The Functionalist view of the family. Useful for the AS Sociology: Families and Households unit. Can be used as an essay plan to answer the 'examine' essay questions. For 'assess' questions, more arguments are needed.

  • Created by: Sophie
  • Created on: 15-12-09 16:08


Functionalists believe that there a range of institutions which make up society. E.g education, family etc. They believe that society is like a human body- if you take away an organ, the body dies. So if you take away family (or any other institution) from society, society falls apart.

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Murdock's 4 Essential Family Functions

1) Satisfaction of sex drive... husband and wife satisfy each other's sexual needs. This prevents social distruption caused by a sexual free-for-all.

2) Reproduction of the next generation... without reproduction, society cannot continue.

3) Meeting societies member's economic needs... providing food and shelter.

4) Socialisation of the young... teaching children the basic norms and values of society.

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Criticisms of Murdock's Family Function

It could be argued that other institutions can perform these family functions.

E.g prostitutes, IVF treatment, homeless shelters and foster homes.

However, Murdock argued back stating that the family is more practical and convenient to perform the family functions. Everything is 'under one roof.'

Functionalists see a rose-tinted view of the family. Not all families are happy. The functionalist view does not account for conflict and exploitation within the family. This view ignores the darker side such as domestic violence.

Feminists see the family as an institution which serves the needs of men only, and oppressing women.

Marxists say that the family benefits capitalism, not society as a whole.

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What has Caused the Rise in the Nuclear Family?

A geographically mobile workforce- people move away for work and start a family.

A socially mobile workforce- people are not staying with their ascribed status and move away to achieve more.

Welfare encourages it- there are benefits that encourage people to live in the nuclear family.

Increased affluence permits it- people earn more money so become less dependant on extended family.

Media and ceral packet families- we see the 'perfect' family in the media (2 adults and 2 children) so want to be like them.

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Changes in Family Functions

Parsons says that some of Murdock's functions have been lost over the years as other insitutions can replace, such as schools, so now there are 2 essential family functions.

1) Primary socialisation of children... to teach children basic norms and values, to integrate them into society.

2) Stabilisation of adult personalities... family helps the adults to relax after work, to get them ready for another day.

Parsons uses the 'warm bath' analogy. This means that the family relieves the pressures of everyday life and recharges the batteries of individuals.

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Overall Evaluation of Functionalism


The nuclear family is universal. We can find variations of it all over the world.

It's the most desirable family type. People do not desire to be a single parent.

The nuclear family is supported by the government.


Parsons' research was only carried out on white, middle-class Americans so may not be representative across different cultures.

Functionalist view ignores family diversity. The extended family still exists (Grandparents).

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