Ch. 5 The Family

Perspectives on the family, Divorce, Marriage, and Cohabitation, Family Diversity, Changes within the family, Childhood, Social Policy, and Demography.


  1. Topic 1 – Perspectives on the family
  2. Topic 2 – Divorce, Marriage, and Cohabitation
  3. Topic 3 – Family Diversity
  4. Topic 4 – Changes within the family
  5. Topic 5 – Childhood
  6. Topic 6 – Social Policy
  7. Topic 7 – Demography

Topic 1 – Perspectives on the family
Murdock: 4 Functions of Family

  1. Stable satisfaction of the sex drive.
  2. Biological reproduction.
  3. The socialisation of the young.
  4. Providing economic needs of members.


  • Feminists argue that the traditional family structure disadvantages women.
  • Other social institutions could perform some functions of the family.
  • Some cultures do not have families, such as the ‘Nayar’.

Parsons: Functional Fit Theory
As society changes, the type of family that is most suitable to society changes as well. In pre-industrial society, the extended family was predominant as the family was responsible for the education of the children, producing food and caring for the sick.
In the modern industrial society, the isolated nuclear family became the norm because it fits the requirements of industrial societies, which is that the workforce needs to be geographically mobile and flexible.


  • It is too ‘neat’ - social change is not so orderly.
  • Laslett found that church records show only 10% of households were of extended families. This shows that nuclear families existed in preindustrial society.
  • Young & Willmott found out that extended families were still existing in East London in the 1970s.

Parsons: 2 Family Functions

  1. Primary socialisation – When the process of socialisation, which is to teach the norms and values of the society, is done by the family unit. If primary socialisation is done correctly, then boys learn the instrumental role, and girls learn the expressive role.

    Why do we socialise? To learn the behaviour expected of an individual by the society; to maintain social order; to help define our identity; to preserve the culture.

    Instrumental role: Functionalist understanding of the role of the father in a family, which is to be the breadwinner, and discipline the family.
    Expressive role: Functionalist understanding of the role of the mother in a family, which is to be caring and do household chores.

  2. Stabilisation of adult personalities – Emotional security achieved within a marital relationship between the partners.

    According to Parsons, the husband and children return home from work stressed and is ‘de-stressed by the wife’, thus reducing conflict in society. This are also known as the ‘Warm Bath theory’.


  • Too deterministic to think that children’s personalities are shaped by all-powerful adults.
  • Marxist Zaretsky says that emotional support is given to encourage members to continue working under the harsh realities of capitalism.

Criticisms of Functionalism:

  • Downplays conflict – Paints a rose-tinted picture, ignoring domestic violence against women, and child abuse.
  • Out of Date – Parsons’ view of segregated conjugal roles are old-fashioned. In contemporary societies, families are more symmetrical.
  • Ignores female exploitation – Women have to take on double shifts, and maybe even triple shifts, as they are also treated as reserved labour.
  • Marxist feminists: Women absorb the anger that is directed at capitalism.

The bourgeoisie (elite class) gained their wealth from exploiting the proletariats (working class). Family performs the function of ‘ideological control’ which maintains the capitalistic structure of society. The nuclear family emerged because of the needs of the capitalist system.

Engles: Emergence of the nuclear family
When capitalism emerged, there was private ownership. When the bourgeoisie wanted to pass on their wealth, the patriarchal monogamous nuclear family emerged. This reproduces inequality. Children of the rich stay rich. Children of the poor stay poor. Women are seen as mere instruments for reproduction.


  • Gender inequality preceded (existed long before) capitalism (can be seen in tribes).
  • Capitalist economies such as the UK and USA have seen the fastest improvements in gender equality.

Families support capitalism in 3 ways:

  1. Ideologically - Socialisation involves the transmission of a ruling class ideology (Zaretsky). Family is an ISA through which children learn norms and support the economic status quo (Althusser).
  2. Politically - Privatised family encourages members to focus on private problems rather than on wider social concerns. Reducing the focus on social exploitation is done by giving a false class consciousness to workers.
  3. Unit of Consumption (Althusser) – Families are important targets for advertisers as they encourage consumption and, families become a major source of profit.
    Unit of production - The family produces a socialised workforce for the capitalistic structure and takes on the cost of replacing dead labour.

