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  • Created by: Eleanor F
  • Created on: 18-04-13 20:35

The family - definitions and varieties

G.P. Murdock (1949)- "a social group characterised by common residence, economic cooperation and reproduction. It includes adults of both sexes, at least two of whom maintain a socially approved sexual relationship, and one or more children, own or adopted, of the sexually cohabitating children."

This definition is contraversial as there are so many exceptions e.g single parent families, gay couples with adopted children, Caribbean houseyard system.

A wider definition of the family is 'a social group of two or more generations, consisting of at least one adult and his or her child, own or adopted.'

Varieties of family:-

  • Nuclear
  • Extended, vertically OR horizontally
  • Caribbean houseyard system
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Functionalist views

Functionalists are interested in how the various institutions and groups in a society function together.

G.P Murdock (1949) outlines 4 vital family functions 

  • Production of new generations
  • Regulation of sexual activity
  • Provision of economic support and division of labour
  • Socialisation of children into the culture of the community

Murdock wrote prior to the feminist movement- assumed traditional gender roles would be undertaken.

Parsons (1955) Focused on modern isolated nuclear family. Two irreducible functions of the family = socialisation of children into society's culture + stabilisation of adult personalities. Children socialised into gender roles. Female role expressive, male role instrumental. Feminists challenge Parsons.

Weeks, Donovan and Heaphy (1999) roles more flexible amongst gay couples. 

These issues can create a dysfunctional family:

  • Pressure cooker of family life can prove too much
  • Widespread nature of domestic violence
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Marxist views

Karl Marx (181-83) decribed Western societies as being borgeouise dominated, they employed the proletariat. 

Modern marxists agree that - Families socialise children to be obediant which benefits capitalism

  • Wealth is passed down families, perpetuating inequalities
  • A communist society with comunally owned production units should replace private ownership.

Engels (1902) suggested marriage began in early capitalism, with men needing to ensure the legitimacy of their heir. Woman are exploited in the family. Communist societies should exist, with needs such as meals and laundry provided by rewarded workers. These views were almost tried out in Russia. 'Children's towns.'

Zaretsky (1976) Linked changes in family roles to changing economic climate. 

  •  late middle ageIns, production shared between parents and children
  • Victorian laws stopped child labour; men became sole breadwinners, mothers stayed at home
  • Industrial processes developed and became unsatisfying, alienated men sought comfort in home life, wife had to provide comfort and physical needs

Equal pay etc would not improve the status of women, more radical changes needed such as Engels suggested and was tried in Russia. Would stop isolation of women and enable both sexes to socialise.

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Marxist Feminists

Benston (1972)- women's domestic role supports capitalism. Keeps male breadwinner fed + clothed + relaxed, socialises children, unpaid for labour, male has to stay in job to support her and family.

Ansley (1972)) - Housewives act as a sponge to soak up men's frustration about work. Violence possible

Feeley (1972) - Father-dominated family conditions children to accept authority; oppressive.

Beechey (1986) - Women have to fit paid work around household duties, limiting them to part-time, poorly paid jobs. Often act as 'reserve army of labour.' Too busy to join trade unions.

Hartmann (1981) - Claimed marxists paid insufficient interest to women's interests. Marxist theories do not sympathise with women. Patriarchy. Even under communism women would try to maintain their current dominance. 

These ideas are based on stereotypical conventional families, which differ from the families of today. Other types of family are not considered.

Functionalists argue many women benefit from living in families, and most enjoy it.

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Radical (1) and Third Wave (2) Feminists

1.Millett (1970) - Men dominate women in every sphere of life, as politicians rule countries. The family socialises children into this. Examples include women not being paid for housework, pornographic media, domestic violence and male control of the law and medicine. Male power taken for granted.

Firestone (1970) - Women must be freed from 'the tyranny of their reproductive biology.' She recommended a set of changes such as abolition of marriage and the family, freedom of sexual expression, children transferring out of families they disliked, and creating children out of the 'test tube baby' method. These concepts have many practical difficulties.

