AQA Sociology AS: The Functions of the Family (Perspectives)

Supports all specification points. Supporting knowledge.

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  • Created by: Chloe
  • Created on: 23-12-11 14:17

The Functionalist Perspective on the Family

- Based on value consensus.

- Society is a system made up of different parts - family, education system & economy. Each is vital.

Peter Murdock (1949): 4 MAIN FUNCTIONS OF THE FAMILY.

  • Stable satisfaction of the sex drive: avoiding a sexual free-for-all
  • Reproduction of the next generation: to continue society.
  • Socialisation of the young: teaching societies shared norms & values
  • Economic needs: providing people food and shelter.


  • Other institutions could perform these functions
  • Feminists: see family as serving needs of men & oppressing women.
  • Marxists: see family as serving needs of capitalism not family members or society as a whole.
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The Functionalist Perspective on the Family (2)

Parsons (1955): 'Functional Fit' Theory

  • Functions family performs depends on the society its found in.
  • Nuclear Family & Extended Family
  • Nuclear - fits needs of modern industrial society
  • Extended - fits needs of pre-industrial society.
  • Famiy changed along with industrialisation
  • 1) A geographically mobile workforce: people need to move to where the jobs are.
  • 2) A socially mobile workforce: talented people able to win promotion even if they are from poor backgrounds.

Loss of Functions: Parsons

  • Pre-industrial family was multi-functional. After industrialisation, family lost functions because of other institutions e.g. schools & health service.
  • Parsons says that modern family performs only 2 essential functions now: Primary Socialisation of Children (providing societys values & norms) & Stabilisation of Adult Personalities (a place where adults can relax).
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The Functionalist Perspective on the Family (3)

Evidence Against Parsons' claim of the functional fit

  • Young & Willmott (1973) - pre-industrial family was infact nuclear.
  • Peter Laslett (1972) study of English Households between 1564 & 1821 were almost always nuclear.
  • Young & Willmott - a 'mum-centred' working-class extended family with mother & daughters helping each other.
  • Young & Willmott argue that from about 1900, nuclear family emerged as a result of social changes. However, extended family has not disappeared.
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The Marxist Perspective on the Family

- Society based on unequal conflict between 2 social classes:

  • Capitalist Class
  • Working Class

- All societies institutions maintain this conflict.

Family fulfills capitalism through these functions:

  • Inheritance of Property: keeping wealth within the family. Engels' view is that monogamy became essential & it brought female sexuality under male control.
  • Ideological Functions: persuading people to accept it as fair, natural or unchangeable. Socialising children to idea of a hierarchy in preparation of work.
  • A Unit of Consumption: 'Keeping up with the Jonese', children for 'pester power' for consumerism.


  • Marxists assume nuclear family is dominant. Ignores societys diversity.
  • Feminists: too much emphasis on social class & capitalism.
  • Functionalists: ignore benefits of family such as intimacy & mutual support.
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Feminist Perspectives on the Family

Liberal Feminism: March of Progress View

  • Womens oppression is gradually being overcome 
  • We're moving towards greater equality.
  • CRITIQUE: fail to challenge causes of womens oppression.

Marxist Feminism: Capitalism Oppresses women, not men.

  • Women produce the labour force
  • Women absorb anger. Ansley (1972): wives are 'takers of ****'
  • Women as a reserve army for cheap labour e.g. during war.

Radical Feminism: Division in society is between men & women

  • Men are the enemy
  • Family & Marriage are key institutions for oppression.
  • CRITIQUE: fail to recognise that womens position has improved.
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Feminist Perspectives on the Family (2)

Difference Feminism: Womens experiences are different

  • All have different experiences of the family.
  • Not the same for all.
  • CRITIQUE: Neglects fact that women in fact, do share many of the same experiences e.g. low pay, domestic violence & sexual assult. 


1) They all assume that the traditional nuclear family is the dominant type.

2) They are all structural theories (in society to perform a function)

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i found this rather helpful, thanks :)


really helpful thanks ! 

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