Functionalists on the Family

HideShow resource information


  • He used sample of 250 societies and claimed some form of family existed in all, therefore concluded family is universal.
  • Family structure varies from society to society. The nuclear family, either on its own or within extended family, was present in all samples.
  • From experiment he claimed there were 4 functions that the family performs: Sexual, Reproductive, Economic, Education (socialisation)
1 of 5


  • He argues there are two basic types of society, modern industrial and traditional pre-industrial, the function the family performs depends on the society it is found in.
  • Extended family fits traditional pre-industrial and nuclear family fits modern industrial (easier to move small unit).
2 of 5

Parsons - Modern Industrial Society

  • Nuclear family fits this society.
  • It has 2 functions: primary socialisation (equipping kids with basic skills and societies values), stabilisation of adult personalities (adults can relax and release tensions).
  • 2 essential needs: work force needs to be geographically mobile (nuclear families can move from one place to another easily, not tied down by obligations to kin), social mobility (achieving status through individual merit, family no longer required to ascribe status to kids, young people need to be independent to find own occupation and social position).
  • HOWEVER: Anderson found data from 1851 census of Preston that 23% of households included kin other than nuclear family so industrialisation didn't see extended family disappear.
3 of 5

Parsons - Traditional Pre-industrial Society

  • Extended family fits this society.
  • Unit of consumption - feeds and clothes its members.
  • Unit of production - family members work together within family business e.g. farm.
  • HOWEVER: Laslett found from 1564 - 1821 most families were nuclear as due to short life expectancy grandparents unlikely to live past grandchild's 1st birthday.
4 of 5

Criticisms of Functionalism Views

  • Functionalists are accused of idealising the family.
  • Picture based on American middle class families so ignores possible differences between classes and ethnic groups.
  • Ignore domestic violence and child abuse.
  • Ignore two-way process between children and parents: there is no place for the child who can twist their parents around their little finger.
5 of 5


No comments have yet been made

Similar Sociology resources:

See all Sociology resources »See all Families and households resources »