Sociology of the Family - OCR G672

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  • Created on: 21-04-14 18:18

Family Structures

A Nuclear family must have two hetrosexual parents who are married out of love and 2/3 that are all biologically related.

Neo-conventional families can be anything that is not nuclear, it can include step families and remarried.

Leech - Cereal Packet family and the structure of a Nuclear Family

Chester - The neo-conventional family structure

Willmott - Dispersed extended family. Different nuclear families living away but still keep in contact.

Lawson and Garrod - All families live in households but not all households are family.

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Historical Development of the Family


  • Pre industrial society the extended family made it easier to carry out a wide range of functions
  • The industrial revolution occured meaning the extended family was no longer needed
  • A nuclear family is more geographically mobile
  • Due to achieved status there can be conflict within a extended family.
  • Nuclear families meant that love became the main function
  • Structral differentiation occured meaning the family became specialist

Young and Willmott:

  • In Bethnal Green the extended family was still important in the 50s
  • In Essex home life was privatised and became home - centred
  • Symetrical nuclear family began
  • Changed to family life due to stratified diffusion
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Criticisms of Young and Willmott/Parsons

Laslett - No historical evidence that the extended family even existed

Feminists - Symetrical family not exsisting

Fletcher - Families are as important as ever and still provide functions

Ethnocentric - The Young and Willmott study only looked at white families.

Devine  - Privatisation has been exaggerated

McGlone - Family remains important in Britain, they keep in contact

Foster - Adults were happy to live near their family.

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Trends - Marriage and Cohabitation


  • First marriages reduced
  • Remarriages increased
  • Average age increased
  • Civil ceremonies increased
  • Gay marriages became legal


  • 10% of adults cohabitating
  • It is seen as a trial marriage
  • It is also seen as an alternative


  • New right - Cohabitation is less stable
  • Fletcher - Cohabitated family is like conventional
  • Chester - Form of neo- conventional
  • Gillis - Not uncommon in the past to be cohabitating
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Trends - Divorce

Divorce trends

  • 40% of marriages end in divorce
  • Major rise in divorce rates in 1970 due to legal changes
  • Average age is 43 for men and 40 for women

Reconstituted Families

  • Made up of widdowed or divorced people who have remarried
  • It is also known as the step family
  • 88% of children live with their mothers
  • Counts for 7% of all families
  • Children spend time at their mums and dads
  • Slater - Children find theirselves pulled in two directions and may not like step parents
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Reasons for divorce - WILS

Womans Emancipation

  • Sharpe - Woman have higher aspirations and no longer accept unhappy marriages
  • Thornes and Collard - Woman have higher expectations of men
  • Hart - Woman take on too much housework

Legal Changes

  • Divorce reform act (1971) - Divorce was accepted as the breakdown of marriage


  • Gibson - Marriages less sacred


  • Post modernist - People want freedom and to follow their own aspirations
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Trends - Family structure

Lone parent families

  • 60% are exmarriages
  • Fastest growing group of single parents are those who previously have cohabitated
  • Average age 34
  • Stein - Being single helped career opotunities

Single person households

  • Older people - Widdowed
  • Young single people (Bernardes) - Social pressures discouraging people from staying single. Wasoff - Living alone is only temporary
  • Divorces - Mostly men who in time go on to marry again

Same Sex

  • Gottman  - Just as likely to have hetrosexual children
  • Dunne - More tolarent and accepting
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Family structure - Ethnic diversity


  • Low rate of marriage
  • Inter-marry into other ethnic groups
  • Bethoud - Loss of identity
  • Half of mothers are single
  • Wilson - Woman reluctant to marry men who are an unreliable source of income


  • Very few people in intermediate postion (inbetween living with parents and spouse)

South Asians

  • High marriage rates
  • Intra-marry
  • Ghuman  - Children are more respectful  
  • Parents had to approve of girlfriends/boyfriends
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The Rapoports

The Rapoports indentify six distinct elements of family diversity in britain

Cultral Diversity - Different ethnic and cultural backgrounds

Life Cycle - different ages do things differently

Organisational - Different structures and patterns

Cohort - Periods at which the family has gone through

Social Class - Difference between middle and working class values

Sexual Diversity - Homosexual vs Hetrosexual 

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Ageing Population

Reasons for ageing population

  • Falling death rate
  • Falling birth rate

Effects of ageing population

  • Grundy and Henretta - Sandwich generation of looking after children and elderly parents
  • Jerrome -Elderly parents fustrated with lack of time with children
  • Ross - Grandparents helpful to children and grandchildren
  • Jerrome - Grandparents can be more active and independant

Declining fertility rates

  • Morgan  - Rise in cohabitation means people don't need to have kids
  • Beck and Beck - Indivdualisation
  • Waugh - Access to contraception and WILS
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Beanpole Family

Brannen argues that there are strong intergenerational links in contemporary British families

  • Grandparents can look after grandchildren
  • Grandparents can help finacially
  • No need to get remarried after divorce as extended family can serve the functions
  • Sandwich generation
  • Cohabitation

Beanpole Structure

  • Vertical links strengthen
  • Horizontal links weaken
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The New Right

Blame for the breakdown of family life:

  • Lone parent families/fatherless families
  • High divorce rates
  • Cohabitation
  • Same-Sex couples


  • Dennis and Erdos - Fatherless families mean children would be lead into crime and violence
  • Murray - Single parent familes are heart of the underclass


  • Chester - Negitive labelling
  • Popay - Creates moral panics and prejudice
  • Feminist and Postmodern views disagree with New Right theorists
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Postmodernists believe family life should be diverse and free.

