Changing family patterns essay

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Explain the extent to which changing patterns of relationships have impacted
on the traditional family in contemporary UK society. Use two contrasting
theories and relevant studies to support your answer.
The family is very important to society with some form of grouping being found in all
societies. Giddens defined the family as a group of people who share kinship and who take
care of the next generation. This can be seen as playing a vital role within society with the
family often being described as the cornerstone of society. The functionalist Murdock
believed the family served four specific functions within society including sexual,
reproductive, economic and educational. This was later shortened by Parsons who believed
the family served two functions of regulating adult emotion and behaviour and educating the
next generation.
However, there have been vast changes to the family in recent years. This can be seen in
the type of family with the nuclear family becoming less common and the reconstituted and
single parent families becoming more prominent. This is partially due to the increase in
divorce. The Divorce Reform Act of 1971 made it much easier to get divorced. There has
been an increase from 859 petitions of divorce in 1911 to 183,000 in 1987.
Another change which has occurred is the number of children being born. Women are
choosing to have fewer children due to career opportunities and getting married later in life.
The number of children dropped from 1.9 in 1966 to 1.3 in 1996.
The recent changes in families can be attributed to the industrialisation of society. Families
have become more specialised as other agents have taken over specific functions e.g.
families moved from the land causing them to cease being a unit of production. This has led
to a reduced need for extended family and a move towards a nuclear family which in turn
has led to diversity in family types. There has been an increase in the number of single
parent families and reconstituted families and a decline in the nuclear family. This can
partially be explained with the increase in divorce.
There have been many theories put forward to explain changes in families. The functionalist
theory sees society as being based in consensus and agreement. It therefore assumes that
institutions exist and perform a function. The family institution performs the function of
regulating behaviour, producing the next generation and educating offspring. This can be
seen in both the work of Murdock and Parsons. The strengths of this theory are that it
looks at the positive aspects of the family. However it ignores all the negative aspects of the
family such as domestic abuse
A study by William GoodeWorld Revolution and Family Patterns (1963) examined family
changes as a result of industrialisation. He saw industrialisation as the undermining of the
extended family for a number of reasons including increased mobility in the work force led
to weakened links within the family and increased mobility leading to the cutting of ties to
lower social strata. This study is strong as it recognises the changes within industrial
societies e.g. work force being more geographically mobile. It also explains the growth of
services such as the welfare state reduces the functions performed by a family. However,
Goode is criticised for suggesting that the nuclear family is the most suitable form of family
and also for ignoring the negative aspects of nuclear families and industrialisation.
Another theory to explain changes in the family is the feminist theory. The feminist theory
rejects other sociological theories as they believe they are "male stream" neglecting the

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Marxist and radical feminist view the family in terms of conflict.
Marxist feminists believe that patriarchy within the economy is reflected in the home with
women supplying cheap domestic labour and producing the next generation of workers.
Women can also serve as a reserve army of labour if required e.g. during the world wars.
Marxist feminists believe the family allows men to take their frustration at the capitalist
system out on their wives.…read more


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