Families and Households - Functionalism


Families and Households - Functionalism 1/4

Functionalists believe that society is  based on value consensus and that the family is needed to socialise members into this, enabling individuals to meet society's needs and agree on shared goals, also believing that every institution contributes to the smooth running of society, of which the family is the heart and a unit of stability 

George Murdock (1949) argued that there are four main functions of the family, reproduction, socialisation, sexual, and economic, which  are necessary in any society; also suggests that the nuclear family is universal, but this is disproved by the existence of the Nayar, etc

Parsons (1951) argues that the societal function of the family is: primary socialisation (internalising social culture, without it, society wouldn’t exist as new generations wouldn’t adhere to norms/values, so is a powerful mechanism that forms personalities, making the family a factory to produce them) and personality stabilisation (pressure on people in industrial societies destabilises an individual's personality, avoided through emotional support and the sexual division of labour and different roles adopted by each sex (instrumental vs expressive, men vs women) in families

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Families and Households - Functionalism 2/4

Parsons, Young & Wilmott, Fletcher suggest the classic extended family has disappeared, replaced by the privatised nuclear family (a self-contained, self-reliant, home centred unit, where families know more about the lives of celebrities etc, that emerged to meet the needs of modern society and individuals) or by the modified extended family, and this decline in the extended family is because of: geographical mobility, higher rates of social mobility, greater affluence, reduced family functions, strengthened bonds between partners, a need to avoid economic/status conflict between extended kin, and a meritocratic society making kin support less useful

Victorian families (vs modern): had more children so more would survive to adulthood and because there wasn’t contraception, were more influenced by religion, had different (less) gender equality, had larger extended families, married and had kids younger. Many of the functions of these families have since been removed and assigned to other institutions such as the NHS/education/welfare systems, and this changing function of the family is called structural differentiation, (according to Parsons, who then says his two basic functions shtick)

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Families and Households - Functionalism 3/4

However, there are complaints: -Cheal (2002) states that families are paradoxical contexts of love and nurture/violence and murder, whilst Marxists feel that the family is both a distraction from hierarchy and a creator, distracting men from rebelling and upsetting the status quo by creating a hierarchy within the nuclear family with men as the head of the house, feminists argue that the family is a unit of production as women are in unpaid domestic labour and entering into paid work would be detrimental to the family

The family also downplays conflict like: the exploitation of women, -Brown (2015) points out the negative effects the sexual division of labour can have on women, undermines positions in paid employment and causes stress, leading to ill mental health,  the darker side of the family where children become scapegoats for abuse/violence and 1 in 4 women experiencing domestic abuse in their lifetimes (according to the NSPCC 2011 and Radford), ignoring the harmful effects of the family,  where the increasing isolation means family members expect too much form each other, becoming the source of all discontent, destructive and exploitative, smothering the development of individuality, (according to -Leach and others)  and functionalists are also out of date with their instrumental and expressive roles 

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Families and Households - Functionalism 4/4

Functionalists also argue that the family hands a lot of its old functions to other institutions but Fletcher (1966) disagrees and argues that families now have more responsibilities like recreation, health, education,  that were previously ignored because of matters such as poverty, and he also argues that the family plays an important economic role as a unit of consumption

Functionalists theorise that extended families have been replaced by the nuclear family, but the extended family has actually just become the modified extended family, and -Laslett (1972) found that only 10% of households were extended families before the industrial revolution anyway

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