Historical development of the family

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Changes from extended to nuclear family

  • Parsons -
    • Family has changed its structure over time.
    • In pre-industrialised societies an extended family system is made easier to carry out the wide range of functions - grandparents take care of small children, children care for elderly or sick people.
    • Societies moving from pre industrialised to industrial societies - extended system no longer needed =
      • workforce in industrial societies needs to be geographically mobile.
      • Increasingly based on achieved status - conflicts between generations, son may have higher status job than father, disruption of normal hierarchy.
    • Change in structure from extended families to isolated nuclear family - typical family structure in industrial society.
    • Advantages of nuclear family=
      • Smaller family unit best fit for industrialised society.
      • Structual isolation from extended kin to husband and wife bond strengthened.
      • Family becomes streamlined and specialised - structual differentiation.
      • Reproduction of next generation.
      • Stabilisation of adult personalities.
    • Loss of functions does not represent demise of the family. 
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Decline of extended family and emergence of nuclea

  • Young and Willmott
    • extended family networks still in existence in traditional working class.
    • strong extended family network played an important role in mutual help and assisstance for working class people.
    • families had been rehoused in a new council estate - privatisation occured, family life became more home-centred, based on nuclear family.
    • wives lost regular contact with mothers and became more dependent on husbands.
    • husbands cut off from social contacts - visitng pubs with workmates, so became more involved with domestic activities - symmetrical family.
    • changes to the family has occured through stratified diffusion - new ideas of family life initiated by higher social classes, gradually filtered down to lower classes.
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Criticisms of Young and Willmott / Parsons

  • March of progress - fail to address negative aspects of changes.
  • Laslett argues no historical evidence that extended family ever existed.
  • Concept of stratified diffusion implies it working class automatically follow norms.
  • Ethnocentric view - focuses on white version of events.
  • Feminists attacked young and Willmott's concept of symmetrical family - little empirical evidence that symmetry has been reached in families.
  • Fletcher disputes family has lost many functions - families still important and their functions have increased in detail and importance - socialising children, welfare for family members and economically.
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Evidence that extended family is still important

  • Devine 1992 - 
    • degree of privitisation of family has been exaggerated - most couples had regular contact with kin.
    • Geographical mobility not destroyed kinship networks, as cars and telephones enabled relatives to stay in touch.
    • Role of extended families in geographical mobility shows people continue to use kin as a source of information and contacts for finding houses and jobs.
  • McGlone et al -
    • Families remain very important to people.
    • Families remain an important source of help and support, fmaily contacts still maintained.
    • Core of family doesn't just include parents and children, grandparents core as well.
    • Differences between social classes remain significant.
  • Classic working class extended family continues to exist.
  • Foster 1991 -
    • adults happy to live only few streets away from their parents and close relatives and visited them regularly.
    • Ties between mother and daughter are strong.
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Key Study - Nicola Charles

  • Social networks and family life are in decline - people choose not to subscribe to the traditional rules governing behaviour, instead create their own patterns of living.
  • Method - to understand effects of social change on intimate and kin relationships, look at importance of kinship in providing social support amd sense of identity.
  • Key Findings - patterns of marriage and parenting reflected national trends - in the 60's most of the population lived in nuclear family units, by 2002 - increase in number of people without partners.
    • Over half were married
    • 5.5% cohabiting
    • Many in relationships without children.
    • in the 60's, 20% of households consisted of classic extended families - three generations shared a home.
    • in 2002 only 0.5% of people lived like that.
    • most people lived near their kin - maintained regular contact.
  • With an increase in the number of people living away from families - frequency of contact had not declined.
  • Parents maintained strong connections with their children - children did not have strong relationships with each other.
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Key Study - Nicola Charles

  • Working-class people more likely to live near families.
  • Fathers and sons less likely to work in the same trades and occupations.
  • in 2002 30% of women were in work - dynamic social change.
  • Mother daughter relationship at the heart of the family.
  • Women saw mothers frequently - often relied on their family to undertake childcare duties.
  • Middle-class men from minority ethnic groups - more likely to be highly involved in family networks than their working class counterparts.
  • Men in these groups - providers for their families, men notable by their absence from families and from work.
  • Women in working-class areas more likely to tolerate a son cohabiting a girlfriend than to accept a daughters boyfriend.
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