Functionalist Theories of the Family (1)


  • SREE - sexual, reproductive, exonomic and educational function


  • Primary socialisation & stabilisation of adult personalities
  • There is a changing family structure - in pre industrial societies the extended fam was the norm and all would work in agriculture together. The nuclear family has developed as was necessary for society (geographically mobile and socially mobile)
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  • Created on: 21-02-14 16:26

Functionalist theories of the Family (2)


  • changing functions of the family : as society changes, the family loses some of its functions. Structural differentiation (specialist institutions have taken over some of the families functions)


  • some societies dont have traditional families
  • ignores the 'dark side' aka domestic violence and sexual abuse
  • feminists argue that men benefit more than women
  • feminists view that women being the main carers and men the breadwinners is patriarchal
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Marxist Theories of the Family (1)


  • family developed so men could be certain of paternity of children, allowing them to control women's sexuality


  • sees the family as a prop to the capitalist system. Unpaid domestic work of housewives supports fufture generations of workers at no cost to capitalist employers


  • sees the family as part of the superstructure of society. Ideological state apparatus, which is controlled by the Bourgeoisie and used to create values that support the ruling class.


  • sees family as 'an ideological conditioning device' in which children learn to confrom to authority so they will become cooperative and easily exploited workers
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Marxist Theories of the Family (2)


  • exaggerated the extent to which the family can be an escape from alienating work since the family can also be characterised by crueltly, neglect and violence
  • some families are anti-capitalist and socialise their children into beliefs which are critical of the ruling class
  • ignore the vast amounts of family types present in todays society
  • Po-Mo's claim they ignore the beneficial functions of the family for society


  • useful for highlighting the importance of economic influences on family life 
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Feminist Theories of the Family (1)

Greer (radical)

  • wives are much more likely to suffer physical and sexual abuse than husbands

Benston (marxist)

  • wives are used to produce and rear cheap labour for employers

Somerville (liberal)

  • progress has been made - women have more choice whether to marry/take paid work whilst married. There is greater equality within marriage and sharing of responsibility
  • However... there are still inequalities within marriage


  • exaggeration
  • fail to acknowledge the growing equality
  • ignore examples of when men are victims of abuse
  • Oversimplifying
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Feminist Theories of the Family (2)

Nicholson (Difference)

  • believes that women are often better off outside traditional families


  • points out that women cannot be exploited by men in lesbian families. Believes that there is an increasing choice in family life, and gay and lesbian families are examples of 'chosen families'


  • loses sights of inequalities 
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New Right Theories of the Family

See the nuclear families as the cornerstone of stabilitiy in society. They favour traditional families:

  • they encourage self-reliance - family members help eachother rather than relying on the state
  • helps reduce expenditure on welfare
  • see families as encouraging shared moral values and pass down morals to children

POLICIES: Thatcher introduced policies to try to support the traditional nuclear structure

  • 1988 taxation changed so that cohabitating couples couldn't claim greater allowances than married couples


  • argued that some of Thatchers policies allowed more people to live outside traditional nuclear family ( divorce laws etcs)


  • there is strong evidence of a decline in traditional family since the 70's
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New Right Theories of the Family (2)


  • Rapports - sees increasing family diversity as a good thing because it gives people greater freedom to live in the household that suits them best
  • feminists believe that increase in divorce can be beneficial for women escaping violent, abusive or expolitative relationships with men
  • Pomo's - see declining dominance of nuclear families as part of wider changes in society 
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The Family and Social Change

Murdock and Rad Fems see family as an unchanging role in society. However liberal feminists and pomos acknowledge change in the family.
Most theories tend to believe that a change in society will lead in change to family. (Parsons believed that change in the structure of family (pre-industrial) led to a change in the family (extended to nuclear)


  • family used to be extended to suit pre-industrial societies as most people worked in agriculture together and many children stayed on family land.
  • with development of industrialisation, employment required a geographically mobile workforce to move to factories etc. 

