The family


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Functionalists view on the family - PARSONS

Functionalists Roles of the Family – Parsons

The Functionalist Talcott Parsons sees two main functions that the family performs these are:

· The primary socialisation of children
Parson argues that every individual must internalise the norms and values of society. He said it is the family that moulds the child’s personality to fit the needs of society, producing children who are committed to shared norms and values and who have a strong sense of belonging to society

· The stabilisation of adult personalities
Adults need emotional security, which is given by partners in a marriage, and they also need a source of release from the stresses and strains of daily life, which they get from being able to indulge in childish behaviour when playing with their children.
This ‘stabilisation’ is often referred to as the ‘warm bath theory’.

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Other functions of the family

Other functions of the family;

· The family is an important agent of social control. It defines what is socially acceptable behaviour. The family also allow individuals to know the difference between right and wrong backed up by positive and negative sanctions.

· The family also has a number to economic functions. It provides children with economic support. The family provides the economy with workers and they are also a central unit of economic consumption.

· Marriage is also regarded as important, and reproduction is an essential function because the family provides new members of society to replace those that have died.

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Critisisms of the functionalists

Criticisms of the Functionalists

· Functionalist’s theories tend to focus on the positive functions of the family and give little consideration to its disadvantages. I.e. Feminists emphasise the male dominated nature of the traditional family.

· Functionalists assume that the family is of equal benefit to everyone. But Marxists argue that society is shaped by the needs of the capitalist economy and that the family exists to serve these needs rather than those of its members.

· Functionalists fail to consider the viability of alternatives to the family

· Many functionalists, particularly Parsons, do not consider the diversity of family types. Even within one society, there are variations based on class, region, ethnicity, religion etc.

· Interpretive sociologists argue that functionalists concentrate too much on the importance of the family for society and ignore the meaning family life has for individuals.

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What is happening to Marriage?

· There is a decline in first marriages

· But there has been an increase in remarriages

· The average age at which people get married is increasing


· Living together is no longer seen as ‘living in sin’

· Two thirds (67%) of the British public now regard cohabitation as acceptable, even when the couple have no intention in getting married.

Marriage Patterns for African-Caribbean’s

· Only 39% of British born African-Caribbean adults under 60 are in a formal marriage compared to 60% of white adults

· This group is more likely than any other to inter-marry

· Only one quarter of Caribbean children live with two black parents.

· There is also a tradition of women living independently from their children’s father

· Consequently half of Caribbean families with children are now single parents.

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Divorce Patterns

· There has been an increase in divorce rates

· From 1971 to 1996 the number of divorces has more than doubled.

Patterns in Marriage and Divorce

Feminist sociologists see the trends as a sign of the lack of satisfaction provided by traditional patriarchal marriage, with individuals seeking alternative types of relationships and living arrangements.

New Right thinkers have seen the trends as a sign of the breakdown of the family and have argued for a return to ‘traditional values’. They suggest that because of the easy availability of divorce, people are no longer as committed to the family as they were in the past.

Changes in legislation which have made divorce easier but also social changes in which the law reflect are seen as the main causes of the increase in divorce rates.

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Why else has marriage changed?

Growing Secularisation

Secularisation refers to the declining influence of religious beliefs and institutions. Goode and Gibson argued that secularisation has resulted in marriage becoming less of a sacred, spiritual union and more a personal and practical commitment.

Changing Social Attitudes

Divorce has become more socially acceptable and there is less social disapproval and stigma attached to divorces. As a result of this people are less afraid of the consequences of divorce and are more likely to end an unhappy marriage.

Functionalists such as Parsons and Fletcher argue that the increased value of marriage may have caused a rise in marital breakdown. As people expect and demand more from a marriage and expect it to be perfect. Fletcher argues that a relatively high divorce rate may be indicative not of lower but of higher standards of marriage in society.

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