Families and Households

Important points in the families and households

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  • Created on: 25-02-12 16:55

The domestic division of labour

  • Talcott parsons (1955) has a functionalist model of the family.
  • The husband has the instrumental role, where he succeeds at work so that he can provide for his family financially.
  • The wife has the expressive role. She is in charge of the primary socialisation of the children and meets the emotional needs of her family, she is a full time housewife.
  • Parsons says this division of labour benefits men and women also the children.
  • Elizabeth Bott (1957) has two types of conjugal roles- roles with marriage
  • Segregated conjugal role- Husband and wife have separate roles, husband as the breadwinner and wife as the housewife/carer.
  • Joint conjugal roles- the husband and wife share the tasks such as housework and childcare.
  • Young and Willmott (1973) suggest the symmetrical family
  • The husband and wife roles are more similar for example the wife will go out to work and can still take care of the children. The husband will help with the housework and childcare. They found that more this type of family was common in young couples.
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Feminists view of housework

  • Sociologists who are feminists do not agree with Young and Willmott's symmetrical family
  • They say that not much has changed as men and women still have unequal roles. Women still do more housework than men, this inequality show that the family and society are male-dominated or patriarchal.
  • Ann Oakley (1974) a feminist criticises Young and Willmott's view of the family being symmetrical.
  • Oakley found that 15% of husbands had participation in housework whereas 25% had participation in childcare.
  • Mary Boulton (1983) suppoted Oakley's view point. She found that fewer than 20% of husbands had a major role in childcare.
  • The Office for National Statistics found that on average women spend over two and a half hours per day on housework, cooking, washing up, cleaning and ironing compared with men's one hour a day.
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Demographic Trends-Birth rate

Birth rate is the number of live births per 1000 of the population per year. There has been a decline in the birth rate since 1901 34% lower than in 1901. There are different reasons for this change:

  • Women were more career focused meaning they want to have children later in life
  • Childhood seen as special period in life. This meant there was an economic expense and parents chose to limit their size
  • Lower infant mortality rate(death in first of year) because of improved sanitation and health care

These reasons had an impact on families. There was more small size families because couples delayed having children and there was more dual earner families. This meant both the man and woman would go out to work to provide for their family.

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Demographic Trends- Fertility rate

Fertility Rate is the number of live births per 1000 women aged 15 to 44 over one year. There has been a decline in fertility rates from 115 live births per 1000 in 1900 to 54.5 in 2001. ONS showed rise in women having babies between 35-39 and women having babies over 40 has doubles in the last 20 years. There are different reasons for this change:

  • There reliable birth control such as the contraceptive pill
  • Careers and educational opportunities increased for women. Now that the Equal Pay Act and Sex Discrimination Act are in place there's an increase in them getting a job
  • Changes in attitudes-Children a lifestyle choice

These reasons had an impact on families. More small family size, dual earner families, childless women- women without children, births outside marriage and cohabiting due to not being dependent on the man for economic stability.

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Demographic Trends- Death rate

Death rate is the number of deaths per 1000 of the population over the course of a year. The death rate has decreased as the life expectancy increased. The peaks in death rate were after World War 1 due to conflict and flu epidemic. There are different reasons for this change:

  • Increase in life expectancy due to improved public health such as sanitation and the NHS, improved medical technology, rise in standard of living such as nutrition and benefits.
  • Ageing population developing- Greater proportion of the population is over 65

This had an impact of families. For example elderly one person families meaning more elderly living on their own-ONS in 2005 59% women over 75 were living alone. Contact with extended families- Foster 1990 did a study in East End London and found that adults lived few streets away from their parents. Beanpole families- Four generation with a pivot generation that looks after the elderly and grandchildren.

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Demographic Trends- Migration

Migration is the number of people entering the UK(Immigration) and the number of people leaving the UK(Emigration). Migration created cultural, religious and ethnic diversity.This happened because of the beveridge report which aimed to re-build Britain post world war . It recruited people from Pakistan, India and Africa.This had an impact on families. For example in African Carribean families

  • Berthoud 2000- 39% of AC men married by 30 in comparison to 60% of white men
  • Dual heritage
  • Berthoud 2003- Matriarchal family life- Women avoid settling down with Ac fathers due to modern individualism, leading to single parents and cohabiting


  • Berthoud- Little divorce more likely to stay in empty-shell marriages
  • The Esex study-Pakistani and Bangladeshi- nuclear or extended families
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State Polices

State policies are put in place for people in the UK to follow. These state policies may affect the nature and extent of family diversity. Here are some examples of state policies that the government has put in place.

1. The legislation of homosexuality- This led to the civil partnership 2005 meaning gay couples could marry also leading to them being able to adopt. Valerie Riches from the New Right perspective said society should have the traditional nuclear family. Postmodernists disagree with Valerie.They say that people should be able to choose how they live their life.

2. Beveridge Report- Aimed to re-build Britain after the world war, recruiting Pakistani, Indian and African Caribbean families to work. Extended families would come and move to Britain leading to it being more cultural diverse.

3.Divorce Reform Act- For married couples to end their marriage due to irretrivable breakdown after two years. This led to an increase on lone parents meaning one parent would look after the children and reconstituted families. People co-habiting increased due to them seeing not point on getting married therefore co-habit.

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Stae Policies continued...