  • Criticisms of Parsons:
  • assumed that extended was the most common family type 
  • Young and Wilmott found that the extended family survived in WCL areas of London into the 50's.
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Changing family structure (1)

Wilmott and Young - family has been through 3 stages:

1 - pre industrial faily is a unit of production with parents and children forming the core
2 - early industrial family extended its network to include other kin
3 - nuclear family became dominant - based on a strong conjugal bond between husband and wife. Developed due to developing welfare state, increasing geographical mobility and smaller family sizes (less children per couple)


  • argues that the kin outside the niclear family are important as they can provide practical and emotional support. 
  • found that working class had more contact with the kin than the middle class 

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Changing family structure (2)


  • most parents do continue to support their children after they have left home
  • date from British Social Attitudes Survey found that only 10% of adults didn't see their parents regularly

Family structures in contemporary society:

  • Wilmott - sees the dispersed extended family as typical. Most people live in nuclear families. 
  • Brannen - beanpole family - strong intergenerational links between all the family
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The Family and Modernity


  • beleives that intimate relationships have changed with modernity: marriage has become more about love than economy, sex is for pleasure not just conceiving, divorce is more common.

Tradition and societal norms no longer tie couples together as they once did.

Beck et al - Individualisation

  • main characteristic of modern life
  • there are more opportunities (especially for women)
  • people seek emotional security in families
  • increased uncertainty 
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Postmodernity and the Family


  • sees postmodern family as 'diverse fluid and unresolved' they are... varied in structure, constantly changing and have no set structure than is regarded as the ideal


  • research based on small sample of families
  • exaggerated the degree of fluidity and uncertainty by picking untypical examples
  • underestimating the appeal of heterosexual nuclear families

however... does provide explanations for the increasing diversity of family types

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Social Policy and the Family (1)

state can affect family life through:

  • educational policies such as the provision of nursery education and compulsory schooling
  • taxation policies 
  • legal changes such as divorce law/ child protection legislations
  • housing policies such as the suitability and location of social housing
  • health and welfare policies such as 'care in the community' 

Murray (new right)

  • argues that an underclass has been created through over generous welfare payments, especially to single parents. 

Feminists - argue that social policies generally act to maintain the power of men in families and do little to control men who are violent or abusive to their partners or children.

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Social Policy and the Family (2)

Policies that support convential families:

  • education hours
  • child benefit
  • family tax credit
  • family-sized social hoysing
  • child support policies for fathers
  • expectation of family care for the elderly

Policies that don't support convential families:

  • benefits for lone parents
  • legalisation of civil partnerships for gay/lesbian couples
  • liberal divorce law
  • state help with childcare under 5
  • prosecution of violent husbands
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Social Policy and the Family (3)

New Right Governments:

  • Thatcher and Major followed some policies supporting traditional families: changed taxation policies so that cohabiting couples couldn't claim more in tax allowances than married couples. However... they made divorce easier to obtain in 1984 and didn't introduce tax/benefits to encourage mothers to stay at home.

New Labour

  • followed NR in arguing that the traditional family was a desirable institution - however allowed civil partnerships and accepted that family diversity was the norm and that policies should reflect it.
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Family Diversity (1)

Ann Oakley/ Leech

  •  cereal packet image of the family
  • conventional family is portrayed in advertising


  • point out that nuclear family households have become a minority in Britian
  • identifies five main types of diversity: organisational, cultural, class, stage in life-cycle, cohort. 

Reasons for diversification:

Allan & Crow

  • there is no longer a fixed set of stages in the life-cycle and each family follows a more unpredictable course, complicated by cohabitation, divorce and remarriage. This is because of: rising divorce rate, increase in lone parent households, cohabitating become acceptable, declining marriage rates and rise in number of stepfamilies. 
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Family Diversity (2)

New Types of Diversity:

  • Donovan et al - sees gay and lesbian families as contributing to the increase in diversity
  • surrogate motherhood
  • New reproductive technologies - 'test tube babies'
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Family Diversity and Lone Parenthood