Overall criticisms of Marxism:

  • Many women now work full-time in capitalist societies.
  • Feminists find that Marxists ignore inequalities between genders, which is the source of female oppression.
  • Marxism ignores the benefits of the nuclear family.


Liberal Feminism: They believe that women can be empowered through legal reforms such as the Sex Discrimination Act and the Equal Pay Act.

Sommerville argues that women’s roles within families have significantly improved as they now have better access to divorce, control over their fertility, less social pressure to marry, and better job opportunities. However, further reforms are required for women to achieve full equality.
Criticisms: Marxist feminists point out that women still do major work and are still primary childcarers.

Marxist Feminism: They argue that the cause of women’s oppression in the family is not men, but capitalism. Women’s oppression serves several functions: women reproduce the labour force, absorb anger, and are a ‘reserved army of labour’. Marxist feminists tackle gender inequality by placing an economic value on women’s work - childcare/housework.

Ansley argues that women absorb anger that is directed at capitalism. They also experience domestic violence because of this.
Criticisms: patriarchal oppression is overt in many pre-capitalist societies. Also, gender equality has increased as capitalism has developed.

Radical feminism: Sees female oppression in terms of patriarchal relationships. Against liberal feminists, they argue that paid work is not liberating, but rather a dual burden of paid work and unpaid housework. Some women have to take triple shifts where they do paid work, domestic work, and emotional work.
They advocate for the abolition of the traditional patriarchal nuclear family. they suggest radical separatism where women live away from men.

British Crime Survey found that domestic violence accounts for 1/6 of all violent crimes. Nearly one in four women will experience domestic violence. Kate Millett was a feminist.
Criticisms: separatism is too unrealistic due to heterosexual attraction.

New Rights
They prefer the traditional nuclear family. Husbands and wives only have time for ‘one shift’. Divorce is too easy to obtain. Society is stable when children live with married parents, thus the divorce process must be difficult.

They argue that UK's welfare state creates a dependency culture. Most single-parent families are created because of this.
Children from broken homes are 9 times more likely to become young offenders. Young people whose parents are split are 3 times more likely to become aggressive.

Margaret Natasha was a New Right. She felt that the rate of divorces in the UK was alarming. She was also pushing for the welfare benefits system to have more criteria for people to avail benefits.

Criticisms: the New Rights exaggerate the decline of the nuclear family; traditional gender roles are oppressive to women; the divorce process being easier helps women escape abusive relationships.

Benefits of the nuclear family:

  • Segregated conjugal roles.
  • Transfer of wealth is easy because it goes directly to children.
  • Stability in the relationship in the long term.
  • Sufficient socialisation.
  • A stable personality is developed.
  • Security is given to children.
  • Provision of economic needs
  • Motivates children for economic pursuit.
  • Imposes social control.
  • Women absorb anger and this prevents conflicts in society.

Modern society is fragmented because of globalisation, and this has weakened the influence of society on behaviour. Technology makes lives less predictable. As a result of the two, family life is diverse and there is no dominant family type.

Haraven: Life Course Analysis
Sociologists should focus on individual family members and their choices. This will help to realize that there is flexibility and variation in people’s lives on choices they make, and on when they make it.
Criticisms: Giddens says that although people have more freedom, there is still a structure shaping people’s decisions.

Giddens: Choice and Equality
Family and marriage have been transformed due to greater choice to a more equal relationship between men and women. Family and marriage have been transformed because of contraception and feminism (women gain independence). As a result of the 2, couples are free to define their relationship. Couples stay for love, happiness, and sexual reasons, rather than for traditional reasons. People try different relationships as a process of self-discovery.

Ulrich Beck: Risk Consciousness & Individualism
Fewer people get married because of risk consciousness; they see people getting divorced in society, so they choose not to get married at all. Individualization makes people less likely to marry as individual desires are more important than social commitments.

