The functions of the family.

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The functionalist perspective on the family-

  • Functionalists believe that there are specific norms and values within society that its members are socialised into.
  • They believe that this enables its members to cooperate in society and meet eachother's needs.
  • Functionalists believe that all institutions rely on each other and if one 'fails', then they all fail. One of these institutions is the family.
  • Functionalists see the family as the main, basic structure in society.

Murdock 1949 believes that the family performs the following 4 functions to meet the needs of society and its members:

- Socialisation of the young= Children are socialised into the norms (what's right/expected) and values of society.

- Stable satisfaction of the sex drive= Involves just the 1 partner, preventing the social/public outcry caused by a 'sexual free-for-all'.

-Meeting its members' economic needs= By providing basics such as food, shelter and clothing.

-Reproduction of the next generation= Enabling society to continue.


Murdock believes that these functions are best performed by the nuclear family only.Many sociologists would disagree and argue that other families such as reconstitiued (step-families) families can perform these functions just as well.

Feminists see the family as patriarchal(male-dominated) and see it only serving the needs of men and oppresses women, not serving the needs of society as a whole.

Marxists would argue that the family does not serve the needs of society and benefits its members, but a way of maintaing a capitalist society which expolits family members.

Parsons' 'functional fit theory':

Parsons (1955) believes in 2 family structures:

The nuclear family- consisting of two generations, the parents and their biological dependent children.

The extended family- consisting of 3 generations living under the same roof, e.g. grandparents, parents and dependent children.

Beleives that it is important for the family to be able to adapt as society adapts. As a result, he believes in the modern industrial society and the pre-industrial society.

Parsons believes that as society industrialised, it needed the family to adapt with it. This meant that a modern industrial society has 2 important needs:

A geographically mobile workforce-

  • Pre-industrial society meant that many generations of a family grew up in the same place, living in the extended family.
  •  However, Parsons believes society has now become a modern industrial society.
  •  This requires workers to move around the country or ocuntries to wherever work is in demand. 
  • It is a lot easier for the 2 generational nuclear family to move to where there is work, than the 3 generational extended family. 
  • Consequently, Parsons argues that the nuclear family is better suited to the need of a 'geographically mobile workforce'.

A socially mobile workforce

  • Modern industrial society requires highly skilled workers in order for the industry to cooperate and be successful. 
  • This means that no matter the person's background, they are able to achieve a high status through hard work and dedication.
  •  This is contrasted to the pre-industrial society where status was ascribed and social mobility was not…


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