Sociology - Family

  • Created by: chlopayne
  • Created on: 23-04-19 10:15


Family are your blood relatives, but can also be people you deeply care for and love.

Family was defined in terms of nuclear family - heterosexual parents and their children.

  • Kinship - refers to pattern of relationships and sense of duty that people feel towards those they see as family.
  • Household - refers to people who share a house and its facilities. 
  • Extended family - refers to people who surround parents and children. 
  • Weston (1991) suggested families now live in families of choice.
  • Michael Young + Peter Willmott (1957) - discovered many working class peole in London live in extended families. 
  • Charles, Davies + Harris (2000) - carried out research in Swansea and found families were focused on female relationships.

Gay families are acceptable in Modern Britain:

  • 2002 - same-sex couples are given equal rights when it comes to adoption.
  • 2014 - legislation of gay marriage.
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Functionalist views:

  • Talcott Parsons (1950) claimed nuclear family is the best form.
  • George Murdock (1949) studied 250 cultures + found 4 main functions in the family: sexual, reproductive, economic and educational. 
  • Criticisms of functionalist views: ideological, says beacuse it exists, it's the best family form and it doesn't explain why nuclear families have arisen in the first place.

Marxists + femininsts criticisms: many nuclear families aren't safe places for women and children - high rates of domestic abuse in Western countries. It overlooks other sexualities. Women are expected to take a lesser role because family money is seen to belong to the man who earned it. Parsons has an overoptimistic view of family life. 

Family structure debates: increasing variety in family type, population and social change mean defining family by structure is no longer useful.

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Describing family change

'Male breadwinner' and 'female housewife' is on the decline. Reasons for this are:

  • Families require 2 incomes to afford things.
  • Women want satisfying careers of their own. 
  • Women more significant in the workforce, taking on paid work outside the home. 
  • People have more disposable income. 
  • Dual income families are the norm in society. 
  • Less well paid male work in economy. 

Demography is the study of population and population change. They are interested in patterns of social structure, they also predict trends. Demography for UK is changing beacuse:

  • People are living longer
  • Women are choosing to have fewer children 
  • High divorce rates, cohabitation 
  • Single sex families
  • Single parent household 
  • Boomerang children.
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New family forms

  • Beanpole family - fewer people in each generation, but they live longer.
  • Sandwich generation - looking after children + elderly relatives, YouGov 2013 - 2.4 mill in UK.
  • Single parents by choice - more acceptable. Smart & Neale - divorce causes people to hold the view that parent-child relationships are more satisfying than adults.
  • Single parents by relationship breakdown - most single parents are women in their 30s. Government linked parenthood through relationship breakdown with poverty and deprivation.
  • Blended families - step-families. Estimated 10% of families in the UK have 2 adult parents but children from more than one relationship.
  • Unmarried couples with children - due to increase of acceptance of cohabitation.
  • Gay family - changes to the law mean same-sex couples rights.
  • Living apart together - couples have a household each but have a close relationship (Levin).
  • Co-parenting- 2+ people parenting a child, although never being in a romantic relationship.
  • Families are based on choices, Crow (2002) - always been a variety of family types but people were more discrete. Gillies (2003) + Jamieson (1998) - analysis of family forms point to an increased diversity in the ways people choose to live together. 
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Explaining family change

Changing norms and values - morality and sexuality.

ONS reported the % of children born to unmarried parents in England + Wales in 2013 was 47.5%. In 1938, the % was below 5%. The shame of children outside of marriage has decreased, as numbers of cohabiting and single parents has increased.

Legal changes + family - causes and effects of social change aren't easily seperated. Courts have an influence + effect on family life, they impose decisions on parents to protect children.

Examples of legal changes: 1968 - abortion legal in England, Wales + Scotland, 2004 - introduction of civil partnerships, 2014 - same-sex marriage legal in uk, 2018 - abortion legal in Ireland. 

Changing technology - huge impact on society and family life: computers, entertainment, medical, transport, building, work technology.

