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Is the Family in Decline?

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Sociology
Wordcount: 2050 words Published: 18th Jul 2017

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Introduction & history of the family

“Most people’s idea of a normal household is a married couple with children. Does this longer correspond with the reality of people’s lives? In 2005 only 22 per cent of British households consisted of a couple with dependant children, compared with 35 per cent in 1971.” (Fulcher J, Scott J, 2004 pg 446).

Over several decades, Britain and other Western societies have seen a shift in family patterns and diverse roles, also divorce rate have risen significantly and there has been an increase in ‘Reconstituted families’ formed from second marriages

The family is often regarded as the basis of society; in pre-modern and modern societies alike is seen as the basis in which social organization takes place, for example socialising children, in the 1960’s there was not discussion about the importance of family, at that family life was merely evolving with the modern times, the ‘nuclear family’ which consist of a two generation household of parent and their children, was seen as well adapted to the demands of modern society. A classic definition of the family by George Peter Murdock (1949) “The family is a social group characterized by common residence, economic co-operation and reproduction. This includes adults of both sexes, at least two of whom maintain a socially-approved sexual relationships, and one or more children, own or adopted, of the sexually cohabiting adults”.

Another type of family is the extended family, which includes the family members which extends ‘vertically’ that would include three generations for example; grandparent and grandchildren, it also extends ‘horizontally’ to include at least ‘in laws’ cousins, aunts and uncles, and dependant on the perceptions and the boundaries of the family; determines how far this extends.

From a functional perspective the family purpose is to work as a social institute, and according to (Haralambos & Holborn 2008) the family performs four basic functions in all societies which are termed the ‘sexual’, ‘reproductive’ ‘economic’ and ‘educational’ these are deemed essential for social life because without reproduction there would be no members of society, also without economics there would no provisions for providing food and therefore life would cease to exist, and without education as suggested by George Murdock there would be no culture and he suggests therefore that human society could not function.

However according to Parson (in Parsons & Bales 1956) the family social institution developed to meet two such needs that the family, and only the family, met: the needs for primary socialization and personality stabilization Primary socialisation was the process through which children obtain the basic values of society from the family from an early age.

And adult personality is stabilized through the family to give emotional support through marriage, and to create an opportunity for adults to satisfy childish impulses that they could not do in public, for example playing games with their children.

Parsons suggested that the nuclear family was particularly suited the ‘nuclear family’ because the nuclear family roles were specialized due to one adult earning money through paid work, and the other adult bringing up the children, therefore with there being one ‘breadwinner’ this was quite important factor in the industrial society due to high rates of change, this meant that this type of family were more ‘geographically mobile’ and they would also keep the world of work and family separate, as industrial societies were concerned with ‘achievement ‘and ‘universalism’; this meant that people were rewarded according to achievements and judged according to universal standards of qualifications, and competence, the family however operated on a opposite basis; where the values of ‘ascription’ and ‘particularism; thus, status was ascribed on who one was, for example, husband of, wife of, parents would do their best to advance their children, therefore if this overlapped into the workforce this cause conflict.

Marxist perspective states the capitalist system exploits the free domestic labour of the ‘housewife’ through domestic labour, and that child rearing should be considered as family activities ‘outside’ the operation of the capitalist economy but instead an essential part of it.

This view is taken because the ‘male breadwinner’ can then do longer hours, because the wife is at home tending to children and the domestic work; children were seen as the process of reproduction of ‘labour’ by creating submissive workers.

Due to the male bread winner being put under pressure from the work place to work much harder and faster, and quite often carrying out tedious and repetitive work in very poor conditions, which they would have very little control therefore the family was seen as an outlet for the tension and frustration, and the bullied worker may restore their self-esteem by bullying their family. Although the wife play’s a significant role in the capitalist economy, she would get no pay. Some housewives worked in paid employment at a low wage, and acted as a ‘reserve army’ which could be drawn into work when there was a shortage of labour, and returned back home when demand was low, therefore the nuclear family created an additional supply of ‘cheap labour’.