Allan and Crow - explain the increase in lone parenthood in terms of two factors

  • increase in marital breakdown
  • a rise in births to unmarried 


  • sees changing relationships between men and women as important, with greater equality between the sexes making it more feasible for women to bring up children on their own. More employment opportunities for women encourage them to have a life in which they are not dependent upon a male partner

Changing attitudes & lone parenthood

  • evidence shows that younger age groups are much more accepting of parenthood outside marriage. It is no longer regarded as necessary to legitimise a birth by having a 'shot gun wedding'  
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Family Diversity and Lone Parenthood (2)


  • the increase in lone parenthood is a result of an over-generous welfare system which makes it possible for lone parents to live on benefits with housing provided by the state
  • he sees lone parents as part of a welfare-dependent underclass

Allan and Crow 

  • point outs that most lone mother find a new partner within a few years do not rely on benefits throughout an offsprings childhood.

The effects of lone parenthood 

  • can lead to a range of negative consequences. : living in poverty, children doing less well in education, children being more likely to become delinquent or to use drugs
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Ethnicity and family diversity

Minority ethnic groups can be seen as adding to the diversity of family types in Britain.

  • 2001 census found significant differences in the family life of ethnic groups in Britain: 8% white and 7% of black-carribean households were headed by an unmarried cohabiting couple compared to just 2% of british asian households. Black-carribean lone parents are more likely to be signgle than Bangladeshi lone parents. In 2001, 71% of black-carribean adults were signgle compared to 39% of white british adults.
  • Asian families add to diversity by maintaining traditional, nuclear families but with very strong extended kinship netwworks and a strong sense of mutual obligation
  •  The Policy Studies Institude found British African Carribean households had fewer long-term partnerships than other groups, were more likely to have children outside marriage and had above average rates of divorce and separation
  • Chamberlain - found that brothers, sisters, uncles and aunts play a more important role in african carribean families than in white british families.
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Diversity and the decline of conventional families

Young et al

  • study in Bethnal Green. Found that earlier family patterns where working class residents lived in nuclear families with strong kinship links had largely dissappeared and replaced by new indivdualism in which cohabitation, divorce, separation and lone parenthood. 


  • neo-conventional family. 
  • challenges idea that the nuclear family is threatened by diversity. as - most people still get married, most people are reared by natural parents, most people live in a household headed by a married couple, most people stay married. 
  • argues that the one major change is the roles in the husband and wife
  • 70% of people were still living in households headed by a couple. 


  • there are changes taking place - sex outside marriage is common, lone parents etc
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Changing patterns of marriage and cohabitation


  • institution of marriage is under threat of: falling marriage rates, growth and increasing acceptance of alternative to marriage (cohabiting), increase in single-person households, declining fertility, rising divorce rates.
  • sees rising cohabitation as part of a trend in which marriage is going out of fashion. Believes it represents an increase in the number of sexual partners and the frequency of partner change

Declining marriage rates may be caused by several factors which have made marriage less popular:

  • changing social attitudes which see marriage as less socially desirable
  • a decline in religious belief
  • an increase in cohabition 
  • a greater emphasis on individualism

Cohabitation has increased rapidly. 

Chandler - sees cohabitation as a relatively stable, long term alternative to marriage

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Divorce and marital breakdown

3 main categories:

  • divorce, separation, empty-shell marriages 

in 1911 - 859 divorces, in 2008 - 143,000 divorces
in 2008 - 28% of men divorcing and 20% of women divorcing had been married/divorced previously
2001 - 2% adults are separated and living alone in Britian


  • nuclear family specialises in fewer functions 

Allan and Crowe

  • believe marital breakdown has increased because the family is less likely to be an economic unit, making it easier for spouses to split up
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Divorce and marital breakdown (2)

changing social attitudes have made it easier for people to contemplate divorce.

  • divorce has become more socially acceptable
  • Gibson - believes that secularisation has loosened the rigid morality which in the past made divorce morally unacceptable to some people.
  • Gibson argues that society lacks shared values which may operate to stabilise marriage
  • divorce has become more affordable - legal aid 1949 etc

Somerville - points out that most people in Britain still get married.

