Sociology - Families & Households


- view of society based on harmony & value consensus (agreement of values)

- functionalists believe you have to study the structure of society - structural theory, society controls the individual

- argues nuclear family is most efficient form of family in meeting society's functional pre-requisites

- humans & societies have functional pre-requisites (basic needs) which must be met in order for society & humans to survive, institutions meet these needs & therefore contribute to survival of society

- expressive role: traditional female role focusing on housework & childcare, caring & nurturing

- instrumental role: traditional male role, focusing on paid employment & being the breadwinner

  • Created by: Alice
  • Created on: 11-12-14 19:39


2 functions of the family

Agrees nuclear family is best for 2 reasons:

1. Primary Socialisation

Families internalise society's culture into children, this is so strong that society's culture becomes part of the child's personality

2. Stabilisation of Adult Personalities or "Warm Bath Theory"

In industrial societies, the need to work & pressure to provide & achieve creates stress which could destabilise people. Parsons argues sexual division of labour helps get rid of/manage stress

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- View of society based on harmony & value consensus (agreement of values)

- To understand how society works, Functionalists believe you have to study the structure of society - STRUCTURAL THEORY, society controls the individual

- See humans & societies to have functional pre-requisites (basic needs) which must be met in order for society & humans to survive, institutions meet these basic needs & therefore contributre to the survival of society

- Institutions in society are important as they help maintain: social order, social solidarity, collective conscience & social cohesion


- Definitions too narrow & ignore family diversity outside nuclear family

- Ignore how family can be negative (child abuse, neglect, domestic violence)

- Some parents fail to bring up their children to make them socially acceptable & they may be bad for the young - DYSFUNCTIONAL

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Believed all families provided 4 functions

1. Sexuality & Gender Roles

Families teach people how to express sexuality in a socially approved context (socially appropriate & acceptable)

2. Reproductive

Family ensures reproduction & provides a stable environment to rear children

3. Economic Security

Family provides food, shelter & other material needs for the family

4. Primary Socialisation

Family provides Primary Socialisation, it is through this they are "groomed" into society's value consensus & collective conscience

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Main theorist - Murray

- Political & journalistic thought rather than academic

- Agree with functionalists on importance of family for individual & society

- Supportive of traditional nuclear family

- Family: Building blocks for society

- Criticise changes in society & social policy which increase growth of deviant family, houshold types & create a dependency culture (people who are dependent on the state)


- Narrow minded, ignoring other possibilities within family

- Unrealistic, family can be negative environment

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To understand how society works, Marxists believe you have to study the structure of society - STRUCTURAL THEORY/STRUCTURAL CONFLICT THEORY

- View of society based on conflict

- Society is based on capitalism

- Capitalism is an economic system based on private ownership & production of goods & services for profit

Believes society is divided into 2 groups:

- Bourgeoisie: Capitalists who dun & control means of production or infrastructure (economy/business)

- Proletariat: Workers who work for bourgeoisie

- Bourgeoisie exploit proletariat

- Proletariat are not paid full value of their labour, allowing bourgeoisie to make profits

- Superstructures/ISA create false class consciousness among proletariat through socialisation

- Proletariat believe they have equality & freedom & that society is meritocratic (idea that if you work hard you will succeed) but they are really being tricked & exploited by bourgeoisie


1. Control of the repressive state apparatus (RSA) - armed forces

2. Control of the ideological state apparatus (ISA) - institutions which support economic structure by reinforcing ruling class ideas/ruling class ideology

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- Traditonal nuclear family is a prop to capitalist system

- Socialises children into accepting ruling class ideology

- Reproduce future workforce - Teaches obedience & acceptance of authority & inequality

- Safety valve for frustrations of low status, poor pay, exploitation & fear of unemployment, family's job is to be a safety valve

- Family was a way of passing on property & wealth, this encouraged monogamy & sexual division of labour


- Over emphasis on nuclear family as dominant family type, ignoring diversity

- Family can be source of tension

- Feminists would criticise Marxists underestimating/ignoring gender equalities which exist in the family

- Functionalists would argue Marxists ignore positive side of the family, i.e love, support, care

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- Argues women suffer injustices in society because of their gender

- Believe women need to fight for their rights & free themselves from patriarchy

- Patriarchy is a system of subordination & domination in which men exercise power over women & children

- Critical/conflict view of the family, it is an institution that benefits men more than women & children


- Optimistic view of the family

- Focus on increased equality that exists between men & women

- Look at emergence of "new man"


- Look at the family in a more critical & negative way than liberal feminists

- Argue men benefit more from family life than women

- Researched housework & childcare & argue men do very little compared to women

- Support family diversity & divorce

- Disagree with Functionalists & New Right

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- Negative/critical view of the family

- Argue main cause of women's oppression is capitalism

- Women serve capitalism:

Look after men who work for bosses (bourgeoisie), satisfy men's physical, emotional and sexual needs


- Critical of other feminists

- Argue most white feminists tend to group all women together & ignore ethnic differences that exist between women

- Asian women may experience more patriarchy in their families than white women & may have to do more housework & childcare, may have more religious/cultural responsibilities than other groups, arranged marriage could also be an issue

- Argue that for many women, their ethnicity is at least as important as their gender

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Different branches tend to criticise & challenge each other which may weaken overall message

- Feminist views can be seen as dated as most women now have equality in terms of jobs & equal pay

- For most women, men are not the enemy

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- Domestic Division of Labour - Refers to the way that male & female roles are divided up within the home. Includes housework, childcare, leisure time & paid employment.

- Some argue housework is a relatively new invention. In pre-industrial times, household tasks were not clearly distinguished from more general economic tasks. No clear division of labour between the genders.

- Conjugal roles - Roles played by male & female partners in the home.

- Segregated conjugal roles - Shows a clear division between male & female roles.

- Joint conjugal roles - Shows few or no divisions between male & female roles (symmetrical family)

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- Industrialisation & urbanisation encouraged move from extended to nuclear family.

- During the Industrial Revolution, men became identified with the public world of production & wage labour (employees) while women were confined to the private sphere of consumption & the home.

- Parsons argues that this division of labour is based on biological differences, with women 'naturally' suited to the expressive role.

- Parsons claims that the division of labour is beneficial to both males & females as well as the wider society.

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- Geographically mobile - Small, streamlined nuclear unit move to find employment (communication & travel make it easier)

- Structural isolation from wider relatives (too big - a burden)

- Family has lost functions to other institutions, e.g Welfare State, education taken over some functions (care for elderly & children)

- Suits society based on achieved status (not ascribed) i.e meritocracy, ability & effort. NOT nepotism, social mobility encouraged.

- Nepotism - Things given to you (handed on a plate) - Functions family has retained in importance, more specialist (e.g SOAP)

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Definition - Nuclear family where husband & wife both work & share domestic duties. Geographically mobile.

What has contributed to the development of the symmetrical family?

1. Weaker gender identities

2. Improved Status & Rights of Women

3. Importance of Dual Incomes

4. Divorce Reform & Higher Expectations on Marriage

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GERSHUNY (1994) & SILVER AND SCHOR (1978, 1993)


- Growing equality between couples due to increase in paid employment of women.

- Although roles are gradually becoming more equal, tasks still tended to be divided among gender roles

- "Lagged Adaption" couples gradually adapting to women working full time.

SILVER & SCHOR (1978, 1993)

- 'Commercialisation of Housework' means women doing less housework. Goods & services make it easier.

- Increased in employed women means they can afford these goods & services.

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