2.Most second wave feminists were white and middle class and had their problems solved. Third wave feminists problems NOT solved as of different religions and cultures e.g FGM, forced marriage, trafficking etc.

Katz and Monk (1993) - Drew attention to the est. 52M females missing from India and China alone as a result of abortion, murer and neglect. African and Asian girls experience limited education + often forced into early marriages and frequent pregnancies, resulting in poor maternal + infant health.

Followers of religions such as Islam, Judaism, Christianity and goddess worship have set up groups with specific agendas, as have ecofeminists, disabled and lesbian women.

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Feminist Achievements and Post Feminism

  • Legal abortion for social and medical reasons (1967)
  • Divorce for irretrievable breakdown of marriage (1969/71)
  • Sex discrimination in employment and education outlawed (1975)
  • More legal protection from domestic violence (1976), and marital **** outlawed (1994)
  • Equal pay for jobs similar to those done by men (1984)

Wesrern society is now sometimes described as post-feminist because some women believe they now have achieved equality. Others believe combining work roles with traditional home roles is too stressful and benefits no-one. Male campaigners now believe women have more rights than men e.g access to children.

Fauldi (1992) - Women have NOT achieved equality. If they think doing two jobs is too stressful (home and work) this is because 70% of home jobs still carried out by women.

Purdy (1997) - Suggested a mass temporary opting out of having babies would enable women to pursue the careers they wanted but currently find difficult because of home life. Society would realise that population renewal is neccessary and more support would be given to women willing to have babies so they can do so without having their lives disrupted. 

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UK Laws

1857 Matrimonial Causes Act made divorce available through law courts if instigated by husband. Women given equal rights in 1923 Matrimonial Causes Act

1969 Divorce Reform Act allowed divorce on the grounds of irretrievable marital breakdown

1967 Abortion Act extended abortion rights to include social grounds

1993 Domestic Violence Act increased protection for battered wives

1994 Criminal Justice Act - marital **** outlawed.

2002 Adoption and Children Act enabled same-sex married and unmarried hetrosexual couples to adopt jointly.

2003 Employment Act  Introcuced a right to 2 weeks paid paternity leave

2005 Civil Partnership Act enabled same-sex couples to register as civil partners, recieving many of the same rights as hetrosexual couples

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Policies Abroad

Nazi Germany Aryan women rewarded bronze, silver, or gold awards for reproduction in a bid to create 'master race.'

Romania under President Ceasusescu, abortion and contraception banned to swell the birth rate, this caused couples to abandon unwanted babies.

Early Soviet Russia laws changed to make divorce and abortion easy in effort to abolish the family. State run nurseries available whilst women worked. Policies changed when WWII loomed to boost population; abortion became illegal + family allowance increased.

China couples with more than 1 child face financial penalties.

Catholic Countries Contraception illegal

Homosexual acts between consenting adults illegal in 1/3 of the world, sometimes only applies to males. 

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State Policies

Conservatives Traditional family views, support marriage over cohabitation, oppose generous benefits. Associate single parents with 'broken Britain': youth crime, teen pregnancy, unemployment, drugs etc.

The Left + Liberals More likely to welcome household diversity, support gay rights + cohabiting. Favour government intervention in family behaviour (conservatives associate this with 'the nanny state.')

Feminists Argue state benefits + services assume a conventional family of male breadwinner + housewife. Child benefit paid to the mother. Maternity leave much longer than paternity leave. Divorce courts usually give the children ot the mother.

Financial influences

UK benfits decrease after each child, discouraging large families, unlike in France.

Pensions and other benefits allow the sick, elderly, unemployed and disabled to live independently. 

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Changing Patterns

Marriage rates declining. 1860's = 60 men and 50 women marrying per 1,000 of the pop. 2009= 21 men + 20 women marrying per 1,000 of pop. The changes reflect changing attitudes e.g shotgun or arranged marriages.

During Postmodernity = Secularisation has led to the weakening of religious beliefs. Contraception widely available has increased 'sexual liberation.' Educated womnen keen to establish careers before marriage + family. Many more opportunities available for young people today. Rising cost of weddings. 