Silva (2009) suggests technology has changed but not damanged family life. Gergen (1991) suggests families have become more fragmented. 

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Economics and family change

- Loss of male breadwinner caused by shift in nature of employment. In 1991, 45% of British workers were employed in the manufacturing industry, now the major employer is the service sector - it relies on those with people skills, men and women. Lewis (2012) - there have been government + EU policies aimed at encouraging women into the workforce.

- Women take on paid work outside the home - dual income families is the norm in society. 

- Female employment has changed family life - women have more control over spending decisions and no longer need to be married to survive. Flour & Buchanan (2001) said marriage is no longer economically necessary for women. 

- Women are delaying childbirth or having fewer children in order to work. Drew (1998) said people have higher expectations of happines and if those aren't met, they start again. 

- Many children are raised by grandparents or childcarers so parent-child relationships have suffered. 

- Marxists claim families are a unit of consumption, this leaves pressure for social change in families. Advertisers target families in order to make them believe they need things. Pester power - children feel the need to spend money in order to fit in. 

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Marriage & Cohabitation (Demography + Social Chang


  • New Right believe government policy hasn't supported marriage, the welfare system encourages people to not marry.
  • Seila Lawler (2012) claimed maternity leave should be scrapped beacuse it encourages women to return to work part time and claim tax credits because they earn low pay.
  • There is evidence that religious beliefs in England/Wales is being replaced by personal and individual beliefs. This is known as secularisation. 


  • Social attitudes towards sex has changed, cohabitation has shown the most change.
  • Coast (2009) claimed evidence suggests cohabitation is normal for couples.
  • Morgan (2002) suggest people choose cohabitation beacuse they are scared of divorce.
  • Economic = Seddons found 16% don't want to marry until they have bought a house, 40% felt they couldn't afford a wedding and 25% felt marriage isn't necessary. 
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Divorce & Single-hood (Demography + Social Change)


  • Divorce was practically impossible before the 1970s. Divorce Reform Act (1971) made it quicker and easier to get a divorce . Marriage has decreased, cohabitation has increased and divorce has increased. 
  • Social attitudes towards divorce has changed - linked to secularisation. It is no longer necessary. Fletcher (1966) claimed peope expect more of marriage now. 
  • Most significant change is the status of women, who choose careers instead and no longer need to be married because they have economic independence. Rise in feminism.


  • Older people most likely to be alone - widows. Younger people who have divorced and chose single hood. 
  • Klinenberg (2012) said living alone is seen as a mark of success.
  • Smith (2005) said most older people who live alone, will not live with others again.
  • Amount of people living alone has increased by 1.1% over 21 years, people are focusing on careers.
  • Government encourage women into work. 
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  • Childhood experiences are different according to geography, gender, ethnicity + class.
  • Reasons for change in childhood: laws controlling children, market for consumer goods, legally entitled to education, not expected to work, fewer children in family. 
  • Neil Postman (1994) said childhood is disappearing beacuse children have rights, access to the adult world and they imitate adults. Talcott Parsons (1950) viewed children in terms of requiring socialisation into adulthood. Aries (1960) argued childhood is a social construction.
  • In the UK = children's act (1989), protect the welfare of children. 

- Improved living standards and better healthcare are factors that have contributed to longer life expectancy. 

- Fertility: Fewer women are having children, or having fewer. Changes in technology such as contraception. Women working meant women aren't having children. Health of women and children has improved. 

- Feminism: Women start families later and have smalled families. Women expect mroe from life than domestic work and childbirth. Once women could control their bodies, they could enjoy equal pay, abortion and access to higher education / work. 

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Social construction of childhood + toxic childhood

  • James + Prout (1997) highlighted the socially constructed nature of childhood. Children are active participants in creating childhood.
  • Mayall (1994, 2002) argues children should be studied because they have an expressive and instrumental role in families.
  • Hey (1997) studied girls friendships and pointed out that girls can be supportive and sharing, but also             , fall out and exclude others.
  • Frosh (2002) studied boys and how they constructed masculinity, found being 'manly' prevented boys from discussing or managing emotions. 

