Sociology of the Family G672


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  • Created on: 18-05-14 14:01

The structure of a family

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

Neo-conventional families can be anything that isn't nuclear, this can include step families and remarried.

Leech -> Cereal Packet family and the structure of a nuclear family

Chester -> The neo-conventional family structure

Willmott -> Disperesed extended family, different nuclear families living away but still keep in contact.

Lawson & Garrod -> All families live in households but not all households are a family. 

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Historical Development of the Family


 - In 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 an extended family.

- Nuclear families meant that love became the main function.

- Structural 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 more home-centered.

- Symmetrical nuclear family began

- Changed to family life due to stratified diffusion

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Criticism of Young & Willmott and Parsons

Laslett - No historical evidence that the extended family even existed.

Feminists - Symmetrical family doesn't exist.

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 and they keep in contact.

Foster - Adults were happy to live near their family.

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Marriage and Cohabitation Trends


- First marriages reduced

- Remarriages increased

- Average age increased

- Civil ceremonies increased

- Gay marriages became legel


- 10% of adults cohabiting

- It's seen as a trial marraige

- 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 cohabiting

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Divorce Trends

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 time at their mums and dads

- Slater -> Children find theirselves pulled in two directions may not like step parents 

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Reasons for divorce - WILS

Womans Emancipation:

- Sharpe - Women have higher aspirations and no longer accept unhappy marriages

- Thornes & Collard - Women have higher expectations of men

- Hart - Women take on too much housework


- Post modernist - People want freedom and to follow their aspirations

Legal Changes:

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


- Gibson - marriages less sacred

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Trends in Family Structure

Lone parent families:

- 60% are ex-marriages

- Fastest growing group of single parents are those who have previously cohabitated

- Average age of 34

- Stein - being single helped career opportunities

Single Person Households:

- Older people - widowed

- 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 heterosexual children

- Dunne - more tolerant 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 - women are reluctant to marry men who are of an unreliable source of incoming


- very few people in intermediate position (inbetween living with parents and spouse)

South Asians:

- High marriage rates

- Intra-marry

- Ghuman - children are more respectful

- Parents had to approve of girlfriends/boyfriend

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The Rapoports

The Rapoports identify six distinct elements of Family Diversity in Britain:

Cultural Diversity - different ethnic and cultural backgrounds

Life Cycle - different ages do things differently

Organisational Diversity - different structures and patterns

Cohort Diversity - different structures and patterns

Social Class Diveristy -  differences between middle and working class values

Sexual Diversity - homosexual vs heterosexual

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Ageing Population

Reasons for ageing population:

- Falling death rate and falling birth rate

Effects of ageing population:

- Grundy and Henretta - sandwich generation of looking after children and elderly parents

- Jerrome - elderly parents frustrated with lack of time with children

- Ross - grandparents helpful to children and grandchildren

- Jerrome - grandparents can be more active and independent

Declining fertility rates:

- Morgan - rise in cohabitation means people don't need to have kids 

- Beck & Beck - individualisation

- 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 financially

- 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 & Erdos - fatherless families means children would be lead into crime and violence

- Murrary -  single parent families are heart of the underclass


- Chester - negative labelling

- Popay - creates moral panics and prejudice

- Feminist and Postermodern views disagree with New Right theorists

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Marxists believe family is a bad thing and should be abolished:

Marxists argue that:

- The economy shapes the rest of society

- Capitalism 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 capitalism, also rejects the warm bath theory and believes the family just prepare the worker for the next day of serving capitalism.


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

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Feminism in 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 dependent on men

- male dominated family

- men take care of decision making

- domestic violence occurs

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Postmodernists believe family life should be diverse and free.

Beck-Gernsheim - middle ground between individualisation and commitment

Giddens - live in an era of change and choice

Neale - diversity allows for personal choice and fulfillment

Jagger & Wright - no way back to traditional nuclear family

Nicholoson - greater choice of 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 providing support


- Feminists and Marxists disagree with functionalist views

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Feminist - Marxist, Liberal & Radical

Marxist Feminists:

- focuses on the oppression of women rooted in the family and linked to capitalism

- women become wage slaves

- women 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

- symmetrical family is coming

- Somerville - things have changed for women in family life

Radical Feminists:

- Delphy & Leonard - wives contribute much more but get much less

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Relationship between men & women

Different Theorists & Studies:

  • Feminism -  no changes in conjugal roles
  • Functionalism - men & women suit their instrumental & expressive roles
  • Feminists - duel burden (double shift) housework and normal work
  • Young & Willmott - segregated conjugal roles breaking down into equal symmetrical
  • Parsons - it makes sense for men & women to specialise in their biological roles
  • Gershuny - symmetrical 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 & Marsden - triple shift: paid, emotional & domestica labour
  • Pahl - men control finance
  • Dobash & 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 & Willmott - joint roles are coming but still a difference in men & women


- Zaretsky - oppressive capatilist system that oppresses women & alienates men

New Right:

- Murray - families need a strong male head in control


- Liberal - women have made progress in terms of equality

- Marixst - housewives serve capitalism

- Radical - men create a patriarchal family life for housewives

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The relationship between children & parents

Key theorists and studies:

  • Aries - childhood didn't exist in medieval times
  • Cunningham - children should be separated from the outside world so they don't become corrupt, instead it should be ensured that they are happy.
  • Jenks - child centred parenting.
  • Postemodernist - 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 it was to care and now it 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 separated from the adult world
  • Brooks - parents obsessed with safety
  • Buckingham - children are important to a consumer market
  • Chapman - children go to nursery as women are working so relationships are changing
  • Dermott - fathers have become more caring
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