Topic 2 – Divorce, Marriage, and Cohabitation
Marriage and Cohabitation
The Office for National Statistics has found the following:

  • there has been a long-term decrease in marriage.
  • people are more likely to cohabit.
  • people marry later.
  • the number of remarriages has increased.
  • a recent increase in the marriage rate.

Although there has been a long-term decline, most households are still led by married couples and, couples cohabit which most likely would lead to marriage.

Reasons for long-term decrease in marriage:

  • Economic factor: Increasing living costs and wedding costs.
  • Liberal feminist - Women are financially secure.
  • New Right - Moral decline & too much acceptance of diversity. This causes the inability to commit; is bad for society and the socialisation of the next generation.
  • Postmodernism - Greater choice and freedom. Consumer society involves picking and choosing, so we choose whether to marry or not.
  • Secularisation - less stigma on cohabitation, remarrying, or divorce.
  • Risk consciousness - people see many marriages ending in divorce; hence they would not want to marry.
  • Individualisation - Individual desires are more important than social commitment.

There has been a long-term increase in divorce rates, especially since the release of the Divorce Act. Since 2005, divorce rates have increased.

Reasons for the increase in divorce rate:

  • Social Policy - The Divorce Act made divorce easier to attain.
  • Economic factors - Low pay and high living cost ➜ both partners work ➜ strain on the marriage.
  • New rights - Welfare benefits may cause mothers to desire a divorce. Moral decline.
  • Feminism - Women are financially independent.
  • Postmodernism - Secularisation has led to less social stigma around the concept of divorce.

Reasons for short-term decrease in divorce (since 2005):

  • Few people get married, so fewer people divorce.
  • People can’t afford a divorce, so they live apart.

Evaluation: there are social changes that underlie the decline in marriage. In the previous years, as people were getting married later, the marriage rate is likely to stabilise now.

What replaces married couples?

  • Cohabiting couples, household diversity, more single parent, single person, or reconstituted households.
  • Feminism ➜ Feminists see an increase in divorce as a good thing. However, they say that divorce may not necessarily benefit women as 90% of children live with them after a divorce.
  • New Right ➜ Without the family, there is a risk of less effective primary socialisation.
  • Postmodernism ➜ Increase in divorce shows that we are a consumer society. Divorce is good as it shows that the nuclear family is not better than other family forms.
  • Cohabitation occurs because of the fear of getting divorced; hence, pre-nuptials or marriage guidance can help cope with fear.

Topic 3 – Family Diversity
Factors that explain the increase in household diversity:

  • People get married later and this leads to developing Kidult or Single-person households.
  • Divorce creates single-parent households and reconstituted families.
  • Cohabitation is more likely to break down than marriages.
  • Divorce explains an increase in the multi-generational family as single mothers may move in with their parents.

Postmodernism – Postmodernists argue that the increasing diversity in family types is due to society being diverse and tolerant. This allows people to freely choose their desired family type with reduced social stigma. Further, there is less social pressure to get married.

Economic factors – Rising living costs explain the increase in single-person households. When people are financially independent, they choose to live alone and when they can’t afford to live alone, they live with their parents creating multi-generational and Kidult households.

Feminism – Feminists believe that when women are financially secure they focus on building a career rather than on starting a family. This explains the increase in single-person households. They may raise babies on their own, hence leading to an increase in single-parent households. Women being financially secure makes relationships fragile.

Social Policies – The Divorce Act & Equal Pay Act have caused family diversity.

New Rights - The New Rights argue that teenagers get benefits when they are single-parents, hence they get pregnant to avail the benefits. This leads to the development of an underclass.
However, there is evidence that only 2% of single parents are teenagers. A social policy and its benefits cannot convince a person on its own to have a child. Benefits only provide enough to exist, not enough for a comfortable life.

Late modernists – Late modernists oppose postmodernists. They claim that people do not create single-parent, single-person, or multi-generational households only because of choice. They can also be made due to:

  1. Financial necessity.
  2. People want to get married, but they do not because of risk consciousness (Beck).
  3. Individualisation (Beck) – People try relationships to see what suits them.
  4. Pure relationship (Giddens) couples stay in a relationship for love and sexual reasons rather than for the children.