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Some sociologist argue that the family has lost certain functions in modern industrial society, and they suggest that institutions such as political parties and school, and welfare organisations are performing functions of the family, Talcott Parson’s argues that the family has become functionless on the ‘macroscopic’ levels. However not all sociologist agree with this idea, and they actually think the opposite, according to Ronald Fletcher, a British sociologist stated in ‘The Family and Marriage in Britain’ (1966)that the family has retained its functions but also those functions have ‘increased in detail and importance’ and specialised institutions such as schools and hospitals have added to and improved the family functions, rather than suspended them, some example of these changes are the expectations of the parenting role; they are expected to do their best to guide, encourage and support their children through education and their.

Young and Wilmott (1973) claim that the ‘symmetrical family is developing where spouses are sharing domestic, work and leisure activities; these types of relationships are called ‘joint conjugal’ roles as opposed to ‘segregated roles’ which previously meant the marital roles of husband and wife were largely segregated. In the symmetrical family, conjugal roles have become more joined, the wife still has primary responsibility for housework and child rearing, however husbands have become more involved with domestic chores like doing the washing and ironing, and share the decisions that affect the family

The structure of the British family has shifted significantly over the last 50 years, a major influence of this is through the decline of marriage and the rise in cohabitation according to the ‘Office of National statistics 2008’

Due to the changes in marriages, divorce and cohabitation to the growing number of new types of families Two in five of all marriages are now remarriages, which makes step families one of the fastest growing family forms in Britain, currently making up one, in the decade to 2006, the number of single parent families also increased to 2.3 million, making up 14% of all families in ten of all families.18.

Ethnic diversity is on the increase due to the increase of international migration is another source of diversity, for example the structure of Afro-Caribbean and Asian families; looking at the diversity in relation to origin and considerations of how these have changed in the context of British society.

According to (Elliot 1966; Berthound 2000) the lower-class Afro-Caribbean family is centred on the role of the women, and marriages are weakly institutive and low due to the men ‘wandering’; therefore the women commonly head the households, and relationships between mothers and children are much stronger than those between fathers and children, and family life tends to be supported by other women other than the biological mother. African-Caribbean women have been more economically active than women from other ethnic groups, and see paid work as a basis fro financial independence and are more likely to control the use of their earnings than Asian or White women, however this is only made possible by the sharing of the mothering role with other women.

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There are considerable cultural difference between south Asian nationalities that have come to Britain, however there are similarities, for instance families from rural areas in South Asia typically have extended forms of family, that include three generations in one household and are organized through a network of males, are bound together through religious beliefs in ‘brotherhood’ and family loyalty. Marriages are arranged and seen as a contrast of two families.

According to young and Willmott the home centred symmetrical family is more typical of the working class than the middle class, they suggest that ‘the working class’ are more fully home-centred because they are less fully work-centred’; and this is due to compensating for uninvolved and boring work, and because little interest is expected at work, and manual workers tend to focus more attention on family life, therefore according to Young and Wilmott see work as a major influence on family

Migration to Britain severely disrupted extended families of this kind and for many women this has left them socially isolated at home and unsupported by the kin. Sikh household have become more focused on couples and women have renegotiated traditional patterns, through greater independence through paid work, however in contrast Pakistani and Bangladeshi cultures have been limited to homework or family business by Islamic prohibition of contact with unrelated men, this has lead to women being exploited as cheap labour and confined to the home.

Many sociologists are concerned about what they see as the decline in marriage and family life, and they see this as a threat to the family, for example Brenda Almond (2006) believes that the family is fragmenting, there is also an increase in the legal and social acceptance of marital breakdown, cohabitation, gay and lesbian relationships and so on.

Colin Gibson (1994) claims through the development of modernity this has increased the likelihood of conflict between spouses due to much emphasis upon the desirability of individual achievement, Gibson believes that people now live in an ‘enterprise and free-market culture of individualism in which the licence of choice dominates

The last 100 years have seen changes in legislation, technology, attitudes and expectations that’ have led to a massive feminisation of the workforce since the second world war, also widespread contraception leading to deferred decisions about the start of families; and divorce, remarriage and cohabitation becoming much more acceptable. A relaxation of societal attitudes towards marriage means it is no longer seen as unusual to be involved in a ‘complicated’ family structure. Families are no longer just made up of married parents living with their children. Although seven in ten households are still headed up by married couples, this proportion has been declining for some time. Families are now a mix of cohabiting parents, stepfamilies, single parent families, those living apart together and civil partnerships, as well as the traditional nuclear family.


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