Sociology- Family Case Studies

Case Studies for Sociology Unit 1- Families and Households.

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5 Types of Family Diversity

Rhona and Robert Rapoport

(R & R Rapoport)


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They argued that diversity is of central importance in understanding family life today.

Research showed that the nuclear family was in decline and being replaced by other family types. They considered this as a positive change as there is no 'right' family.

They identified 5 different types of family diversity in Britain today.

  • Organisational Diversity: Differences in the ways family roles are organised. E.g Joint Conjugal roles and two-wage earners.
  • Cultural Diversity: Different Cultural,religious and ethnic groups have different family structures. E.g there is a higher proportion of Afro-Caribbean female headed families.
  • Social Class Diversity: Differences in family structure are partly the result of income differences between households of different classes.
  • Life-Stage Diversity: Family structures differ according to the stage reached in the life cycle. E.g Newlyweds, Couples with children, retired couples.
  • Generational Diversity: Older and Younger generations have different attitudes that reflect the historical periods in which they lived. E.g Different views on the morality of cohabitation.
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Extended Families

Janet Finch and Jennifer Mason

(Finch and Mason)


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They found that ties with extended families are still important, particularly for women.

In their study, they found that 90% of their sample had given or recieved financial help from their extended families.

They also found that the principle of reciprocity was important- people felt that help given should be returned to avoid any feelings of indebtedness.

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Same Sex Families

Jeffrey Weeks



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Weeks argued Civil Partnerships are a sign of growing choice and valuing difference in society.

He argued that same-sex relationships offer greater possibilities of equality because the division of labour is open to negotiation and agreement, and are not based on patriachal tradition.

In addition, he argued that increased social acceptance may explain a trend in recent years towards same-sex cohabitation and stable relationships that are similar to those of heterosexuals.

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Carol Smart



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She found that Children valued having both parents in their lives.

In addition, they worried about being fair to both parents E.g splitting their time equally between the two homes.

When parents were hostile, children found it a difficult situation.

Smart also found that some children were enthusiastic about having 'two of everything'.

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Women are having children later, approximately in their late 20s.

As women are having children later, children are being born closer together.

Some couples are choosing to be childless.

20% of 40 year olds are voluntarily childless in the UK.

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Girls' Changing Ambitions

Sue Sharpe



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Interviewed Girls in the 1970's & 1990's and compared results.

In 1974 the girls had lower aspirations; they felt educational success was unfeminine and believed that if they appeared to be ambitious or intelligent, they would be considered unattractive.

  • Love
  • Marriage
  • Children
  • Career

In 1994, their priorities were their careers, and being able to support themselves.

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Historical Stages of Childhood

Philippe Aries



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He suggested that what we experience today as childhood, is a recent social construction. 

10th - 13th Century: Childhood did not exist. Children were little adults and were regarded as an economic resource rather than a symbol of love. Investing emotionally in children was difficult as infant mortality was high.

1760+ : Workin Class attitudes stayed the same and children went to work in factories, coal mines and chimneys. Whereas Middle Class attitudes started to change. Children were seen as different to adults. Education was seen as important and infant mortality started to fall.

Mid 19th Century: Middle Class adults started to become concerened with children who were begging on the streets and child prostitution.Children were banned from working in factories and mines where many had been killed. Working Class Parents resisted changes as they were dependent on children's wages.

20th / 21st Century: Emergence of Child centered society. Children have to go to school until they are 16. Children have their own social workers, doctors, teachers etc. They have their own TV programmes, magazines, toys, internet sites, food and drinks.

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The Future of Childhood

Neil Postman



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Postman argued that childhood is 'disappearing at a dazzling speed'.

He said Television & the Media gives children unlimited access to the adult world, where they are exposed to the 'real world' of sex, disaster, death and suffering.

Social Blurring

He also argued that there is little distinction between adults and children, as children speak, dress and act more like adults.  

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Parents are obsessed with safety and defining boundaries for their children.

There is increasing parental control and the safety net around them.

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Childhood and Poverty

Peter Townsend



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He studied quantitative data from 46 developing countries including 1.2 million children.

He found that :

  • Over 1/3 of the world's children suffer absolute poverty
  • Over 1/3 of the world's children have to live in dwellings with 5 people per room
  • Over 1/3 of the world's children aged 7-18 years have never been to school.
  • 375+ Million children are forced to walk over 15 minutes for unsafe drinking water.
  • In some countries 1/5 of children die before the age of 5.
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Joint and Segregated Conjugal Roles

Elizabeth Bott



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She studied and distinguished two types of Conjugal Roles.