  • Increase in single-person households does not necessarily mean that people do not have relationships.
  • People could be ‘living apart together’.

Evaluation – Is the nuclear family really in decline?

Conventional family: Traditional nuclear family with segregated conjugal roles.
Neo-Conventional family: Dual-earner family – similar to Young & Willmott’s symmetrical family.

Chester: The Neo Conventional family ➜ There is increased family diversity in recent years. Sees conventional families transforming into neo-conventional families. He argues that most people are choosing to not live in families other than the nuclear family on a long-term basis.

How does family life vary by ethnicity, social class, and sexuality?

  • South Asian families are patriarchal, and men have to protect their honour to do business. Therefore, they keep women in their control by secluding them from having any relationship with a man.
  • Arranged marriages are common among British Asians.
  • Marriage is seen as a key milestone in Brit-Asian life.
  • Forced marriages are common among Asian families.
  • Single parents are common among African Caribbean families.
  • Birth rates are higher among Muslim parents.

Topic 4 – Changes within the family

Gender Roles Characterised by Equality:

The 1950sTraditional Nuclear Family and Segregated Conjugal Roles
Parsons suggested that in the 1950s, the ideal family had segregated conjugal roles where the husband had an instrumental role of a breadwinner, and the wife had the expressive role of doing emotional work and household work.

The 1970sThe Symmetrical Family and Joint Conjugal Roles
Young and Willmott by studying couples in East London, saw that family life was gradually improving for all members, by it becoming more equal and democratic. Families with segregated conjugal roles were declining and one with joint conjugal roles were increasing.
Young and Willmott also identified the emergence of the ‘symmetrical family’ which is where partners have similar roles: women work full time; men help with housework/childcare.

Relationships today are characterised by choice and equality
Giddens: Recently, family life has become more egalitarian because of:

  • Contraception allows sex and intimacy rather than reproduction to become the main reason for the existence of the relationship.
  • Women gain independence due to increased education/job opportunities.

Beck: traditional patriarchal nuclear families are given less importance because of 2 trends:

  • Greater Gender Equality: women expect equality at work and in marriage.
  • Greater individualism: decisions are made on self-interest rather than by societal pressures.

The above trends lead to a ‘negotiated family’ where family life is according to the wish of the members who decide what is best for them through discussion.

Evaluation – to what extent are gender roles becoming more equal?
Women having paid work has led to greater equality since women become financially independent.

However, radical feminists argue that paid work has led to dual burdens and triple shifts. They say that men benefit from women’s paid earnings and domestic work. Women usually also further take up the role of emotional work (caring for children).

Evidence which suggests greater gender equality:
Kauffman identified 2 new types of dads:

  • New Dads: Dads adjust work practices (in a minor way) to increase involvement with children.
  • Super Dads: Largely adjusts work-life to fit in with their family life, for example, by changing careers and changing work hours.

Domestic Division of labour characterised by equality:

Evidence/reasons for the domestic division of labour becoming more equal recently.

  • Surveys since the 1950s show a narrowing gender gap in the domestic division of labour.
  • Liberal feminists Young & Willmott argue that women with paid work cause families to become more symmetrical.
  • ‘Commercialisation of housework’ – new technologies (washing machines, refrigerators, hoovers, microwaves) have reduced the amount of housework and this helps narrow the gender divide in the domestic division of labour.

Evidence for the domestic division of labour still being very unequal.

  • In 70% of households, laundry is still seen as women’s work.
  • Women still do the largest share of cooking in 55% of couples’ households.
  • Most women still shop for groceries, clean, and care for sick family members.
  • Men mostly do tasks such as changing lightbulbs, taking out the trash, and DIY. Whereas women do cooking, cleaning, and childcare.


  • Women going into paid work has not resulted in total equality.
  • Women still do double and triple shifts according to radical feminists.
  • Middle-class women are more advantaged than working-class women because they can become stay-at-home mums since the husband has a high salary. Hence mums do not have to suffer triple shifts.

