The functionalist perspective - family

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Functionalist sociologist Parson

  • Two irreducible functions of the family:-
    • The primary socialisation of children.
    • The stabilisation of adult personalities.
  • Keeping with consensus of functionalism Parsons argues every individual must internalise norms and values of society - they must become part of individuals personality and way of thinking.
  • Family moulds childs personality to fit needs of society - process of primary socialisation, takes place in early years of childhood.
  • Family's are personality factories - producing children who are comitted to shared norms and values, who have a strong sense of belonging to society.
  • Family is central to creation of value consensus.
  • In industrial societies much responsibility for secondary socialisation taken over by specialist institutions such as schools and training agencies.
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Functionalist sociologist Parson

  • Second function is stabilisation of adult personalities.  Parsons means adults need emotional security and a source of release from stresses and strains of life in wider society.
  • Emotional support given by partners in marriage as well as parents, able to indulge in childish behaviour with their children, provides security and release.
  • Helps prevent stress overwhelming individual and threatening stability of society - stabilisation often referred to as the warm bath theory - family provide relaxing environment for male worker to immerse himself in after long day at work.
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Other functions of nuclear family

  • Family important agent of social control - polices society's members on daily basis to maintain consensus brought by socialisation.
  • Family defines what is socially acceptable behaviour with regard to sex, regulates behaviour such as dating, pre-marital sex, marital sex and extra-marital sex.
  • These family controls prevent potential anarchy and disorder that might result if people allowed to engage in unregulated sex.
  • Primary socialisation involves development of a conscience - allows individual to know difference between right and wrong.
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Family - economic functions

  • Family has a number of economic functions - provides children with economic support.
  • Family provides economy with workers.
  • Alongside education, functions ensure members are willing to take occupational duties and oblogations.
  • Families play central role as consumers of material goods and services produced by economy.
  • Examination of TV advertising reveals family to be central unit of economic consumption.
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  • Marriage regarded as most appropriate setting for procreation - children seen as natural outcome of romantic love.
  • Reproduction is essential function because provides new members of society to replace those that have died.
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Nuclear family

  • Parsons - nuclear family ideal institution to perform these essential functions in industrial society as it has become more privatised and specialised.  It has lost many functions.
  • Its' ties with wider family network have weakened as it adapts to needs of industrial society.
  • Not lost two basic and irreducible functions. Nuclear family in industrial society no less important than it was - slimmed down and more specialised.
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Structural differentiation

  • Parsons to this as structual differentiation.
  • Family and kinship were important in a whole range of areas in pre-industrial societies - have become increasingly specialised, concentraing on few essential functions.
  • For example:
    • In many small scale societies role of caring for elderly and sick people is responsibility of relatives; in industrial societies this is increasingly the responsibility of agencies such as hospitals and social services.
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Evaluation of Parson

  • Parsons criticised for failing to provide empirical research to back up his theories.
  • Do you think sociologists can work on a theoretical view rather than empirical basis.
  • Parsons been criticised for projecting views as a middle aged, middle class, white man - ignores experiences of people unlike himself, from other ethnic groups, social classes and age groups.
  • Parsons bases his expectations about gender roles on biological determinism - assumption there are natural differences between men and women - but are there?
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What is the ideal structure of family according to

  • Functionalists see the nuclear family structure as most functional for needs of individuals and society.
  • George Murdock argues:
    • "No society has succeeded in finding an adequate substitute for the nuclear family, to which it might transfer its functions.  It is highly doubtful whether any society will ever succeed in such attempt."
  • Other functionalists nore cautious in embracing notion of universality of nuclear family.
  • Goode argues nuclear family should be seen as ideal type not all families can be reduced to this structure.
  • Parsons theory of family and social change in which he argues that structure of family adapts to needs of society - particularly economy.
  • He argues that whereas extended family was typical in pre-industrial society the isolated nuclear family has become dominant in industrial society.
  • He sees nuclear family as best fitting for needs of individuals and industrial economy.
  • Parsons puts emphasis on social and geographical mobility of isolated nuclear family as fitting the needs of industrial economy.
  • Draws distinction between public world of work and the private sphere of family - argues that because of isolation of family that public world of wage labour and demands of extended family, that is able to perform its functions in industrial society.
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Functionalist approach to family

  • Positive emrace of public/private spilt is a key theme in functionalist approach to family.
  • Lasch says "the private world of family is a haven in a heartless world."
  • Other perspectives perceive family as far from heaven and highlight what can be described as the darker side of the family.
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What are the ideal roles within the family accordi

  • An assumption in functionalism is there is biological imperative for differences between men and women - certain distinctive behaviour that is natural for men and women that leads them to adopt different roles within society and family.
  • Men and women are socialised into different roles from a functionalist perspective this process shapes tendencies in men and women that are innate.
  • Parsons argues men perform an instrumental role within family, economic provider, women perform an expressive role, nurture and emotinal support.
  • These roles also reflected in division of public and private spheres.
  • Men's instrumental role leads them into public sphere of paid employment.
  • Women's expressive role leads them to take responsibility of private sphere of home and children.
  • This difference in male and female roles is known as sex role differentiation.  Functionalists generally positive about differentiation and see it as functional for individuals and for society.
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Criticisms of the functionalist perspective

  • Functionalist theories concentrate on positive functions of family, give little consideration to its disadvantages.  Feminists emphasise the male dominated nature of traditional family relations.
  • Functionalists assume family is equal benefit to everyone.  However Marxists argue society is shaped by needs of capitalist economy and family exists to service these needs rather than those of its members.  It is dominant class in capitalist societies who benefit most fromthe way families are organised rather than society as a whole.
  • Functionalists fail to consider viability of alternatives to the family.  It has been argued that Israeli kibbutz effectively carries out all functions of a family but doesn't fit definitions of family.
  • Many functionalists, Parsons, do not consider diversity of family types.  Even within one society, there are variations based on class, religion, ethnicity, region and so on.
  • Interpretive sociologists argue functionalists concentrate too much on importance of family for society and ignore the meaning of family life has for individuals - the way individuals make sense of the world around them, through other family members.
  • However Ronald Fletcher 1988 - points out, people who criticise the family admit its social importance.  While many seek to change the family, admit that to abolish it would be impractical.
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