Parsons argued that the economic systems of pre-industrial societies were largely based on extended kinship networks.
Land and other resources were commonly owned or rented by a range of relatives extending well beyond the nuclear family unit. For example, it was not uncommon to live with and work alongside cousins.
Extended families were responsible for the production of food, shelter and clothing.
Roles in these families were the product of ascription rather than achievement. This meant that both family status and job was the product of being born into a particular extended family known for a particular trade or skill.
Roles were passed down from generation to generation.Few family members would reject the roles, because duty and obligation to the family and community were key values of pre-industrial society.
Historical criticism of Parsons’ views
Laslett study of English parish records suggests that only 10% of households in the pre-industrial period contained extended kin. Small families may be due to late marriage and early death.
Laslett’s data has been criticised as unreliable because statistics do not give us any real insight into the quality of family life.
Michael Anderson’s historical study of the industrial town of Preston also contradicts Parsons’ view that, after industrialisation, the extended unit was replaced by the nuclear family.
Anderson found a large number of households shared by extended kin. These probably functioned as a mutual economic support system.
Young & Willmott
They suggest that the movement towards the nuclear unit was not as sudden as Parsons suggests, but rather than it was more gradual in nature.
They conducted a research in Bethnal Green, East London in the 1950s.
It showed that extended families existed in large numbers even at this advanced stage of industrialisation. This extended kinship network was based upon emotional attachment and obligation. It was also a mutual support network, offering its members assistance with money, jobs, childcare etc.