4. Sex discrimination Act and Equal Pay Act The sex dicrimination meant women would be treated fairly in the workplace or elsewhere. The equal pay act meant that women and men would get equal pay at work. These policied led to roles in the family changing. Women decided to go into work due having equal pay leaving the instrumental and expressive role by funsctionalists changing. Young and Willmott found that in young couples there was more symmetrical families meaning both men and women got to work and share the housework and childcare role.

5. Contraceptive pill free on the NHS and legalisation of abortion-This meant that the there was an decreased rate of fertility meaning less women got pregnant due to a reliable source of the contraceptive pill. The legalisation of abortion led to the the birth rates decreasing as women would abort their child before the due date.

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Marxists see society based on unequal conflict between the two social classes Bourgeoisie and Proletariat. The bourgeoisie own the means of production whereas the proletariat are those who labour the capitalists exploit of profit, they are the working class. 

Marxists see institutions such as education system, media, family and religion help maintain class inequality and capitalism. Marxists have three functions they see the family part of capitalism.

Inheritance of property- This means that those who own the means of production will send their wealth down to the next generation in order to keep the business going. Engels said that monogamy is essential for property inheritance because men had to be sure they are the father of their children in order to give their inheritance to them.

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Marxism continued...

Ideological functions- They say the family performs key ideological functions for capitalism. Ideology means the set of ideas or beliefs that justify inequality and maintain the capitalist system by persuading people to accept it as far, natural  and unchangeable.

This is done by socialising children into the idea of accepting hierarchy and inequality. This lead to children learning about the different social structures in society. Parents being in power over their children teaches them the idea that their someone also in charge, this prepares them for the world of work.

A unit of consumption-  Capitalism exploits the labour of the workers, meaning the family plays a major role in generating profits. This is because of the media targets children persuading their parents to buy products, children who lack latest clothes or gadgets will be mocked by peers.

Feminists say society meets the needs of men rather than capitalism. Whereas functionalists say the family performs other functions for society such as emotional and mutual support.

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Plicher says the modern idea of childhood is separateness. Childhood is seen as a clear and distinct life stage and children have a separate status from adults. Childhood is seen as golden age of happiness and innocence. Due to innocence children are vulnerable and will need protection.

Stephen Wagg says childhood is socially constructed and it isn't natural therefore should be seen as distinguished from biological immaturity.

Ruth Benedict says that children are treated differently in non industrial societies. This is done in 3 ways. Take responsiblity from an early age. In Bolivia Punch found that children were expected to work at home and in the community. Less value placed on obedience. In Western Pacific Firth found that being told what to do is a concession granted by the child. Sexual behaviour viewed differently. Malinowski found tolerance and amused interest when children engage in sexual activities.  

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Childhood continued...

Reasons for changes in the position for children:

  • Laws restricting child labours and excluding children from paid work
  • Introduction of compulsory schooling in 1880. The raising of the school-leaving age has extended this period of dependency
  • Child protection and welfare legislation such as 1889 prevention of cruelty to children act
  • The growth of idea of the children's rights
  • Declining family size and lower mortality rates
  • Children's health and development became the subject of medical knowledge
  • Laws and policies that apply specifically to children such as minimum ages for a wide range of activities. For example drinking, smoking,driving etc
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New Right

  • Hold the view that there is only one family type
  • They believe the traditional nuclear family type which has the married couple and their dependent children with a division of labour between the breadwinner husband and homemaker-wife is best
  • The new right say that the decline of the nuclear family is the cause of social problems
  • They see lone parent families as unnatural for their children. The children need the mother and father figure around them
  • They also believe women should not go out to work,they should stay at home and care for the family by cooking or help with homework
  • Marriage is the right thing to do to bring up any children


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New Right continued...

Other perspectives criticise the new right for example:

  • Ann Oakley 1997 a feminst says that the new right are wrong by saying the husband and wives roles are fixed by biology. She says that this view of the family is a negative reaction against the feminist campaign for women's equality
  • Feminists also say that the nuclear family favoured by the new right is patriarchal oppression of women. This is because it prevents from working, making them depend on the men to provide for them financially
  • Critics argue that little evidence that lone-parents are part of a dependency culture
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The Rapoports: Five types of family diversity

Rhona and Robert Rapoports 1982 argue that diversity is of central importance in understanding family life today. They believe society has moved away from the traditional family type to a range of different types. Rhona and Robert identify five different types of family diversity.

  • Organisational diversity- refers to differences in the ways family roles are organised
  • Cultural diversity- different cultural,religious and ethnic groups have different family structures
  • Social class diversity- differences in family structures are partly the result of income difference between households of different classes
  • Life-stage diversity- family structures differ according to the stage reached in the life cycle
  • Generational diversity- older and younger generations have different attitudes and experiences that reflect the historical periods in which they have lived.
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Domestic violence

Domestic Violence can be physical, sexual, psychological and financial. It takes place within an intimate or family-type relationship and forms a pattern of controlling behaviour.

  • Mirrlees- Black 1999 used data from the British crime survey and found that 70% of reported cases of domestic violence is carried out by men.
  • Women's Aid 2005- 1 in 4 women will experience domestic violence at some point in their lives
  • Liberal Feminists- Believe women have made real progress in terms of equality withing the family and education and employment
  • Radical Feminists- Such as Delphy 1984 believe that the first oppression is the oppression of women by men=the exploited class.
  • Marxist-feminist- Housewife role serves the needs of capitalist as their role maintains and presents the workforce and produces future labour power
  • Sclater 2000- Domestic violence is hard to define because some behaviours are easy to recognise- the physical ones which makes it hard to record and monitor
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