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Outline and evaluate the functionalist view of the role of the family in society. 33 marks - 25
A family is a kinship - people related by blood or marriage. Functionalism is a macro theory which
means it looks at a wider sociological view. It focuses on the importance of the nuclear family (mother
and father married with children), the universality of the family, changing roles and how the nuclear
family "fits" into modern society. The theory of "fit" is argued by Parsons, where he believes that the
dominant structure of the family best suits the needs of the economy at the time. This means that the
nuclear family "fits" into an industrial economy because they are geographically mobile and not
reliant on wider kin. By this Parsons means that family members can easily move to new centres of
production. Parson concludes that only the nuclear family could provide the achievement orientated
2quired by modern economies.
However according to Wilmott and Young, the pre-industrial family tended to be nuclear, not
extended as claimed by Parsons with parents and children working together in cottage industries
such as weaving. They also argue that the hardship of these early industrialised periods gave rise to
the mother centred working class extended family, based on ties between mothers and their
married daughters who relied on each other for financial, practical and emotional support.
Similarly, Hareven concludes that the extended family, not the nuclear family as Parsons said, was the
structure best equipped to meet the needs of early industrial society. Her research showed how
extended migrant families in America in the 19th Century acted as a source of support and mutual aid,
as well as promoting geographical mobility by helping newcomers to find work. This outlines the
functionalist view of the role of family in society and is evaluated by the views of other sociologists.
Functionalist theories are based on how the nuclear family performs positive function for individuals
and society which is why functionalist sociologists paint a harmonious picture of the family functioning
with other institutions to serve the needs of society and its members. This is agreed by Murdock as
he argues that the family is a universal institution (it exists everywhere) which is supported by when
he studied 250 societies and found some sort of family in all of them. This suggests that families are
necessary in some way either for societies to survive or for individual well-being. However, Murdock
views of the family is somewhat flawed due to the different type of families that exist in today's
society such as single parent, beanpole and extended families.
Also, Murdock believes that families perform four main functions ­ this theory is based on organic
analogy which means family and its members function to keep society alive. One of the functions of
family in which Murdock believes in is that family is there for stable satisfaction of the sex drive with
the same partner to prevent the social disruption caused by sexual "free to all". Another function in
his theory is that family is there to reproduce the next generation because without this society will
not be able to continue. Also, family are there to socialise the young by teaching the norms and
values of society and they are there to provide economic needs such as shelter and food. This
outlines and evaluates functionalist view of the role of the family in society.
On the other hand, other sociologists have criticised Murdock's functionalist approach because
Murdock's view on the universality of the family is too narrow because it excludes many family forms.
For example the single parent family is a distinct and viable family type as O' Donnell states "one in
five families with dependant children in Britain in 1994 was headed by a single parent". This is shown
by Bourne who says that single parent family are the most common in western society and that in
1996 11 per sent of people in Britain lived in this type of family- today it has doubled. Also, as
society became more industrialised traditional roles were increasingly taken over by the state. For
example, children had to go to school rather than being taught by family members; therefore the

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In response to Murdock's theory, Parson says that in modern
industrial societies the role of the family has become specialised. Parson believes that every family in
every society has two "basic and irreducible" functions. For instance, primary socialisation - passing
on of norms and values and appropriate gender roles, girls would be taught how to behave feminine
and boys would be taught how to portray themselves as masculine.…read more


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