Families and Household - Theories on the family

AS Sociology – Families & household – Topic 3 – Theories on the family

By Rhaee Torres

Functionalism and the family

  • Society acts as a human body

  • If an institution in society isn’t functioning properly, the whole system breaks down (ORGANIC ANALOGY)

    • System of independent parts are held together by a shared culture or value consensus


“The family is a social group characterised by a 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 cohabiting adults” -1949

  • Family is a primary agency of socialisation

  • These functions are not being performed – Sociologists could argue that it is still a family

4 functions the family perform according to Murdoch (1949)

  1. Stable satisfaction of the sex drive – the same partner, prevents social disruption cause by a sexual ‘free for all’

    • Avoids conflict

  2. Reproduction of the next generation – reproducing allows society to continue

  3. Socialisation of the young – teaches children the norms and values of society

  4. Meeting its members’ economic needs – providing money, food and shelter


  • Other institutions such as charities can perform some of the functions

    • Government, welfare, benefits

  • His focus is in the nuclear family. Other families are just as able to meet these needs

    • Adopt, education

  • Functionalism is a consensus theory, it views the family as meeting the needs of the individual and wider society and so neglects conflict and exploitation

    • Abuse, financial hardship

PARSONS (1955)


Functions that the family performs will depend the kind of society in which it is found. The functions that the family performs will affect its shape.

  • Functions of the family depend on society in which it is found.

  • Functions performs are impacted on the shape or the structure of the family

  • Distinguishes between nuclear family and extended family’


KW - Nuclear Family: Two-generation family of both man and woman with their dependent child, own or adopted.

KW - The Extended Family: People related by blood, marriage or adoption extended beyond the nuclear family e.g. aunts, uncles, cousins etc.

Parsons argument:

  • The particular structure and functions of a given type of family will ‘fit’ the needs of the society.

  • Parsons argues the nuclear family fits the needs of industrial society and is the dominant family type in that society, while extended family fits the needs of pre-industrial society.

  • There are two basic types of society in which it is found;

    • Traditional pre-industrial society – (agriculture, farming, manual labour) Children learnt how to milk cows, churn butter, and tend to farm animals. Generation after generation, rural families relied on told that had changed little over the centuries.

    • Modern industrial society (factories) the post revolution.

  1. The extended family gave way to the nuclear family. The emerging industrial society had different needs from the pre-industrial society.

    • The family had to adapt to meet the needs. Parsons see’s the industrial society as


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