Theories of The Family - Functionalism(Parsons and Murdock)

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  • Created by: kingsley
  • Created on: 15-11-12 13:52


  • Main Points of Functionalism
  • Society is based upon consensus(everyone believes the same ideas, no divisions and same norms and standards in their lives).Society is harmonious.
  • Socialisation is the key to society - where your parents teach the norms and values and how to deal with the world and social actors.
  • children - socialised into the norms and values of society.


  • interlinked - education linked with the family which linked with government linked with police.
  • all parts of society is vital.
  • if one part doesnt work the rest wont work.

Murdocks Basic Functions

  • satisfaction of sex drive
  • reproduction of the next generation
  • soocialisation of young
  • meeting memers economic needs.


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Functionalism (Cont)

Criticisms of Murdock Theory

  • People still cheat
  • celebacy - no sex
  • Couples cant/dont have children
  • children influenced by external factors
  • high unemployment rates and poverty

Positive Qualities

  • parents are succesful in rearing their children.
  • some wont cheat and cause conflict.
  • families economically provide for children despite unemployment rates
  • families are still nuclear and have many children.


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Parsons(1995) Functionalism

Main Functions

  • Primary Socialisation of children(0 -5)
  • stabilisations of adult personalities

Funtional Fit Theory

  • before the industrial revolution 
  •  extended family was dominant (perfomed health/child/education care)
  • people lived in rural areas with most of yoyur family.goverment provided little for family, no transport people stayed in same place - all life cycle.
  • patriarchal society - women had many children.Ascribed status - given at birth stayed till death.
  • industrial revolution
  • industiralisation began mills and factories built to mass produce items, it created urbanisation(towns and cities.
  • the extended family broke up younger people went to town and cities to work and left old behind.
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Parsons(1995)Functionalism (Cont)


  • Structural differentiation - family has changed due to significant changes in society(adapting a social order)
  • IR gave nuclear family(NF) geographical mobility - they can move easily by canal and railways, gave social mobility ascribed status was mainly destroyed and aacheived was created - people could be promoted.
  • social position based on  individual effort and not on family background.

After the IR

  • privatised nuclear family emerged - performed paesons basic functions - primary socialistion + stabilisation of adult personalities.
  • other functions have taken over by goverment that used to be done by extended family.
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Other Theories

Young and Wilmott(Y+W)

  • back up parsons idea - family unit was changed cause of industrialisation.

family has chaanged in four stages

  • Pre-industrial family - unit of production , make woollen goods and sell it on.
  • the early industrial family - IR removed economic function. Jobs that family provided for its members with have been replaced by factories, men forced to work out side home women forced to be housewives.torn apart from IR extended families(EF) were dominant amongst the working class as they need relatives to help with functions.
  • The symmetrical family - created by middle class , proleteeriat adopted it.Stratified Difussion - middle classs have certain ideas then through social norms and values pass it down to the working class)
  • Assymetrical family -  men become more powerful and earn more money women play more of the expressive role.
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Critcising the Functional Fit Theory

  • Case Studies
  • Y+W say preindustrial era was nuclear and was dominant.
  • Laslett studied british households from 1564 to 1821 before the industrial revolution + found most families were nuclear. People gave birth at an older age and most grandparents were dead before their grandkids were born because of low life epectancy
  • Y+W says industrial revolution encouraged short term growth of extended families as daughters needed their mothers
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