Sociological views of the family

  • Created by: chlopayne
  • Created on: 25-04-19 10:37

Functionalist views

  • Family is a key social structure that holds society together (nuclear family).
  • Structures have changed to suit the needs of industrial societies. 
  • Families exist to socialise children into norms and values of society.

Parons argued the family fulfills two functions: socialsiation of children and stabilisation of adult personality. 

Murdock studied families in a variety of cultures. Not only is nuclear family common, it has four functions: control of sexual behaviour of adults, economic support for children, reproduction of society through new members and education of family members.

Chester (1985) suggested family change was surface change. He described neo-conventional family, this is dual-earning, where both partners work.

Universality of the nuclear family is the idea that this family form is found in all societies and is therefore necessary to society. Privatisation of the nuclear family is the idea that modern families are more home centred and have less contact with extended family.

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Strengths & weaknesses (Functionalism)


  • Recognises importance of family and organising society
  • It shows how family is central to social structures
  • It sees how family controls our behaviour + explains why people follow social rules 
  • Socialises young into acceptable members of society + stabilises adult personalities (Parsons 1959)
  • Ensures biological reproduction and survival of young (Murdock 1949)
  • Provides economically for the family (Murdock 1949)


  • Overlook the dark side of family life (Marxists + Feminists)
  • Implies other family forms are lacking
  • Much of the writing is at theoretical level 
  • Feminists say they overlook patriarchal control
  • Out of date, does't take into account modern relationships
  • Doesn't explain social change 
  • Higher expectations of marriage mean people expect more than is realistic (Fletcher 1966)
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Marxist views

  • Marxists say similar things, both recognise the family passes on ideas and beliefs and part of an economic unit. However, Marxists believe it is bad for people and society.
  • They argue the purpose of family is: socialise children into norms of capitalist society - Althusser argued families taught children to accept inequality, ensure women are controlled, working men relieve frustrations in the family, family is a unit of consumption. 
  • In the marxist view, family is there to benefit men, so it is patriachal. 

Marxists see the emergence of the nuclear family as being linked to the needs of capitalism. Modern nuclear family is a unit of consumption: advertising encourages people to buy goods, marketing targets parents to buy goods through pester power, family is a unit of production. 

Althusser (1971) said the family was an agency of ideological state control so families socialise children to accept authority and capitalism. 

Eli Zaretsky (1976) said the family support capitalism because it's one place that working men feel they have power. It helps them to accept the lack of control in wider society. It is argued men who have families are less likely to challenge employers/take risks becasue they need to work in order to support their families.

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Strengths & weaknesses (Marxism)


  • Explain the ideological role of families in society 
  • Explanation of why families first developed 
  • Points out unpleasant aspect of family life and inequalities of power within families 
  • Feminist based their analysis on Marxist views 


  • Only looks at negative sides
  • Family is seen in terms of its economic relationship, this is simplistic. It operates on the assumption that capitalism is bad 
  • Catherine Hakin pointed out their views of the role of women are dated, women have choices
  • Feminists say it overlooks gender and child inequality 
  • Functionalists said people choose to live in nuclear families
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Feminist views

  • Feminists criticisms of traditional roles came about in 1950s. Variety of forms, but share the view that society is dominated by men and women are oppressed in their domestic roles. 
  • Underlying belief that women experience injustice because of their gender: men oppress women, treated unfairly in law, stereotyped as less effecient, controlled through body image. 
  • Liberal: want to change culture and laws to make society equal. Marxist: family as a cause of inequality. Radical: see men as the enemy. 

Gender socialisation within the family is the cause of social differences between men and women. Gender roles in the family mean women have less freedom than men. Men control important decisions because they have financial power. Men control women through social policy.

Ansley (1976) claimed domestic violence arises from the frustrations of male workers in work.

Oakley (1974) said gender roles are contsructued through socialisation in the home. 

Purdy (1996) saw womens exploitation as a result of biology and their role as primary carers.

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Strengths & weaknesses (Feminism)


  • Corrective to positive views of family life proposed by functionalists 
  • Pointed out sociology of the family has a mainstream bias, views things from a male perspective 
  • Impact on freedom and equality for women 
  • Triggered research into daily family life 


  • Hakin suggests women aren't as oppressed as they claim 
  • Fails to recognise men may just be as constrained by socialisation into masculine roles
  • Overlooks how men are disadvantaged by traditional gender roles 
  • Very extreme and hostile to men
  • Difficult to generalise 
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Post modernist views

Post modernists suggest people are now choosing family types to suit their individual needs. 

Gender equality means traditional male dominance has been challenged, nuclear family isn't the only family type, individualism means people choose on the basis of what is good for them, modern society is fragmented. 

Cheal (1993) theorised family has undergone change because society is no longer predictable - people have choices. 

Giddens (1992) said change in family was triggered by equality between men and women.

Beck (1992) talked in terms of risk society. People have more choices, but more aware of risks.

Judith Stacey (1998) found women were drivers of family change.

Weeks (2000) claimed families tend to be traditional, but acceptance of difference is growing.

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Strengths & weaknesses (Post modernists)


  • Offers an explanation of family change and diversity 
  • Acknowledges different family types exist 
  • Emphasises emotions and choice are important to family life
  • Pointed out the role of government policy in imposing an ideology 
  • Importance of life course and decision making of family life 


  • Not based on evidence (Chomsky)
  • Overlook persistance of nuclear family and importance of traditional marriage to most people
  • Overstates amount of social change in society e.g. Hakin states many women don't want to work and choose domestic life 
  • Language used is complex and difficult to understand 
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New Right views

  • Infuenced by government policy during 1980s (Margaret Thatcher) - support traditional family forms.
  • Natural for men to be dominant and women to be expressive. Lone parents are unnatural and harmful to children. Children who don't have a conventional family will grow up unsocialised. Family diversity causes problems. Families should be heterosexual.
  • New Right are opposed to: growth of cohabitation and growth of mothers in full time work. 
  • They claim the breakdown of nuclear family causes social problems.

Charles Murray supports it and believes nuclear family is best, threatened by the welfare state. Young women have babies to gain money, children of single parents don't have a proper role model and grow up lazy, criminal and benefit dependent. 

Dennis and Erdas (1992) claimed children require a male role model. 

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Strengths & weaknesses (New Right)


  • Influential, in terms of government thinking 
  • Emphasises positive aspects of the nuclear family 
  • Appeals to 'common sense' ideas about society that many people share
  • Children in lone parent families are more likely to experience poverty


  • Blames victims of society for their own poverty and deprivation 
  • Negative influence on government policy 
  • Marxists see New Right as reflecting capitalist ideology 
  • Feminists see them as eroding the right of women for more equality 
  • Overlook dangerous nature of nuclear family for women and children 
  • Limited research to support it 
  • Doesn't take into account varied experiences of people
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