Families and Households (In this essay I will examine and assess the view that, in todays society, the family is losing Its functions. ) Modern family sociology mainly developed In the middle of the 20th century, in a period of stability (for countries like the USA or even Switzerland) or of social reconstruction after the Second world war (as for most other European countries). This development took place under the aegis of the then dominating functionalist paradigm (Parsons & Bales 1955, Goode 1963).
Its basic model was that of the nuclear family, a couple of two adult partners living together with their hildren and forming an irreducible group securing fundamental tasks for social and hence societal Integrauon, especially through socialization, a group that functioned In a relatively autonomous way, with little intimate contacts beyond its borders, which made It particularly attuned to the flexibility required by the Industrial society.
The internal structure of this family model was mainly organized around two ascribed criteria, sex and age. The role attribution according to the sex of the adult partners – internal tasks for the wife, external tasks for the husband – was said to correspond to expressive vs. Instrumental orientations typical of sexual Identities and was interpreted to be a highly functional way of performing all the necessary contributions to family and societal functioning.
The welfare state and other social institutions played a pivotal role as a ‘substitute family’; many functions the family used to perform (see my video on Parsons’ Fit Thesis’) have now been taken over by our welfare state (anyone else hear Charles Murray groan? ). Remember pre- industrialization? – The family performed many educational & caring roles! For example, single parents can perform the economic role through benefit payments nd primary socialization of children can be performed by pre-school / nursery.
So on the one hand, from a functionalist and New Right point of view; the family’ Is losing its functions because of their primary concern / focus with the nuclear family. However the evaluation Is that the family Isnt necessarily losing its functions because in whatever format the family’ is found, with external support the key functions Durkheim and parsons Stress. are still performable. Certain functionalist such as Parsons and Dennis say that in our now modern society some functions erformed by the family have been shifted to specialized Institutions that look after certain vital roles.
This would include such things as education, as this used to performed by the family who educated their children for the working world. They also claim that now the family has two basic functions left, these are the socialization of children and the stabilization of adult personalities. Changes in the family; Decline In marriage and growth In cohabitation, Remarriage and growth of reconstituted families More births outside marriage, Rising divorce rates, Ageing population.
However some other sociologists such as Fletcher and Shorter claim that It Is the opposites and that the family actually sued to ignore such things as the education of their children and the recreational activities were not done. They say that now due to the introduction of the welfare system the family now cares about their Childs health and keeps a closer eye on It. The family still Is responsible for partly diagnosing 1 OF3 introduction of the social service department the family must further care for their child so they are not taken away.
There are many different sociologists who look in he families place in todays society and assess the level of function to family has today. From Murdock to parsons, feminist and warm bath theory there is many different views and opinions on this statement. One of the more famous sociologists who looked at the family is G. P. Murdock; he compared over 250 societies and claimed that the nuclear family was universal, that some form of the nuclear family existed in every known society and that it performed four functions essential to the continued existence of those societies.
The four functions are Reproduction (where society equires new members to ensure its survival), Sexual (this function serves both society and the individual. Unregulated sexual behavior has the potential to be socially disruptive. However marital sex creates a powerful emotional between a couple), Educational (culture needs to be transmitted to the next generation), Economic (where adult family members show their commitment to the care, protection and maintenance of their dependents by becoming productive workers and being an income).
While Murdock’s ideas are a great idea and would make a good society to live in they re also dated seeing as he wrote this in 1949, things have changed a lot since then and the family has moved on, one thing that would have changed for sure since he wrote this is the fact that women can now be the breadwinners in the family it is no longer Just the men that go out to work to help the economy. So according to Murdock then family would be losing its functions because it is not fitting directly into his four main functions. As industrialization grew kinship-based society broke-up which had a direct impact on family structures.
Out went the classic extended family and in came the ‘isolated nuclear family as a ‘productive unit’. The term ‘isolated’ comes from functionalist Talcott Parsons who identified the families in modern industrial society as being isolated because it’s not connected to wider kinship relations. Obviously there are kinship relationships between members of a family but the difference for Parsons is these relationships are built on choice rather than obligation (members of pre-industrial had to cooperate in order for the family unit to survive – a relationship built on obligation rather than choice.
These pre-industrial family obligations consisted of health-care; education; policing; moral teaching; mployment etc. ) In contrast Parsons identified how in modern industrial times, the family was no longer obliged to carry out these family functions. Instead state institutions such as firms; schools; hospitals; GPs; police and churches took over these obligations. Parsons said this shift from family to state responsibility was a natural outcome of social evolution rather than demise.
The isolated nuclear family had evolved from the classic extended family due to a reduction of the functions of the family – particularly with the family ceasing to be an economic unit of production. Functionalists’ argue this change in function of the family comes from the needs of the economic system. Industrialization introduced specialized division of labor. These specialisms mean certain skills are called for in different geographical regions at different times. These social changes meant the isolated nuclear families being freed requirements of modern industrial society.
This changing function of the family was evident in the expansion of the railways in the 19th century. The 1851 Census was the first to include detailed classifications of the population by age which provides a enchmark to track the impact of the railways on families, people and places throughout England and Wales. The shift to the postmodern family Unlike Giddens, Beck and Beck-Gernsheim, and David Morgan, the American sociologist Judith Stacey believes that contemporary societies such as the USA have developed the postmodern family (Stacey, 1996).
She associates changes in the family with a movement away from a single dominant family type. And with greater variety in family relationships. Postmodern families in Silicon Valley Stacey’s claim that the postmodern family is characteristic of the USA is based upon er own research into family life in Silicon Valley conducted during the mid-1980s. Silicon Valley in California is the ‘global headquarters of the electronics industry and the world’s vanguard post-industrial region’ (Stacey, 1996).
Usually trends in family life in the USA take on an exaggerated form in Silicon Valley. For example, divorce rates in this area have risen faster than in other areas of the country. Trends there are generally indicative of future trends elsewhere. Most sociologists have tended to argue that higher-class and middle-class families lead the way in new family trends and that working-class families then follow later see, for example, Willmott and Young’s idea of the symmetrical family). Stacey’s research suggests that the reverse might be true with the rise of the postmodern family.