As a result of these factors = More people live alone at marriageable age than in the past. 2011- 29% UK pop. lived alone, compared with 12% in 1961. Others cohabit then marry later. Long term rise in conceptions outside of marriage. Since 1970 the mean age of 1st marriage has increased by 8 years. Families smaller.

Before 19th C, divorce could only be obtaines through parliament at great cost. Marriage regarded as sacramentm but secularisation changed these views. Prior to 1969 divorce act, it was extremely expensive and hard to obtain.

In 1971 there were 6 divorces per 1000 married pop. Increased to 11 in 2010. For 1/5 these are 2nd or 3rd divorces. The NEW RIGHT argue divorce has become far too easy. FEMINISTS and LIBERALS approve of easy divorce.

Effects of family breakdown= Disruption of Children's lives, Growth of single-parent families, Growth of Reconstituted families.

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Contemporary Diversity

Sociologists compare the diversity of contemporary family + household structures to the conventional family- the 'cereal packet' family. This type of family has NEVER been common.

The increase in divorce and changing attitudes to cohabitation + step families means the proportions of types of families with dependent children has changed. In 2011 62% were headed by a married couple/civil partnership, 24% by a lone parent, 14% by a cohabiting couple and a small proportion by a same-sex couple. 

Between 2001 and 2010, the number of married couples decreased by 100,000, 45,000 civil partnerships were formed as a result of the civil partnership act 2005, gay households that were not in a civil partnership increased by 6,000. 2,000 of each type had dependent children. Number of cohabiting same-sex couples increased by 608,000. Number of lone parents with dependent children increased by 12%, 9/10 being women. The number of people living alone increased to 7.5 MIL. 70% female.

Chester (1985) suggested family diversity has been exaggerated because of the way statistics are interpreted. While the proportion of households that are unconventional is high, the proportion of PEOPLE not living in conventional families is much lower, because conventional families tend to have more members than alternative family types. Furthermore, statistics are merely SNAPSHOTS, based on people's experiences at one point in their lives. A summary of the life course would present more accurate statistics and details. 

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Roles and Relationships

FUNCTIONALISTS view traditional gender roles as functional. parsons claimed it made sense for women to care for the children they gave birth to in expressive ways, men took instrumental role. NEW RIGHT agrees. FEMINISTS see gender roles as hard to change and oppressive to women. They have examined the domestic division of labour between couples.

Young and Willmott (1973) described conjugal relationships as joint, women and men as earners, thus men also helped with childcare, unlike in previous years when roles were SEGREGATED. Now they are SYMMETRICAL. 

Oakley (1974) Claimed Y+M had exaggerated men's contribution at home by rating even a tiny chore as housework. Only 15% of husbands help to a substantial degree, and only 25% helped with childcare. 

Allan (1985) men willing to do enjoyable childcare, leaving women to mundane chores. 

Women must perform a DOUBLE or even TRIPLE shift, employment, domestic duties, emotional support.

Dunne (1999) Equal sharing of tasks emphasised greatly in lesbian relationships. 


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Demographic trends

The UK birth rate has decreased since 1900, yet the population has risen because people live longer. This is NATURAL GROWTH. Immigrants also contribute to the population size. 

Medical advances have made a huge differences in the life span - innoculations against diseases such as TB, better nutrition and environment, free medical care and social services. These improve the infant mortality rate, thus women have less children as they are more likely to survive. The legalisation of abortion also decreased the birth rate. 

Women are choosing to have families later or not at all. More likely to go to university and often want to launch their careers before taking a break. May also delay childbirth until financially stable. Postponing children means many women are less fertile when they try for a baby and may not be able to have one or many. 

Feminism has made some women question child rearing as a priority. 

More women live alone or are seperated/divorced. Contraception. Abortion and deliberate childlessness have become far more socially acceptable. 

Children are financially dependent today, some couples may not have enough money for a family. The average family size is slightly less than 2 children today, as more are just too expensive. 

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very helpful! gonna get an A grade thanks! :) x

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