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Emma Rudd BMA
Sociology Family Unit Explanations of Family Diversity
Functionalist Views: Parsons
Parsons argued that changes in the functions of the family also involve a change in
the structure. He argues that in preindustrial societies an extended family system
made it easier to carry out the wide range of functions required since a larger pool of
kin was available. In industrial societies this extended system is no longer needed and
may, in fact, be a positive disadvantage. Parsons suggests this was because:
1. The nuclear family contains the basic roles and can carry out essential
functions, and the functions of the wider kin have been taken over by
specialised agencies for example the welfare state.
2. The workforce in industrial societies needs to geographically mobile. The
nuclear family can move from place to place in search of jobs and are not so
dependent on the wider kin. He argued that this isolated nuclear family is the
typical industrial family structure. Relationships with relatives are now a matter
Young and Willmott: Privatisation and The Family
Young and Willmott showed how extended family networks were still in existence in
the traditional working class communities in the 1950's. Their study of Bethnal Green
in the East End of London showed how strong extended family networks were and
what an important role they had in mutual help and assistance for working class
As a second part to their study the looked at families from Bethnal Green that had been
rehoused in a new counsel estate in Essex some 30 miles from Bethnal Green. They
showed how the move resulted in `privatisation' by this they mean that family life
became more homecentred and based on the nuclear family.
Young and Willmott argue that the development of the stage 3 family has occurred
through a process of stratified diffusion, whereby new ideas of family life were initiated
by the higher social classes and gradually filtered down to the lower classes.
Criticisms of Young and Willmott
They have been criticised by conflict theorists for failing to address the negative
aspects of changes, as their theory seems to suggest that family life gets better and
better. Feminists have also criticised them, as it is inaccurate to talk about a
symmetrical family, as it implies that men and women now do the same jobs, which is
not the case.
Other sociologists have criticised them, as they believe that the extended family may
be more important to the nuclear family than Young and Willmott suggested. Also
many sociologists are unhappy about the concept of stratified diffusion as it implies
that the working class automatically follow the norms established by the middle class.
The Rediscovery of the Extended Family
Goldthorpe and Lockwood's argument that privatisation is an increasing
characteristic of nuclear families is challenged in a study by Fiona Devine. Her
findings suggest that the degree of privatisation of the family life has been exaggerated.
She found that most couples had regular contact with kin, especially with parents and
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Emma Rudd BMA
to a lesser extent with grown up siblings. Geographical mobility had not destroyed
kinship networks as cards and telephones enable relatives to keep in touch.
Two Contrasting Positions of Family Diversity
The New Right argue that the family is in decline which will result in negative social
consequences as the family plays an important / central role with in society and