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  • Author or Editor: Jonathan Gershuny x
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There is no one single future to be forecast. The future is, to a greater or lesser extent, determined by our own actions; to the extent that we have discretion in our activities we must think, not of the future but of alternative possible futures. This is particularly important in the case of transport, which has been seen over the last century to be a major causal variable in the pattern of social change; in choosing a future transport system we are also choosing the much wider system of social relations that will be dependent on the particular transport provisions. The choice of transport system is thus an especially important part of public policymaking, and forecasting must playa significant role in choice. This paper will look at two particular examples – motor vehicle forecasting, and airport demand and capacity forecasting – in order to throw some light on the nature of this role.

The concept of rational policymaking is helpful in formulating a view of the appropriate form for forecasting. Rationality is an attribute, not of some particular policy, but of a particular process of choosing a policy.

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Changes in patterns of family formation in Britain in recent decades have been documented in the previous chapter. In tandem with this, there have been changes in the labour market. As Chapter Four will show, male employment has become less secure while women are entering the workforce in increasing numbers, albeit often in part-time rather than full-time jobs.

The contrast with marriage and family life in the 1950s is stark, where the economic roles of spouses were symmetrical but markedly different. Men had jobs, and in an era of full employment, this meant that virtually all men worked between the end of full-time schooling and the statutory retirement age. There is a debate as to how to characterise women’s longer-term employment histories, but with some specific exceptions, women left the paid labour force at marriage, or at the birth of their first child, or they may never even have entered it. A minority of those who left during the early part of marriage returned later. These patterns gave a characteristic lop-sided M-shape to the graph of women’s employment by age (Dale, 1987). Instead of paid work in the labour force, during the early stage of family formation women took virtually sole responsibility for unpaid work within the household, and maintained this irrespective of any subsequent re-attachment to the labour market. The evidence suggests that the total amounts of paid work done by men roughly balanced the total time spent on unpaid work by women (Young and Willmott, 1974). However, the work itself was strongly segregated by gender.

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The panel survey provides a moving picture of people and families. It could be thought of as a form of timelapse photography in which we see beards sprouting or hairlines receding, in which partners and children move into the frame and out of it, in which the decoration and furniture become, as we view successive snaps, more lush and expensive or increasingly pinched and shabby.

The book began by thinking about social change in the aggregate over recent decades, comparing ‘cross-sectional’ survey evidence from the 1970s through to the 1990s. However, in subsequent chapters the focus on change over time tended to fall away – despite the fact that longitudinal data from the BHPS has been used throughout. The lives of the same people at successive points in time have been analysed, revealing the changes in conditions of life that they experience. However, these individual experiences of life events do not necessarily add up to social change viewed in the aggregate. On the contrary: the micro-dynamics of life, the processes through which individuals’ and households’ circumstances are maintained or transformed from year to year – what might be thought of as life chances – may simply be the best, the most informative and the most powerful way to describe the current workings of the society. Individual dynamics can sum to social statics.

The contrast between micro-dynamics and macro-statics can be illustrated by thinking about the ‘movement’ of a river. If you stand on the bank, you can see the water flowing downstream. If you come back a year later, the water passing by is a completely different set of molecules to the ones you saw last time.

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Evidence on the dynamics of social change from the British Household Panel Survey

‘The family’ is a subject of enormous academic, political and popular interest. It is a central feature of most people’s lives, the framework within which other relationships, activities and events take place. This unique study provides important new insights into the dynamics of Britain’s social and economic life - in family structures and relationships; in employment and household incomes; in housing, health and political affiliations.

Most previous research has been limited to measuring an individual or family’s position only at the time of the interview. This book presents a clearer picture by following the important events in people’s lives, such as starting work, getting married, or falling into poverty. It reviews existing findings and presents new analyses of data from the British Household Panel Survey. The same 10,000 adults (in 5,000 households) have been interviewed every year between 1991 and 1997.

Seven years in the lives of British families is a collaboration between members of the University of Essex’s Institute for Social and Economic Research. Each of the authors is an expert in the field, but the work has been presented in an easy-to-read style to make these important research findings widely accessible. The book will be read by policy makers and all with an interest in the dynamics of modern society, as well as by academic sociologists, economists and demographers.

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