Sociology- Couples



Parsons: Instrumental and Expressive Roles:

In the traditional Nuclear family, the role of Husbands and Wives are separated. In Parsons Functionalist model of the family there is a clear division of labor between partners:

o   The Instrumental Role (The Husband)- Husband is geared towards achieving success at work so that he can provide for the family financially (Breadwinner).

o   The Expressive Role (The Wife)- Wife is geared towards primary socialization of the children and meeting the family’s emotional needs. She is the home maker, a full-time house wife rather than a wage earner.

Parsons argues that the division of labor is based on Biological differences, with a woman “naturally” suited to the nurturing role and men to be the provider. He claims the division of labor is beneficial to both men and women, to their children and the wider society. This view is shared by a Conservative group called the New Right.

However, other sociologists have criticized Parsons:Young and Wilmott argue that men are now taking a greater share of domestic tasks and more wives are becoming wage earners.Feminist sociologists reject Parsons view that the division of labor is natural. In addition, they argue that it only benefits men.

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Joint and Segregated Conjugal Roles:

o   Segregated- This is where a couple have separated roles, the Husband is the Breadwinner and the Wife is a Homemaker. Their leisure time is also separated with men usually going out with other co-workers and women going out with female friends or family.

o   Joint- This is where a couple share tasks (housework) and childcare. Their leisure time is usually spent together with/without their children.

The Symmetrical Family: Young and Wilmott take a March of Progress view. They see family life as gradually improving for all of its members, becoming more equal and Democratic. They argue that there has been a long-term trend away from Segregated Conjugal roles and towards Joint Conjugal roles, which make the Symmetrical family. These are some examples of the changes they found in younger couples:

o   Women now go out to work, Men help with housework and childcare, Couples spend their leisure time together, Geographical mobility and New technology (labor saving products)

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The Feminist View of Housework: Feminist Sociologists reject this March of Progress View. They argue that little has changes: men and women remain unequal within the family and women still do most of the housework. They see this inequality as stemming from the fact that family and society are male-dominated or Patriarchal. Ann Oakley criticizes Young and Wilmott’s view that the family is now symmetrical. She argues that their claims are exaggerated and that men only help a little bit.

The Impact of Paid Work: Most of the women in Oakley's study in 1970 were full-time Housewives but today many wives go out to work. This trend towards both partners working raises 2 questions: Is it leading to a more equal division of domestic tasks, with a “new man” doing an equal share of Housework and Childcare or Are women now carrying a Dual Burden?

The March Of Progress View: Like Young and Wilmott, some recent sociologists take an optimistic view. They argue that women going out to work is leading to a more equal division of labour at home.   John Gershuny argues that women going to work is leading to a more equal division of labour at home. Oriel Sullivan found a trend towards women doing a smaller share of domestic work and men doing more. Also, men were participating more in traditional “women's” tasks.

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The Feminist View of Paid Work: In the view of Feminist Sociologists, women going into paid work has not led to greater equality in the division of domestic labour. There is still no sign of the “new man” and women now carry a dual burden. Couples continue to divide household tasks around the traditional gender lines. For example, women are more likely to do laundry while men are more likely to do small household repairs.

Taking Responisbility for Children: Ferri and Smith found that fewer than 4% of fathers take responsibility for childcare. Dex and Ward found that although fathers had quite high levels of involvement with their children, when it came to caring for a sick child only 1% of fathers took the responsibility. Braun, Vincent and Ball found that in only 3 families out of 70 have a fathers as main careers. Most were background fathers; helping with childcare was more about their relationship with their partner than their responsibility towards their children.

Emotion Work and the Triple Shift: Another aspect of taking responsibility for other family members is what Hochschild called “Emotion Work”. Feminists have noted that women are often required to perform emotion work, where they are responsible for managing the emotions and feelings of family members, ensuring everyone is kept happy while at the same time controlling their own emotions. Marsden argues that women have to perform a “triple shift” of Housework, Paid work and Emotion work.

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