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`The modern family now sees a reduction in social inequality.' Discuss
Within most societies people live and grow within a family setting. Sociologists have defined
the family as, `a group of persons directly linked by kin connections, the adults of which take
responsibility for caring for the children' (Giddens). The family is of great importance to
sociologists as they believe it to be the cornerstone of society as it serves such an important
function. Therefore it is important to compare and contrast family types and changes that
have taken place.
The family serves many functions. According to George Murdock the family serves four
basic functions, a sexual function by regulating behaviour, a reproductive function by
producing offspring, an economic function by pulling resources and an educational function
of socialising children. His research focused predominantly on the nuclear family.
However, there have been vast changes in the family structure in recent years. There has
been a decline in the nuclear family due to an increase in divorce subsequently causing an
increase in single parent families and reconstituted families. Since the Divorce Reform Act
1971 there has been a dramatic increase n the number of divorces taking place from 1,000
per annum to 200,000 per annum.
The family has also changed with the number of children women are having decreasing. The
figure has declined from 1.9 in 1966 to 1.3 in 1996. This has thought to have occurred due
to women marrying later in life or choosing not to have a family.
There have been many sociological theories introduced to explain the family. The
functionalist theory assumes that institutions exist which have functions which combine to
maintain a stable and harmonious society. Murdock found the family to have the four
functions mentioned previouslysexual, reproductive, economic and educational Parsons on
the other hand found there to be 2 functions. These were the primary socialisation of
children by instilling norms, values and culture and the stabilisation of adult personalities by
providing emotional support. Therefore the family serves a function within our society.
A strength of this theory is that it links the family to its role in the larger social structures
emphasising the positive aspects of the family. However, the functionalist perspective has
been criticised for ignoring the negative aspects of the family.
Another perspective which explains the family is feminism. The feminist perspective
generally recognises the family as a source of exploitation of women. There are many types
of feminism. Radical feminism see society as patriarchal and see the family as central to
maintaining male power. Radical feminists such as Millet argue the family allows males to
dominate women and in its extreme forms includes domestic violence and rape. Radical
feminists see the solution as transforming the family structure with an alternative to the
nuclear family being offered. Marxist feminists place the basis of the family in the economic
structure and see the family as men maintaining their position within the labour market with
free domestic labour which exploits women and someone to dominate out with the labour
A strength of this theory is that it addresses the issue of women's power inequalities within
the family. However, feminism over emphasises the negative aspects of family life and does
not account for the women who choose to be housewives.
One aspect studied by sociologists is conjugal roles. Conjugal roles refer to the different
roles men and women have within the family this includes decision making, agenda setting
and division of labour. These can be either segregatedeach person doing specific jobs or
joint. The segregated idea of conjugal roles is thought to be one of the past. However,
feminist would argue that women still have responsibility for the majority of domestic tasks
and now suffer from a double burden of having to complete an economic role as well.
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Wilmott and Young tried to explain conjugal roles within the family by completing their study
`Symmetrical family' in 1975 under the functionalist perspective. Their study identified that
married couples were becoming more egalitarian with both taking responsibility for
household tasks and working. They discovered that 72% of husbands did housework other
than washing up at least once a week. They also discovered that married couples were
more likely to share leisure activities. This indicated that the family was important and
adapts to society.…read more