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Q: Explain the extent to which marital breakdown has impacted on the family.
Use two contrasting theories and relevant studies in your answer, (30 marks)
A: 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.'
The family is believed to be `the cornerstone of society' according to sociologists, as it
serves such an important function. In today's society, there are many family types due to
different changes that have taken place within society. One of these changes is marital
breakdown, which has led to the question `to what extent has marital breakdown impacted
on the family?' I am going to discuss this question with reference to theories and studies of
Sociologist, Anthony Giddens defines the family as "a group of persons directly linked by
kin connections, the adult members of which assume responsibility for caring for children."
The family serves many different functions. According to George Murdock, the nuclear
family was the most successful because it fulfilled four basic functions: a sexual function by
regulating sexual behaviour within society, a reproductive function by producing offspring, an
economic function by cooperating in tasks and sharing resources and an educational
function of socialising children.
According to Murdock, the most common type of family in Britain was the `nuclear' family.
This type of family consisted of a mother, a father, and children. However, since the 20th
century different types of family have become more common. This has been due to things
such as changing role of women and the increase in divorce rates since 1971after the
divorce law was amended, making it easier to divorce and also making it more acceptable.
Other reasons may be because gay relationships are seen to be more acceptable now a
days and also attitudes to marriage and having children have changed also.
However, there have been major changes in the structure of the family in modern society.
For example, if we look at divorce in the UK. Over the course of the 20th century, the
divorce rate changed from 1,000 per year to 200,000 per year. This was mainly due to the
Divorce Reform Act which was introduced in 1971. Another cause of divorce is because of
the rising expectations of marriage. This means that couples are unwilling to accept `empty
The family is also changing because the sizes of families in the UK are getting smaller.
Young women are having fewer children and marrying later, if at all. In 1966, 30 year old
women had an average of 1.9 children this has declined to 1.3 in 1996. Another change in
the family today is because of the increase of loneparent families. In the past, most lone
parent families were cause by the death of a parent. Today, the majority are created
because of divorce. In 1992, there were approximately 1.3 million single parent families in
the UK this number is double that than it were in 1972. Over 80% of these lone parents
One aspect of the family studied by sociologists is `marital breakdown.' Marital breakdown
refers to the breakdown of marriage either through couples getting divorced or through legal
separation. It is difficult to measure separation which is not legally recorded.
There are many sociological theories which explain the family. The functionalist theory is
based on consensus and agreement. The functionalist theory is strong in recognising the
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The New Rights perspective was
introduced between the 1980's and 1990's. This perspective is similar to that of the
functionalist perspective, but has been extended. They believe the traditional family to be
under threat and that social problems such as alcoholosim are caused by the decline in the
traditional family. A strength of the new right perspective is that there is evidence of these
`social problems' in areas such as divorce and crime.…read more