Segregated Conjugal Roles: Where the couple have seperate roles: a male breadwinner and a female homemaker (Parsons' instrumental and expressive roles). Their leisure activities also tend to be seperate.

Joint Conjugal Roles: Where the couple share tasks such as housework and childcare and spend their leisure time together.

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Emotion Work

Jean Duncombe and Dennis Marsden

(Duncombe & Marsden)


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Emotion Work: Management of one's own and other people's emotions.

They interviewed 40 White British Couples who had been married for 15 years.

They wanted to find out who carried out the emotion work in the family.

They found that women were expected not only to do a double shift comprising of both housework and paid work, but also to work a triple shift that includes emotion work.

Strain of this work is unappreciated by other members of the family.

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Symmetrical Family

Michael Young and Peter Willmott

(Young & Willmott)


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They found that 72% of men do housework, other than washing up during the week.

They referred to this as the symmetrical family where both partners:

  • do housework
  • look after the children
  • have paid work
  • spend quality time together

By the 1970s, domestic work was being shared more equally and women were getting a fairer deal.

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British Social Attitudes Survey


1981, 1991, 1997

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Asked 1000+ people their views on different topics.

Found that Women carry out the majority of housework and childcare.

Men carry out the majority of DIY and repairs to the house and car.

Families and relationships are becoming more symmetrical e.g Men are becoming more involved in childcare.

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Feminist View of Housework (1)

Ann Oakley



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Interviewed 40 Housewives.

Found that only 15% of men had a high level of participation in housework.

Only 25% men had a high level of participation in childcare.

Middle Class men shared more domestic work than working class men.

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Feminist View of Housework (2)

Mary Boulton



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Her research supported Oakley's findings.

She found that less than 20% of husbands had a major role in childcare.

She argued that Young and Willmott exaggerate men's contribution by looking at the tasks involved in childcare rather than the responibilities.

A father might help with specific tasks, but it was almost always the mother who was responsible for the child's security and well-being.

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Elsa Ferri and Kate Smith

(Ferri & Smith- Feminists)


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They found that increased employment of women outside the home has had little impact on the domestic division of labour.

Based on a sample of 1,589 33-Year old parents, they found that the father took the main responsibility for childcare in fewer than 4% of families.

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Lesbian Couples and Gender Scripts

Gillian Dunne



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She found that lesbian couples were more likely to take turns in reducing hours in paid work to suit the demands of childcare.

Compared to heterosexual women, lesbians are more likely to:

  • Describe their relationship as equal and share housework and childcare equally.
  • Give equal importance to both partners careers
  • View childcare positively.
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Found that gendered parental roles are constantly reworked and reviewed within lesbian parent families.

Othe mothers are the partners of the biological mother in lesbian relationships.

Used semi-structured in-depth interviews and revealed that there was a discomfort with being referred to as the mothers of the children even though they share motherly roles and responsibilities.

Other mothers defined themselves as the non-mother in relation to the mother which gave them a sense of uncertainty.

Gabb points out the lack of social, legal and birth rights for the other mother.

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Power Relations (1)

Stephen Edgell



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Studied 38 middle class families.

Very Important Decisions- such as those involving finance, a change of job or moving house, were either taken by the husband alone or taken jointly but with the husband having the final say.

Important Decisions- such as those about children's education or where to go on holiday were usually taken jointly, and seldom by the wife alone.

Less Important Decisions- such as the choice of home decor, children's clothes or food purchases were usually made by the wife.

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Power Relations (2)



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Studied the effect of increased male unemployment.

If the man was unemployed the woman made more financial decisions.

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Power Relations (3)

Irene Hardill



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Studied 30 Dual-Career Professional Couples.

Found that there had been a shift in power towards women as decisions were becoming more equal.

However, men still made most of the important decisions.

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Domestic Violence

Russell and Rebecca Dobash

(Dobash & Dobash- Radical Feminists)


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Based research on police records and interviews with women in women refuges.

They cite examples of wives being slapped, pushed about, beaten, ***** or killed by their husbands.

Found that violent incidents could be set off by what a husband saw as a challenge to his authority such as his wife asking why he was late home for a meal.

Argue that marriage legitimates violence against women by conferring power and authority on husbands and dependency on wives.

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As a result of domestic violence, women suffer from:

  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • & Low Self Confidence
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