Beck-Gernsheim - Middle ground between individulisation and commitment

Giddens - Live in an era of change and choice

Neale - Diversity allows for personal choice and fulfillment

Jagger and Wright - No way back to traditional nuclear family

Nicholson - Greater choice for people deciding living arrangements especially for women.

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The family serves two main functions (Parsons)

  • Primary Socialisation
  • Adult personality stabilisation (Warm bath theory)

Goode - Nuclear family ideal

Parsons - Industrial society favours nuclear family

Roles within the family (Parsons)

  • Men - Instrumental role - Providing the money
  • Women - Expressive role - Nurturing and provding support


  • Feminists and Marxists disagree with functionalist views
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The Marxists believe family is a bad thing and should be gotten rid of

Marxists argue that:

  • The economy shapes the rest of society
  • Capatlism uses the family to get richer
  • Rejecting the view of valued consensus


  • Engels - Family started so that the estates could be passed on to legitimate heirs, therefore to keep the poletariat rich
  • Zaretsky - Family buys into capatilism. Also rejects the warm bath theory and believes the family just prepare the worker for the next day of serving capatilism


  • Fail to see the good sides of the family (Post-modernism, Functionism)
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Feminism - General

Feminists have strong views against men in terms of family life and marriage, they believe men abuse them not only physically but emotionally through the following points and views of the feminist theory:

  • See that society and family life is based on Patriarchy
  • Unpaid housework
  • Unpaid childcare
  • Woman have become dependant on men
  • Male dominated family
  • Men take care of decision making
  • Domestic violence occurs
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Feminism - Marxist, Liberal and Radical

Marxist Feminists

  • Focus on the oppression of woman rooted in the family and linked to capatilism
  • Women become wage slaves
  • Woman serve their husbands by doing housework and fulfilling their sexual needs
  • Ansley - Wives are takers of ****. Wives absorb husbands anger
  • Taylor - There is a dark side of the family that Functionalists ignore

Liberal Feminists

  • Change is slowly occuring
  • Symetrical family is coming
  • Somerville - Things have changed for women in family life

Radical Feminists

  • Delphy and Leonard - Wives contribute much more but get much less
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Relationship between men and women

Differnet Theorists and Studies:

  • Feminism - No changes in conjugal roles
  • Functionalism - Men and women suit their instrumental and expressive roles
  • Feminists - Duel Burden (double shift) Housework and normal work
  • Young and Willmott - Segregated conjugal roles breaking down into equal symetrical
  • Parsons - It makes sense for men and women to specialise in their biological roles
  • Gershuny - Symetrical conjugal roles
  • Burghes - Fathers take a more active role
  • Dex -  Fathers want to spend more time with their children
  • Garrod - Full time working women do three times as much housework as men
  • Duncombe and Marsden - Triple shift: paid, emotional and domestic labour
  • Pahl - Men control finance
  • Dobash and Dobash - Domestic violence occurs with 1 in 5 women
  • Oakley - Women have the double shift and have to do so much housework as housewives
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Theoretical Explanations of power and control


  • Parsons - roles are biological
  • Young and Willmott - joint roles are coming but still a difference in men and women


  • Zaretsky - Oppresive capatilist system that oppresses women and alienates men

New Right

  • Murray - Families need a strong male head in control


  • Liberal - Women have made progress in terms of equality
  • Marxist - Housewives serve capitalism
  • Radical - Men create a patriarchal family life for housewives
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The relationship between children and parents

Key theorists and studies:

  • Aries - Childhood didnt exist in medieval times
  • Cunnigham - Children should be seperated from the outside world so they don't become corrupt, instead it should be ensured that they are happy.
  • Jenks - Child centred parenting
  • Postmodernist - Children have a insecure childhood due to divorce rates. Parents become more protective of their children
  • Furedi - Change of what is seen as a good parent. Before was to care, now is to protect.
  • Phillips - Too many rights and powers to children, children need to know that they have lower status to parents.
  • Postman - Childhood can only be saved if children are seperated from the adult world
  • Brooks - Parents obsessed with saftey
  • Buckingham - Children are important to a consumer market
  • Chapman - Children go to nursary as women working so relationship changes
  • Dermott  - Fathers have become more caring
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