Theories of the Family

Family Key Studies and People

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Functionalist Theories

Murdock - Murdock argues that the family is a universal institution (it exists everywhere) and inevidable. He says the family performs 4 major functions:
. Control of Sexuality.
. Reproduction of the next Generation.
. Socialisation of the Young (Education).
. Metting its members Economic Needs. 

Parsons - Parsons believes that every family in every society has two basic and irreducible functions. The primary socialisation of the children and the stabalisation of adult personalities.

Parsons - Parsons believe the family is like a Warm Bath as it provides the emotional security and warmth for its members.

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Marxist Theories

Zoretsky - Suggests that the family serves capitalism by offering emotional security from the opressive world of work, thus allowing such opressions to continue. However it only providies emotional warmth to encourage its members to continue living under capitalism. Warm Bath Theory (marxist style).

Cooper - The family is the main institution in which individuals are encouraged to accept an authoritarian ideology. We learn to do as we are told.

Marcuse - The family serves as a unit of consumption. 'Pester power' by children, and the bourgeoisie lend the family their money to buy their products for the prolateriat to have to pay back even more.

(Marxist Femenist) - Ansley - 'Women are takers of ****' (actual quote so can use in exam) as they are used as a source of relief from the husband as he turns to domestic violence to release some of his anger after being at work all day.

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Radical Psychiatrist

Leech - Compared the nuclear family to an overloaded circuit. He claimed that family members held too high expectations of each other and this led to stress and unhappiness.

Laing - Claimed that the nuclear family was a source of major emotional destress often leading to depression or schizophrenia. Case study of jane (a 12 year old girl) who had gone through her parents divorce developed schizophrenia.

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Post Modernist Theories

Judith Stacey - Stacey argues that changes in the position of women has increased the diversity of family. She found women have been the main agent in the changes of family. She found most women had changed their idea of the traditional women role in the family. She says the families come about because of people choices they make (e.g same sex families because of people comming out as gay because its more acceptable). She believes people should be in whatever family they choose to be in.

Jeffery Weeks - Weeks identified a long term shift towards sexual and family diversity since the 1950s. These have become more acceptable and so increased the number of same sex families.

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Are Domestic Roles Becoming More Equal?

:) Wilmott and Young - Wilmott and Young argue that modern marriages are characterised by joint conjugal roles which means that women are now going out to work and men are doing their fair share of domestic tasks. Morever couples are now more likely to share both leisure time and decision making.


:( Oakley - Oakley argues that Wilmott and Youngs claim of increasing equality is based on their methodology. Their conclution was made on interviews that was worded in such a way it could have exaggerated the amount of housework done by men, or that 10 minuets of work does not make the roles equal.

:( British Social Attitudes Survery 2007 - The recent British Social Attitude Survey found more sharing of child rearing than household tasks, however there was a small movement towards equality over time.

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Are Domestic Roles Becoming More Equal? II

:( Ferri and Smith - Ferri and Smith used survery data to focus on childcare. In almost every kind of household even where women were the main employed member, it was more common for women to do the housework.

:( Pahl and Vogler - Focused on how each partners income contribution affects decision making within the family. They found that pooling incomes was more common like joint bank accounts. However they found that men normally made the most decisions.

:) Burghes and Beck - Suggested that fathers are increasingly taking an active involvement in the emotional side of bringing up children even when marriages were broken down. However dont exaggurate their role in childcare. Research by Gray found that many fathers want to spend more time with their children but are limited by work.

:) Sullivan - Analysed data collected over a 25 year period and found trends towards greater equality in family roles as men did more domestic labour. Especially were men were participating in childcare and ironing.

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Does More Women in Work Mean Greater Equality in t

:) Man-Yee Kan - Found income from employment, age and education affected how much housework women did. Better paid, younger and better educated women did less housework. For every £10,000 in the womens income it decreased domestic task time by 2 hours.

:) Schor and Silver - Housework has become commercialised as the goods that were origionaly performed by women can now be bought as machenery like microwaves and washing machines and ready meals which means that women do not need to do these tasks anymore as they are easily to be performed by men.

:) Gershuny - Found that the husband of working women contiued to do less than half the total work of their partners. Even though the dual burden still existed men did more housework if their wife were employed.


:( Arber and Ginn - Social class affects the equality in the home. Middle class women were able to afford full time childcare whereas working class women cannot and so are stuck in part time jobs and childcare responcibilities.

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Does More Women in Work Mean Greater Equality in t

:( Dunne - Despite the number of working women increasing the inequality remained and women still had to do the housework because of the traditional biological script of the family the men and women had. She found that in lesbian couples the domestic labour was equal.

:( Dunscombe and Marsden - Identified that women are doing the triple burden because they are expected to also do the emotional work because the men can not seem to do that part either.

:( Edgell - Important decisions were usually taken by the male partner, while women make more decisions but they are less important.

:( Pahl and Volger - Same Study as Last Mention...

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Domestic Violence

Official statistics report that violence by men against their female partners account for 1/3 of all reported violence. Stanko's survery in 2000 found that one incident of domestic violence is reported by women to the police every minute in the UK. Two women a week die as a result of assault by a partner or previous partner.

Mirrlees Black:
1/4 Women Will experience domestic violence in their lifetime.
1/8 Repeatidly So.
1/7 Men Will experience domestic Violence.
1/20 Repeatidly So. 

Dobash & Dobash (92) - Argue that in patriarchal societies there is still cultural support for the view that men have a right to discipline their wives or partners. There has been little support for women victims to domestic violence.
They identified a major factor to domestic violence was the men thinking the women did not do the domestic jobs to their satisfaction.
Found that women are more economically dependant on men because of their difficulty trying to find a job and so return for the economic support and the stigma about the breakup.

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Domestic Violence II

Wilkinson - Sees domestic violence as the result of stress on family members caused by social inequality. He argues that families on low incomes or living in overcrowded housing are likely to experience higher levels of stress reducing their chance of maintaining stable and caring relationships and results in conflict.
The found that women with less power, status, wealth or income are at higher risk of domestic violence.
Found that women in lower social classes are at more risk because of the stress they experience this helps explain the class differences on domestic violence in official statistics. 

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