Family life and learning
This chapter introduces readers to the themes relating to families and learning, which were apparent from the interviews we conducted with adult learners. It begins with an overview of the way in which families have changed over recent decades; this may help us better understand the way in which learning and education impinges on what is now a very dynamic and ﬂuid concept. Following this, I summarise some of the quantitative research ﬁndings of the effects of learning on the family, which will set the scene for a rather lengthier presentation of the speciﬁc family-related themes found in our own qualitative research.
The family of the new millennium is very different to that which was commonplace at the start of the last century. Amongst the myriad of changing family and living patterns seen in recent decades are an overall fall in fertility; an increase in extra-marital fertility; older ages at child-bearing; smaller households and family sizes; an increase in lone parenthood; an increase in divorce rates; an increase in cohabitation; an increase in living alone; falling numbers of ﬁrst marriages; and a decline in extended families and multi-family households (Fox and Pearce 2000; Haskey 1987, 1998; McRae 1999). These trends are set to continue, along with increasing numbers of stable non-marital unions, including same-sex couples; ‘living apart together’ relationships; never-married motherhood as choice; co-parenting; and reconstituted families built around remarriage or cohabitation. The changes have meant that family and household structures have become more diverse, and that individuals are more likely to experience living in a greater variety of families and households during their lifetime. According to Haskey (1996), the trend towards a variety of norms is perhaps the most signiﬁcant aspect of post-war social change.