families and households version 2


the nature and role of family in society

the difference between families and households

  • household- a group of people who live together who may or may not have family or kinship ties
  • 2001 UK census- 24.4 million households in the UK
  • families make up the majority of households
  • there are other types
  • social trends 33 (2003)- recent social trend- increase in the number of people living alone
  • family- type of households where the people living together are related
  • most commonly a family is also a kinship grou
  • kinship- related by birth or blood; parents, children, grandparents, cousins
  • non kinship- foster children, guardians, step parents, step children, mother in law
  • nuclear family- two generations living together
  • traditional extended family- 3 or more generations of the same family living together or close by with frequent contact between relatives
  • attenuated extended family- nuclear families that live apart from their extended family but keep in regular contact
  • single parent families- a single parent and their dependent children
  • reconstituted families- new stepfamilies created when parts of 2 previous families are brought together


  • see every institution in society as essential to the smooth running of society

murdock 1949

  • the family is so useful to society that it is inevitable and universal
  • argued that some form of the nuclear family existed in all of the 250 different societies he looked at
  • argued the family performed 4 basic functions
  • sexual- provides a stable sexual relationship for adults, and controls the sexual relationships of its members
  • reproductive- provides new babies
  • economic- pools resources and provides for all its members, adults and children
  • educational- teaches children the norms and values of society; keeps the values of society going
  • the family is a social group characterised by common residence, economic cooperation, reproduction, adults of both sexes, two of whom maintain a socially approved sexual relationship, one or more children of these adults


  • many children have been raised in households that do not contain adults of both sexes
  • gough 1959- analysed the Nahar society in India before British rule was established; women had several husbands who took no responsibility for the care of their offspring
  • a significant proportion of black families in the West Indies, Central America and the USA are matrifocal families and do not include adult males
  • sheeran 1993- the female carer core is the most basic family unit; this primary carer is not always the biological mother
  • gay and lesbian households may contain children
  • callahan 1997- gay and lesbian households should be seen as families; if marriage were available, many gay and lesbian couples would marry and their relationships are not significantly different from those in heterosexual households
  • murdock does not consider whether the functions could be performed by other social institutions
  • morgan 1975- presents the nuclear family as a totally harmonious situation; too optimistic and blinkered?

parsons 1950s

  • argued that the family always had 2 basic and irreducible functions
  • primary socialisation of children- children learn and accept the values and norms of society; described families as…


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