The Family

Types of Family

  • Nuclear family:
    • Family consisting of an adult male and female with one or more children (including adopted)
    • Called the basic family unit by George Murdock
    • Most common kind of family
  • Extended family – family containing relatives in addition to the nuclear family:
  • Classic extended family:
    • An extended family sharing the same household
    • A vertically extended family has more than two generations
    • A horizontally extended family has aunts, uncles, cousins (a lot of people in the same generation)
  • Modified extended family:
    • An extended family living apart but still in communication via phone, email, Skype etc.
  • Single-parent/Lone-parent Family:
    • Family with dependent children and only one parent
    • Results from divorce or death of the other parent
  • Reconstituted family (blended family):
    • Formed out of another relationship, otherwise known as a step-family
    • One or both partners may have been married before
    • One or both partners may have children
  • Same sex family:
    • Same sex couple living together with their own or adopted children
    • Formally recognized as a civil partnership giving the couple the same rights as a married couple
  • Beanpole
    • Few children per and increased life span leading to a beanpole shaped family tree – tall and thin, with few people in each generation.

Stratification and Ethnicity’s Influence on Family Diversity

Social Stratification and Family Diversity – Extended families in the UK were associated with the working class as areas with coal, steel and shipbuilding industries had strong working-class communities where it was considered normal for men to settle with their wives near their parents. When these industries closed, they were forced to move away and the women often became the main breadwinners while men took up domestic roles. As they moved away, surviving extended family ties weakened.

Ethnicity and Family Diversity –

  • African-Caribbean Minorities:
    • Has a higher than average number of matrifocal families
    • Suggested that it started due to slavery where men couldn’t provide and protect their family
    • Later, poverty and unemployment (partly due to racism) led to men being unable to fully take on an instrumental role)
    • High rates of single-parent families and absent fathers
  • South Asian Minorities:
    • Strong extended family ties – usually due to one family member migrating and the rest of the family joining later
    • Large families
    • Traditional gender roles followed
    • Arranged marriages common
  • European Ethnic Groups:
    • Immigrants are often young adults
    • Birth rate tends to be higher than native British people (may be due to age or religion)

Perspectives on Family

  • Functionalist View on Family:
    • Believe that functions are performed best in a nuclear family as instrumental roles suit the nature of men and expressive roles suit the nature of women
  • Functions of the Family:
    • Reproduction for survival
    • Socialization to teach children norms and values
    • Social Control of behaviour of children to accept society
    • Care of Children
    • Status
    • Regulation of Sexual Behaviour
  • Arguments against Functionalist View:
    • Ideal nuclear family’s viewpoint (which Anthropologist Edmund Leach called a “cereal packet” family) was unattainable by many
    • Leach called nuclear families dysfunctional due to high demands within the family leading to internal conflicts compared to a closely embedded extended family
    • High levels of violence and abuse within a nuclear family making it dysfunctional
  • Marxist View on Family:
    • Agree with functionalists that a family carries out functions
    • Different idea on what the functions are – believe they are functional for capitalist society and the economy
    • Functions of the Family:
      • Socializing future generations into capitalism
      • Reproduces for next generation of workers
      • Breadwinners (workers) can’t go on strike as they can’t provide
      • Oppressed and alienated men can take out frustration at home
      • Main unit of consumption of goods and services
      • Women take care of the sick and old, and the workers in the family so capitalists can avoid responsibility for healthcare
  • Feminist View on Family:
    • Believe that the nuclear family is functional for patriarchal society
    • Functions of the Family:
      • Socialize boys and girls into their gender roles
      • Men have a wife who is expected to look after their needs
      • Son or male heir typically inherits family wealth so wealth and power stay with males
      • Maintaining patriarchy as patriarchy in the family leads to patriarchal dominance in the wider society
    • Liberal Feminists believe that by persuading men to do more domestic work and more women working, equality can be achieved
    • Radical Feminists believe women need to stay out of exploitative relationships and live separately from men

