G672 Sociology Revision - The Family

Revision notes for the sociology AS exam G672, 'The Family'

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The Family ­ G672
Key Concepts of the Family
George Peter Murdock's definition of the family is that it only includes members
of the nuclear family; this includes two generations of parents and their
Not all societies have nuclear families...
1) Kathleen Gough (1959) found that wives in southern India did not live
with the man they married, and instead, had several visiting husbands.
2) Murdock ignores the importance of the extended family: the extended
family also includes relations by blood or marriage from other generations
(for example grandparents)
3) Some families do not include two adults, (lone parent families).
Yanina Sheeran (1993) believes that the female carer-core, which
consists of a mother and her children, is the basic family unit. She argues
that the family unit is universal; HOWEVER, a problem with this definition is
the existence of male households where a single FATHER raises the
4) Some families do not have adults of the same sexes (GAY FAMILIES) ­
these types of families do not conform to Murdock's definition because
they do not contain adults of both sexes, and in some cases the
relationship may not be APPROVED of throughout society. They may
contain children from previous relationships, adoption or even through
new reproductive technologies. Sydney Callahan (1997) believes that
gay or lesbian households should be regarded as families.
CONCLUSION: Murdock's view of the universal nuclear family is not
particularly reflected in Britain today. Sociologists Allan and Crow (2001)
argue that is now much harder to define `the family' today because there is
such a wide variety of a family type.
The Ideology of the Nuclear Family
Ideology ­ a set of distorted beliefs which often serves the interests of one
group at the expense of others. Some sociologists believe that the nuclear
family is the normal or best type of family, which is a type of ideology.
Diana Gittins (1993) ­ she argues that there is no single family type which
is found in all societies. It is not possible to produce a definition of the family
which fits all societies.
Opposing ideological viewpoints on nuclear families in Britain can be identified:
New Right thinkers tend to support narrow definitions which see nuclear
families based around married couples as the only true family type. Many
supporters such as Patricia Morgan (1993) see the family as under

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The cereal Packet Image of The Family
According to Ann Oakley (1982) marketing and advertising
often tries to sell products to what it sees as a TYPICAL
family. Oakley believes that the image of the typical family
presented (advertising for breakfast cereals) portrays
the conventional family as `nuclear families composed of
legally married couples and voluntarily choosing the
parenthood or one of more (but not too many) children'.
Edmund Leach (1967) calls this the cereal packet image of the family.…read more

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Extended families
These types of families include kin in addition to the members of the
nuclear family, for example a third generation of grandparents as well as
parents and children.
The ideology of the nuclear family suggests that in Britain today extended
families are no longer very important.…read more

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Although some kin may live some distant apart, the rising of living standards, car
ownership and technological developments make it much easier to keep in
contact with one another. McGlone found that contacts remained frequent, with
the working class, having more contact with kin than the middle class.
Family structures in contemporary society:
A variety of structures have been used to characterize family structures in
contemporary Britain
- Peter Willmott sees the dispersed extended family as typical.…read more

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Greater employment opportunities for women make it easier for them to
afford to live alone.
Trends within the family size..
As well as the fall in average household size there has been a fall in family
size. Family size relies on the birth and fertility rate.
The Birth Rate
there has been a long term decline in the number of births in the UK. In
2008 there were 790 000 births in the uk compared to in 1901 when
there was 1, 093, 000.…read more

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A decline in birth and fertility rates means that women are delaying their
childbearing. Women who delay the birth of their first child until they are too old
may not remain fertile long enough to have large numbers of children.
Falling infant mortality rates are due to rising living standards, improved hygiene
and sanitation, improvements in healthcare, and improved monitoring of child
welfare.…read more

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Trends in divorce, marital breakdown and remarriage
Divorce ­ legal ending of a marriage
Separation ­ physical separation of spouses so that they live apart
`Empty-shell' marriages ­ husbands and wives who continue to live together and
remain legally married but the relationship has broken down
Trends in Divorce
The divorce rate has risen dramatically
Divorce has become more likely for women of recent generations of
those of older generations
The mean average age of divorce for men was 43 and for women 41.…read more

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Functionalist theories of the family
Functionalists see society as an interrelated whole. To functionalists every
institution in society performs one or more important functions of jobs
and they assume this helps society run smoothly.
George Peter Murdock believes that the family is an institution vital to
the well being of all societies, he believes there are multiple functions of
the family:
1) Sexual function ­ the family prevents disruption to society by limiting
sexuality to monogamous relationships.…read more

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Although, the nuclear family was more necessary
1) Industry required a geographically mobile workforce which could move to
where new families were build, this was harder for extended families.
2) Socially mobile workforce was also necessary. In extended families there
was conflict between young and older males who had more status. This
was avoided in the nuclear family.
Talcott Parsons ­ the changing functions of the family
Parsons argues that as society changes, the family loses some of its functions.…read more

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Macro ­ look at how the basic needs of society as whole are met
Structural ­ examines how the main institutions of society fit together and meet
basic needs
Consensus ­ achieved through shared values and norms produced through
Marxists Theories of the family
according to Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, power in society comes from
people who owned the means of production (such as land and labour
power) are able to exploit the subject class by forming a powerful ruling
class.…read more


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