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The changing life course (1)


  • saw people as passing through distinctive age groups with different social role associated with each age group - childhood (socialisation into society's culture) adolensence ( child develops independence from their parents) old age (results in the loss of important social roles.


  • there is no universal life-cycle because: not everyone passes through every stage, ageing is experienced differently within and between socities. Pilcher calls it the life course instead


  • believes that different classes and males and females experience ageing differently. 

James et al

  • believe that old age is stereotyped in the media and the elderly are treated similarly to children
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The changing life course (2)

Hepworth et al

  • believe that the life course has been deconstructed/broken down
  • de-differentiation has taken place where stages in the life-cycle have become less distinctive - children and adults have become less distinctive in the way they dress and in their leisure pursuits.
  • exposure to mass media means children are more aware of adult life
  • older people are more healthy and take more part in youthful lifestyles
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Conjugal role, housework and childcare

2 main types of roles: Conjugal (man = breadwinner & women = housework. Joint conjugal = men and women doing ewual roles.

Symmetrical family: 

Young & Wilmott - joint conjugal roles becoming more common in the symmetrical family. They found a move towards greater equality within marriage in that wives were now going out to work and husbands were providing more help with housework. (criticised by Ann Oakley as most men only helped 1 day a week etc)


Boulton - argues that even if men do help with childcare,mothers still take main responsibility for their children


2005 - women spent atotal of 3hrs 32 minutes per day on housework etc, whereas men spent 1 hour 56 minutes

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Conjugal role, housework and childcare (2)

Power and decision making

Hardill - examined power in dual-earner households. in 19 households, the man's career cam first, in five the women's career came first.  men are dominant in the majority of households.

Power and Money

Husband controlled - 39. Women - 27

Conjugal roles and emotional work

Duncome and Marsden - believe that women perform a triple shift ( housework, childcare, paid work and emotion work)

Lesbian households - Dunne - studied roles in lesbian households and found childcare was equally shared and housework was equal in 80% of cases.

Women do still do the majority of housework, childcare and have less time for leisure.

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Domestic violence and abuse

Birtish crime survey - produced figures on domestic violence and other forms of abuse. The 2009-10 survery found in the previous 12 months that four in every thousand women were victims and 2 men in every thousand were.


  • Pizzey - domestic violence results from patriarchy - men use violence to control women
  • Brookman - the nature pf masculinity is partly to blame

However... does not explain violence against men by women

Giddens - argues that it is the nature of family life that makes domestic violence quite common (emotional intensity and personal intimacy)

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The social construction of childhood (1)

Wyness - 'childhood is a natural and inevitable phase of life that we all go through' 
              - childhood should be the same across different cultures and over time

Key features for Wyness:

  • childhood & adulthood are seen as opposites, and childhood is seen as lacking the key attributes of being a person which are attained in adulthood
  • children are not seen in their own rights but in terms of what they will become later
  • children are regarded as at the earliest or most primitive stage of inviduality

Prout - sees this as the product of modernity

Childhood is a social construction:

  • it is not a biological stage but a social role which is learnt through socialisation and varies from society to society and over time.


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The social construction of childhood (2)


  •  in medieval times, modern conceptions of childhood did not exist: children often died young, they were expected to work, dressed like adults etc
  • believes that towards the end of the medieval period modern conceptions of childhood began to appear as church leaders saw children as fragile creatures

as modern attitudes to childhood developed, children were treated differently according to age, seen as in need of protection, not required to work, seen as asexual, given distinctive clothes

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Changing childhood


  • attitudes started to change in the 18th century because: idea of romantic love began to develop and children were seen as the products of a special relationship and new ideas circulated on the best ways to raise children.


  • sees explanation for changes in childhood as lying in technological change. 