The New Right and Family Functions –

  • Argues that we need to return to nuclear families as new diverse types of families can’t fulfil functions needed in contemporary society
  • Believes that some changes have undermined the family’s functions:
    • More one-parent families and easy availability of divorce
    • Cohabitation as it can be seen as instable and impermanent
    • Rise of feminism
    • Legalization of abortion
    • Women working
    • Homosexuality
  • Believes these changes are what led to children failing in school, higher rates of crime and delinquency
  • Has been strongly criticized by Pamela Abbott, Claire Wallace and Melissa Tyler who favour tolerance and diversity and argue in the favour of rights to choose

Alternatives to Family

  • Singlehood/ One-person households:
    • Old people who are widowed and whose children have moved away
    • People who choose to focus on careers than family
    • Divorced men/women whose children live with the other parent
  • Communes:
    • People who choose to live together and share some of the property
  • Friends as family and shared households

Comparisons and Variations in Marriage

  • Monogamy – a married couple of the opposite sex, who have sexual relations with each other
  • Serial Monogamy – when a person has more than one marriage partner but only one at a time
  • Polygamy – a marriage involving two or more wives or husbands
    • Polygyny – man having several wives
    • Polyandry – woman having several husbands
  • Group Marriages – a marriage involving two or more husbands and two or more wives (uncommon type of marriage)

Alternatives to Marriage

  • Cohabitation:
    • Couple living together who aren’t married
  • Civil Partnership:
    • Formally recognized union which gives a same-sex couple the same rights as marriage

Trends in Marriage and Divorce

Marriage Trends:

  • Fall in the number of marriages
  • Growing proportion is into remarriage
  • Marital Breakdown – doesn’t always lead to divorce such as:
    • Separation (living separately)
    • Desertion (one partner leaves the family)
    • Empty shell marriage (couple live together even if there isn’t any substance to their relationship)

Divorce Trends:

  • According to the New Right, the rise in divorce is due to secularization (decline of religion’s importance in everyday life); decline of communities and changes in moral attitudes
  • More lone-parent families (which are viewed as broken by Functionalists)

Roles in the Family

Conjugal Roles – Functionalists believe it is the best if men and women have a clear division of labour and that women should provide a loving, warm environment where a man can forget worldly worries (warm bath theory). Feminists argue that this view is patriarchal.

Traditional views believed that there should be segregated roles between men and women but now, symmetrical families exist in which the authority and household tasks are shared between male and female partners and many families today are dual worker families.

Reasons for more symmetrical families:

  • Couple organizes life according to family rather than work and community
  • Decline of the extended family
  • Women have a higher status in society and more independence
  • Easier for men and women to choose and negotiate their roles
  • Labour-saving devices have reduced time and effort needed for housework

Paternal Roles – Fathers are now expected to be involved with domestic work and taking care of children, while also providing for their families causing them to have a dual burden like working mothers due to more widespread ideas about gender equality or a triple burden – paid work, domestic work and emotional work.

Variation in Family Relationships

Social Stratification and Family Relationships – Willmott and Young found that symmetrical families were more common among working-class families than middle-class families and suggested this was because working-class men had less-rewarding jobs so were more willing to be involved in home life. Business men were more likely to be work-centered than home-centered as they find work satisfying and rewarding.

Ethnicity and Family Relationships – When marriage is arranged by older family members (like British South Asian minorities), their experience and judgement in choosing partners makes a successful marriage more likely. Romantic love is seen as unnecessary and perhaps, undesirable (if the goal is a lifelong partnership). On the other hand, ostracism (exclusion from society) may make the possibility of divorce difficult.

The Negative Aspects of Family Life

Domestic Violence – Russell and Rebecca Dobash found that domestic violence was widespread and women had been pushed, slapped, beaten, raped and even killed by their husbands, usually if the man thought they were challenging his authority. Feminists argue that within marriage men have power and authority which make violence against their wives seem acceptable.

Even though many men condemn violence against women, some feminists argue that all men benefit from it because it reinforces the patriarchal nature of the family and society.

Child Abuse and Neglect – Child abuse in usually seen in four ways: sexual abuse; physical abuse; emotional abuse; and neglect. Many children are in difficult and dangerous situations (e.g.: living with someone with mental problems). Many children who grow up in poverty and don’t get the chance to go to school. In some civil wars, they are recruited as soldiers and have to do horrible things (sometimes to their own family) so they become hardened for fighting. After this, it’s extremely hard for child soldiers to return to civilian lives.