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Sociological Concepts of the Family - Modern Day Family

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Sociology
Wordcount: 2117 words Published: 8th Sep 2017

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In this essay, I will be explaining the family structure of my case study (who we will refer to as Andrew to protect his identity and in keeping with the Data Protection Act 1998) and the influence the family has had in his life. I will identify and explain two sociological perspectives and compare them with today’s idea of the family with the traditional idea of the family, I will also provide three sociological concepts and explain them in relation to the role of the family.

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There have been many changes to the family since the 1950s when a typical family would have been described as a nuclear family which was made up of a married couple and their dependent children, the husband would have been the bread winner and the wife the homemaker. Today, however the structure of the family has gradually changed over the years since then, we are now seeing a rise in single parent families which is defined as families with children (under 18 years old) headed by a parent who is widowed, divorced and not remarried, or by a parent who has never been married. In Scotland, it is believed that there are just over 170,000 single parents looking after 291,000 children (www.news.gov.scot/news/lone-parents), divorce rates in Scotland between 2000 and 2007 steadily rose and at its peak in 2007 stood at 13,767, since then the number of divorces decreased (www.statista.com) a total of 9,700 marriages legally ended in 2012-13, a drop of 14% over the previous 4 years (www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-26714426). Nowadays there are also more couples choosing to cohabitate rather than get married as it is seen as more acceptable, in a report by the Telegraph it is believed that divorce rates are at their lowest in 40 years due to the rise in the cost of getting married and couples choosing to live as common law husband and wife. (www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/12011714/divorce-rate-at-lowest-level-in-40-years-after-cohabitation-revolution.html). With more and more women becoming independent and building careers, the man is now seen to be sharing the responsibilities of the childcare and housework, this is known as the symmetrical family which basically means more similar roles exist. We have also seen a rise in a blended family, also known as step family, reconstituted family. It is when a family unit where one or both parents have children from a previous relationship, but they have combined to form a new family. The parents may or may not have children together. In 2011 step-families made up 8% 26,000 of the population and household in Scotland (www.scotlandscensus.gov.uk). Andrews family structure could best be described as a single parent family before being taken into care. His mother ended her relationship with Andrews father before she gave birth due to domestic violence and them both being dependant on drugs, to date Andrew has never met his birth father.

Sociological perspectives such as functionalism are a theory that all positions in society serve a function and is essential to the continuation and structure of that society. Emile Durkheim (1858-1917) was a sociologist who argued that society had to be studied in its own terms and not of that of the individual. Durkheim believed that societies were knitted together by everyone sharing the same values, which through time would change as these societies get bigger and more complex.  Durkheim referred as how society comes together through a shared view of rules, norms and roles. Mechanical solidarity is a form of social cohesion that arises when people in society maintain similar values and beliefs and engages in similar types of work, organic solidarity is a form of social cohesion that arises when people in society are interdependent, but hold varying values and beliefs and engage in various types of work.  Another perspective is based on the conflict theory, which is primarily based on the work of Karl Marx (1818-1883). The conflict perspective focuses on the class divide, how the wealthy control the poor and the weak in the competition of scarce resources. The bourgeoisie represents the class with the wealth and means and the proletariat represents the working class or poor, Marx’s theory was that the bourgeoisie would control the proletariat with their wealth and power therefor subjecting them to worsening conditions, bringing inequality to light and the possibility of revolt. If conditions were addressed to the concerns of the proletariat, the conflict circle would eventually repeat.

Using these perspectives in comparison with today’s idea of the family with the traditional idea of the family, the functionalist perspective has some similarities and differences. The similarities are that society still shares the same views, beliefs and norms, however through time these have changed, before the idea of the traditional family would be the nuclear family which would consist of a father, mother and dependent children, but with the rise in divorce rates and couples choosing not to get married in the past years we are now seeing more of single parent families. With laws and attitudes changing we are now also seeing it more acceptable in society for same sex couples getting married and starting families, something that would have been unacceptable in past years. The advance in technology is something that has had an impact on family life, before families would gather round for dinner, play games, watch TV etc. but with the technical advances in mobile phones, social media and gaming consoles this is something that has dwindled and we are now seeing less of. Using the conflict perspective, we still have the divide in class with the wealthy having the majority of power and means. We still see competition for the scarce resources and the poorer and weaker families suffering as a result, mainly due to low minimum wage, benefit sanctions and the lack of social housing. We have seen a rise in social conflict in that communities have been divided by religion and race, with the rise in terrorist attacks many minorities and people seeking asylum are feeling isolated and victimised as a consequence of other people’s actions.

The roles of the family are broken down as mum, dad, sister, brother, grandparents etc., in Andrews case this is something that was quite confusing to him as he had never known his father and seen his older sister and grandmother as his primary care givers and parental figures. Even though his sister was not much older than him he realised that his mother was not acting in the role she should have been. This was due to neglect through drug use and his sister taking on the role of his mother and for Andrew his role as a son was never accomplished due being unable to form an attachment with his mother. This is something that we have seen all too often in Scotland which the Scottish government are highlighting through a report called Hidden Harm. It highlights that, parental drug use can and does cause serious harm to children of every age. With Andrew not having a father figure in his life he seen his mother as the sole provider of the household. With most of the financial resources being brought into the household being used to fund his mother’s drug use, Andrew had noticed the social divide in class when he started school as the other children would be dressed better and spoke about the things they had that he didn’t, this lead to Andrew being bullied which contributed to the behaviours he displayed at home.

The norms of the family may include doing together such as going to church, having dinner, holiday’s picnics, watching movies etc., the definition of norm is something that is usual, typical, or standard. In today’s society, it is much harder for families to spend time together. According to a report by the daily mail it is estimated that families spend less than eight hours a week together due to the stresses of modern life. this could be due to parent/parents working long hours or anti-social hours to keep up with the bills, with the advance in technology parents and children spending more time on social media, children playing gaming consoles and watching TV, however it is important for families to spend time together to create an environment that helps shape children’s character and self-esteem and brings the family closer.

Family values are something that is passed on from generation to generation and contribute to the family’s structure, function, roles, beliefs and attitudes. The importance of family values is something many people take for granted and is highlighted in times of crisis, this is when our values influences the decisions we make and seek protection from outside influences such as peer pressure. This is when parental guidance is needed, in Andrews case he never had the values or parental guidance needed to steer him through his childhood and adolescence, something that might have helped manage his behaviours towards others.


My research into the family has helped me to understand my case study more and how the influences of the family can have a big impact on how a person is shaped in society.

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