Power and Control in Relationships
Radical Feminists view relationships as the main means through which men control women. Evidence supporting this would be that the British Crime Survey found that 1/6th of all violent crimes are domestic violence. 1 in 4 women experiences domestic violence. Radical feminists explain that domestic violence occurs in a patriarchal society to help men maintain power over women.

Criticisms: Wilkinson says that the reason for DV is that poverty causes stress which leads to domestic violence.

Evidence that men and become have an equal role in decision-making:
Pahl and Volger found that the pooling of household income leads to joint decision-making.
Feminists criticise that even though there is joint decision-making, women make decisions on daily expenses and men make decisions on important matters such as changing houses.

To what extent have women going into paid work made relationships more equal?
Evidence that paid work benefits women:

  • Gershuny found that women in paid work spend 10% less time doing housework than unemployed women.
    Evidence that paid work does not benefit women: (Feminist view).
  • Oakley: women’s primary role is still as a housewife. Also, many female jobs are extensions of traditional female roles such as cleaning and nursing.
  • There is little evidence of the ‘new-man’. Women have acquired dual-burden and the family remains patriarchal.
  • Dunscombe and Marsden: women suffer from triple shifts.

Topic 5 – Childhood
Social construction is the development of jointly constructed understandings of the world that forms the basis for shared assumptions about reality.
Childhood = state or period of being a child.

Wagg: Postulated that childhood is socially constructed and that the definition of childhood differs across times, places, and cultures.

The social construction of childhood: Throughout many societies (mainly Western societies) it is assumed that children need a lengthy, protected period of nurturing and socialising to prepare them for ‘adult society’.

  1. Childhood:
    • Becomes socialised into society's expectations.
    • Practise social order.
    • Economically dependent on parents.
  2. Teenage:
    • Economically dependent but can work.
    • Maintain social order.
    • Act in a socially accepted manner.
    • Build a stable personality.
  3. Adulthood:
    • Economically active, thus works.
    • Support the economically dependent.
    • Impose social control and maintain social order.
    • Socialise children.
    • Allows the continuity of society.
  4. Old age:
    • Economically dependent on the government or children.
    • Transfer of wealth to the offspring.
    • Transfer of knowledge and experience to the younger generation.

Pilcher: Social construction of childhood in modern Britain.
In modern Britain, childhood is partially constructed through having a high degree of separation between the spheres of childhood and adulthood. For example, there are certain areas where only children are allowed to go. Some laws prevent children from doing certain things which only adults are allowed to do.

Comparing other cultures:
Ruth Benedict: argues that children in traditional, non-industrial societies are generally treated differently from children in modern Western societies.

  1. In some cultures, children are economic assets that engage in paid work.
    They have more responsibility at an earlier age. Punch: 5-year-olds in rural Bolivia took on work responsibilities at home.
  2. Obedience to adults is not considered as important. Firth found that the Tikopia of the Western Pacific believe that children can dismiss their parents’ orders.
  3. Sexual behaviour is tolerated. Malinowski: Trobriand Islanders were tolerant of children’s sexual explorations. In other cultures, children are married off at 14 and become young wives/mothers.

Historical differences in childhood:
Aries: In the Middle Ages, the idea of ‘childhood’ did not exist. Children were seen as and treated like adults.

  • Children were expected to work at an early age.
  • Artworks depict children as small adults who wore the same clothes and appeared to work and play together.

Shorter: Parents’ attitudes towards children were different in the Middle Ages.

  • The high infant mortality rate encouraged neglect towards infants.
  • Parents neglected giving names to newborn babies. They’d be referred to as ‘it’ or had their dead sibling’s name.

The Child-Centred Family and Society (March of Progress view)
Improvements in children’s positions made through:

  • Compulsory education.
  • Changes in children’s rights. For example, child labour is banned.
  • Paediatrics.
  • Child Protection Services and the welfare state.
  • Smaller families (due to industrialization).
  • Decrease in infant mortality rate and increase in the divorce rate.
  • Media and moral panic.
  • Consumerism.

