city's children benefited from free health care, milk and orange juice. The ideal of the child-centred family gained ground, as did child protection epitomised by the "cruelty man" who became a familiar figure. The "problem family" and "juvenile delinquency", if not new social concerns, were given a high media profile. One pioneering sociological survey of 1951 came to the conclusion that despite Glasgow's massive redevelopment programme, the generational legacy of slum housing was still having an adverse impact on the behaviour and physical development of the city's youth.

As the 1950s progressed, rising real incomes and family-focused consumerism brought new goods and new pressures. Many working-class families enjoyed greater security, but larger families and those affected by unemployment and illness were left behind, some still living in condemned accommodation without electricity. Although domestic appliances alleviated the hardest domestic labour, mothers were still often last to bed and first to rise and went without when times were hard. In 1951 more than half of Glasgow households still lived in one or two-roomed dwellings and as many managed without a fixed bath. New housing schemes meant running water and separate bedrooms, but also the worry of paying higher rents and getting furniture. A shift to Easterhouse or Drumchapel could mean the break-up of close-knit family- and neighbour-networks. Washing machines replaced the "steamie" and for wealthier families shopping by car took over from walking to "the store". The image of women blethering and children playing at the close mouth was replaced by that of the family sitting around the television.

Declining levels of infant mortality were a major outcome of post-war health improvements. The Glasgow figures fell from 104 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1937 to twenty-five in 1967. During the early 1960s teenage marriages were common and the average age at which women had their first child fell to twenty-one. Over the next forty years fertility rates for women in their twenties halved and teenage pregnancy is now seen as a social problem. From the 1960s the rapid increase in both cohabitation and (until the early 1990s) divorce indicated greater choice and variation in family arrangements, but also meant poverty for single-mother headed families concentrated in disadvantaged areas. Gay families became more visible and step-families were no longer unusual. The economic ravages of the 1980s had a big impact and chronic illness and family poverty remain major concerns. Domestic violence, always an issue, is now acknowledged as a crime. Women still take most responsibility for childcare and housework.

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