Childhood and modernity

  • Jenks - believes that postmodern childhood has developed. Class solidarity has broken down and family life is so insecure with frequent divorce. 
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Contemporary perspectives on childhood

Postman - claims the distinction between childhood and adulthood has been eroded in recent years so that childhood no longer exists as a distinct stage in the life course.... he explained the disappearance in the following ways:

  • growth of mass media
  • children dress more adult and sometimes more sexualised
  • adults try to dress and act in youthful ways

Chandler - there is an increasing participation of children in consumption

Jenks - does not believe that childhood is a dissappearing as a distinct stage of the life course. Children continue to be highly regulated and restricted by laws which control behaviour in public space. 

Phillips - parenting culture is failing culture. 

  • liberal ideas of parenting have given children too many rights and powers, preventing parents from disclipling 
  • peer groups and mass media have more influence than parents
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Demography and the birth rate (1)

  • birth rate, fertility rate, death rate, migration
  • there has been a long term decline in the number of births in the UK and the birth rate
  • there have been fluctuations = 'baby boom' after first and second wars
  • much of the decline in the birth rate has been the result of a declining fertility rate 
  • rise recent rise of fertility rate is partly due to patterns of migration with immigrants to the UK having slightly larger families than non-immigrants
  • decline of birth can be explained by womens changing role in society and improved contractption, giving them control over their fertility and easier access to abortion, women are less likely to get married, more women in paid employment, more opportunities for women, greater legal equality for women
  • the decline in the birth and fertility rates may be largely a matter of choice in women. women also delay the the birth of their first child.
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Demography and the birth rate (2)

  • the infant mortality rate has fallen dramatically as a result of factors such as rising living standards, improved hygeine and sanitation etc.
  • geographers claim that this leads to a demographic revolution in which birth and fertility rates fall because women no longer feel they need to have large number of children to protect against infant mortality
  • in early 19th century, children were often seen as economic asset because it was possible to send them out to work to contribute to the family income at a relatively early age. This is no longer the case
  • attitudes towards children have changed. Family and society has become more child-centred. the time and costs of raising children has also increased, which has reduced the attractiveness of having more children.
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Demography and the birth rate (3)

The effects of changes in fertility:

  • changes in dependency ratio
  • effects on public services such as education
  • falling fertility can contribute further to changes in gender roles, giving more women time to devote to their careers
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The death rate

  • since 1901 the UK population has increased, therefore the death rate has fallen
  • infant mortality rates have declined even quitcker than overall death rates, falling by two thirds from 14.5 in 1976 to 4.8

reasons for the declining death rate:

  • decrease in infectious diseases
  • vaccinations
  • improved nutrion 
  • improvements in maternity care
  • improvements in the welfare state etc - 1914 free school meals, sickness benefit in 1911

Most of the reduction in the death rate is due to improvements in living standards and the expansion of welfare although medical advances have come to play a greater role in recent years as the significance of infectious diseases has declined.

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  • in early 20th century, the uk was a net exporter of people. 
  • in recent decades immigration has exceeded emigration despite a variety of acts restricting the rights of commonwealth citizens to settle in Britain
  • usually migrants tend to be relatively young and they are more likely to be male than female. However, older people may also emigrate, for example British people seeking in warmer countries such as France and Spain 
  • the 1999 immigration and asylum act tighteneded up regulations allowing asylum seekers to settle in Britain.

Push and Pull factors:

  • push factors give people a reason to emigrate - fleeing war persecution, poverty etc
  • pull factors attract people to move - education, training, employment etc
  • in 2007 more than a quarter of immigrants came to Britain in order to study
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The ageing population

Age structure is the proportion of people in different age groups in a particular population

  • been 1984 and 2009, the percentage of the population over 65 increased from 15 to 16%
  • the percentage of the population under 16 decreased from 21 to 19%

Reasons for the ageing population:

  • falling death rate - people survive more years after adulthood
  • falling birth and fertility rate - children constitute a proportion of the population


  • dependency ratio - increases economic burden on those of working age who need to pay taxes
  • can place extra economic, emotional and practical burdens on adults of working age who may need to care for elderly as well as children
  • increase in government spending for welfare and pensions for elderly

Cumming and Henry see the disengagement of older people from society as beneficial as it means they don't block opportunities for younger people

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