Toxic childhood: 

  • Sue Palmer (2006) described modern childhood as being toxic because working parents mean children have less adult-time, vulnerable to damage through technological change, junk food. 
  • Furedi (2001) - paranoid parenting. Children are over controlled by parents and institutions. 

The end of childhood isn't clear because childhood has been extended. Adult parents rely on parental help because they can't afford to leave the family home and education is compulsory until 16.

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Proportion of elderly people is growing, due to living longer + healthier lives. Many grandparents are taking on parental roles, may require care from their own children in later life - sandwich generation. The third age - period of active retirement when people are fit and healthy, but no longer work.

Estimates of the average age at which people become grandparents is between 47-54. Increasingly, people are becoming step-grandparents. Family breakdown - often grandparents take over childcare or emotional support. Grandparents provide 40-70% of childcare. Hillman (2007) + Hastings (1997) found grandparents provided emotional, practical & financial support. 

Impacts of growing older are: require support to enable them to live in their own home, experience loneliness and more vulnerable to depression. Estimated 3 million workers in the UK are also carers. Bryan (2011) found most likely women/men in their 40s and 50s. 

Direct link between well-being in the elderly and the amount of social contact they recieve from their children - geographical distance, hours worked, ability to use technology. Increasingly, awareness of elder abuse from relatives or carers. 

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Conjugal relationships

Refers to the expected roles of men and women in the household. Segregated / seperated conjugal roles - husbands and wives had different roles, men worked for family income and women cared for the family. Men dominate decision making because they earned money.

Functionalists favour the nuclear family. Men had instrumental roles and women had expressive roles. Feminists (Gavron, Oakley + Firestone 1960) challenged this and found women felt oppressed by family obligations. Feminists said women were denied social roles outside of the home beacuse of the expectation they would devote their lives to the family. 

Social changes meant women were taking jobs outside the home. Parsons believed women could express themselves emotionally through caring for families. Oakley & Gavron challenged this view and saw housework as being oppressive and dissatisfying. Feminists described the triple shift - women went to work, came home to housework and emotional support for family.

Pahl (1989) found men and women made decisions about different matters. Hardill (1997) studied families where both partners worked and men dominated decisions. 

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Conjugal relationships - emotions

  • One of the main criticisms of functionalism came from feminists who pointed out there may be a dark side to the conventional nuclear family. Control of women was seen as natural.
  • Hammer (1985) found womens behaviour inside the home constrained by the fear of men.
  • Home office: 2013 = 77 murders of partners. 96,000 assult crimed linked to domestic abuse.
  • Relationships are becoming more companionate - interests, emotional lives. 
  • Giddens claimed modern couples expect social, sexual and emotional needs to be met. Sex, marriage and children have become seperated - he calls it plastic sexuality.
  • He claimed people have 'pure relationships' where people only stay together if they're both satisfied.
  • Romantic love - myth that tied women to the home and family.
  • Confluent love - mutual satisfaction of both partners.

Catherine Hakin (1995) suggested women have less committment to work than men. She claimed they have               capital and can control men through their desire for sex. She also belives women can exploit men in the family. She argues that women are happiest in the traditional family. 

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Reasons for changes in conjugal roles

  • Laws give women more rights - women have more independent, equal rights act (2010)
  • Women have paid work outside the home - become the main breadwinner, not equal pay, lagged adaption 
  • Women can control birth and reproduction - abortion act (1968), birth control (60s), technology has changed
  • Seperation of sex and marriage - traditional views have changed 
  • Changes in masculinity - men can feel emotions
  • Less traditional male work - service sector roles require both men and women, equal opportunities, single dads, stay at home dads 
  • Changing norms and values in families - less importance on gender roles, divorce act (1971), views have changed
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