Toxic Childhood and Paranoid Parenting (criticisms of the March of progress view)
Children’s lives have gotten worse because:

  • Technology has harmed children. They experience fewer face-to-face interactions.
  • Furedi: says children are overprotected and controlled too much.
  • There are inequalities between children. There hasn’t been equal progress.
  • Parents have control over children’s space (camera), time and bodies (dress).

Toxic Childhood – where advances in technology and changes in culture cause psychological and physical damage to children.
Palmer: Palmer argues that childhood is toxic in the following ways:

  • Less outdoor play.
  • The commercialisation of childhood (advertisers exploiting kids).
  • The decline of listening, language and communication skills (because of shortened attention spans).
  • Screen saturation.
  • Tests in schools increase anxiety among children.

The Disappearance of Childhood
Postman: argues childhood is disappearing because children wear the same clothes as adults and children also cause adult crimes (murder, rape).
Criticism: children are protected and controlled.

Topic 6 – Social Policy

The following are a few social policies to note:

  1. Divorce Act (1984): A divorce could be granted within one year of marriage. Before this, partners had to wait for 5 years and prove their partner to be guilty.
  2. Maternity & Paternity Policy: Before, women were routinely sacked when they got pregnant. So the UK introduced maternity leaves so that mothers got time off during childbirth and a few weeks after childbirth. The Paternity Act allowed fathers to take time off as well.
  3. Civil Partnership Act: gave same-sex couples rights and responsibilities similar to that of a civil relationship.
  4. Adoption Act: Gave unmarried and gay parents the ability to adopt children.
  5. Child Benefit Act: Parents were given a weekly payment for their children depending on their income.
  6. Pension scheme: a retirement plan that requires an employer to make contributions to a pool of funds set aside for a worker's future benefit.
  7. Healthcare

Functionalist view: Policies are good for society and help families perform their roles effectively.
Fletcher: health, education, and housing policies developed a welfare state which helps families.

New Right: Murray argues that social policies encourage irresponsible behaviour. For example – fathers may abandon children because they know they are cared for by the state. Lone Parent families increase. Teenage girls get pregnant for state housing. Criticisms: Cutting benefits may simply drive many into poverty.

Feminism: Some social policies have helped women; however, some social policies are counterproductive. The overgenerous maternity leave and the short paternity leave reinforce the idea that women should be primary child carers, unintentionally disadvantaging women.

Topic 7 – Demography


  • Demography – The study of the population which is based on gender, age, social class, etc.
  • Birth rate/Fertility rate – Number of live births per 1000 per population.
  • Death rate/Mortality rate – Number of crude deaths per 1000 per population.
  • Infant mortality – The number of infants that die before reaching the age of 1 per 1000 live births.
  • Migration – The movement of people from one place to another.
  • Emigration – Moving out of a place.
  • Immigration – Moving into a place.
  • Ageing population – Increase in median age in a population due to declining fertility rates and rising life expectancy.
  • Population pyramid - Shows the age-sex distribution in a country. Gives an idea about life expectancy. Shows the economically dependent and economically active class.

1. Factors that influence birth rates in MEDCs and LEDCs

  • Labour-intensive economy.
  • Early marriage.
  • Lack of education.
  • Infant mortality.
  • Lack of healthcare.
  • Lack of concentration and family planning.


  • Late marriage.
  • High standard of living.
  • Family planning and contraception.
  • Female education.
  • Increased healthcare.

2. Factors influencing the death rates in LEDCs and MEDCs

  • Unhygienic conditions.
  • Poor healthcare.
  • Poor standard of living.
  • Self-medication and treatment.


  • Access to good healthcare facilities.
  • Good standards of living.
  • Specialised institutions such as old age homes.
  • Reduction in infant mortality.
  • Abundant resources for survival.

3. Push and pull factors of a country

  • Poor healthcare.
  • Bad economy.
  • Natural disasters.
  • Poor educational standards.
  • Lack of job opportunities.
  • Poor living standards.


  • Better healthcare.
  • High educational standards.
  • Job opportunities.
  • High living standards.
  • Better social amenities.
  • Room for social mobility (get away from caste systems).