AQA AS Sociology - Families & Households

Revision on the section Families & Households

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Functionalist Perspective on the Family

Murdoch - 'The family includes adults of both sexes living together under one roof with one or more children in a sexually cohabitating relasionship.'

His definition is contraversial as family types today are much more diverse than in the past, for example;

- Lone parent families

- Same sex relasionships with adopted children

- Families where one parent works away from home

- Children educated away from home  

A wider definition of the family would be - 'A group of two or more generations with at least one adult with thier own or adopted child.'

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Functionalist Perspective on the Family Cont..

Varieties of family:

- The two generation or more consiting of adults and children is the Nuclear family.

- Other relatives can be added to make an extended family.

- If grandparents or great grandparents join the family household then 3 or 4 generations are living together to create a vertically extended family.

- If the parents have adult brothers or sister living with them then the family is horizontally extended.

Definition of  a household:

A household is where people are living under the same roof and share expenses and resources.

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Functionalist Perspective on the Family Cont..

- They believe that societies instiutions, education, media, economy, function together to support each other.

- The family maintains the social system by producing the next generation and socializing them.

- Within the family the members have different roles which go together to benefit each other.

He believes there are 4 functions of family which are vital:
1. Reproduction of the next generation.

2. Regular sexual activity inside the marriage.

3. Socialisation of the next generation.

4. Providing for the family - economic support from husband 

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Functionalist Perspective on the Family Cont..

Critisims of Murdoch:

He wrote before the feminist movement and took for granted that traditional gender roles were universal and desirable. 

Feminist Ann Oakley argues that in some societies gender roles were symmetrical or reversed. 
She argues that the division of labour is not universal or natural, it is something created by society and it is possible to change them.


He agrees with Murdoch. He noted that families in simpler societies didn't preform as many tasks as in traditional families. Only 2 of the functions recognized by Murdoch were still there:

- socialisation of children

- Stableisation of adults 

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Functionalist Perspective on the Family Cont..


Parsons says that families gain emotional and comforting support from living together. He describes the womes role as expressive (caring and nurtring) and the male as instumental (practical, breadwinner)

He argued that before the industrial revoulotion families living off the land were large and extended. This leaded to the gender roles becomming blurred, grandparents might care for children for example.

Since industrialisation it's common for smaller families to move where the work is. These families are isolated from kin so rely on the wives to take care of the children and women take dependancy on men as breadwinners.

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Functionalist Perspective on the Family Cont..

Critisims of Parsons:

It is important to remember that traditional female roles can be instrumental - thier tasks are practical too.

Male roles are also expressive as they have caring professions too.

Feminists argue that gender roles don't neccasarily have to be divided like Parsons said. There is no reason why men and women should not share roles.

Ronald Fletcher:

Fletcher is a functionalist (1966)

He says that - 'Marriage is becomming a relasionship of affection and companionship and people are now less likley to immediatly have children.'

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Functionalist Perspective on the Family Cont..

Ronald Fletcher (1966)
This relates to Parsons idea of 'stablisation of adult personalities'. Though most couples choose to have children - after they have moved out the couple spends time together in companionship. If this fails they re-marry soon after. 

-'Divorced couples are not trying to avoid marriage.'

In Fletchers view the family is stronger than in the past:

- Women only married for economic support from husbands.
- Stigma pressured them into getting married.
- It was harder to divorce if they were unhappy with thier marriage.

He takes the 'March of progress' view where marriages today are a 'fufilling arrangement of choice.' 

He is concerned that the family had become too privatised and don't care much for wider society as they enjoyed the 'warm bath' of intimate life.

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Functionalist Perspective on the Family Cont..

Critisims of Fletcher:

Fletcher wrote before the Divorce Reform Act (1969 - took affect in 1971) and so may have underestimated the disruption divorce was for the family.

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Roles in Gay Households

Weeks (1999) found that roles in gay households are likely to be more flexible than in neo conventional families as couples are experimenting which an 'untraditional' arrangement.

Even if one partner stays at home whilst the other works its less likley they will have to do all the housework. They have more symmetrical roles.


This study only provides an update of roles between partners. Many families share more symmetrical roles.

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The Dysfunctional Family

There are a range of arguments that say Functionalists paint a too 'rosy' picture of the family.

The pressure of family life can mentally damage it's members - Vogel & Leach say that parents in conflict with children rebelling show there are secrets within the family and privacy which causes conflicts.

The widespread of domestic violence and child abuse found by Dobash & Dobash reinforces that Functionalists do not see the other side of things within the family. 

Marxist Cooper says that parents insisting disapline on children produces conflicts.

Mirelees Black found that:

- most victims of domestic violence are women.

- 99% of all incidents against women are committed by men.

- Nearly 1 in 4 women have been assaulted by thier partner at some point in thier life.

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The Dysfunctional Family Cont..

The British Crime Survey:

- 4 women in every thousand were a victim of domestic violence.

- 7% of women aged 16-59 were victims of domestic violence compared with 4% of men.

- Indicates women are more vunerable.

- 2 men in every thousand were victims of domestic violence.


Women are more likley than men to have experienced intimate violence & all 4 types of abuse;

- Partners abuse
- Family abuse
- Sexual assault
- Stalker

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