A Level Sociology Key Terms – Families and Households

Last Updated on May 26, 2023 by Karl Thompson

A selected list of definitions for some important key concepts in AS Level and A Level Sociology – families and households.

Beanpole Family

A family with a long, thin structure. For example, there might be 4 generations alive, but each generation hasn’t had many children so there are relatively few uncles, aunts and cousins.

This is a 21st century example of an extended family, but its members are more likely to live apart than in the past.

Blended family

A type of reconstituted or step family where parents with children from previously existing relationship form new relationships come together as one new, blended family.

Birth Rate 

The number of babies born per thousand of the population per year.

Cereal Packet Family

A critical term for the traditional nuclear family consisting of heterosexual parents and two children which was presented as the norm on cereal packets (and in the media more generally) in the 1950s.

Civil Partnership

The legally or formally recognised union of a man and a woman (or in some countries two people of the same sex) in a committed relationship.


Two people living together in the same household in an emotionally intimate, committed relationship without being officially married.

Commercialisation of Housework 

Where new technologies lead to new products which people can buy which reduces the amount of domestic labour people have to do at home – e.g. hoovers, washing machines, microwaves and microwave meals reduce the amount of time spend cleaning, washing and cooking.

Death Rate 

The number of deaths per thousand members of a population per year.


The formal and legal end to a marriage.

Dual Burden 

When someone does both paid work and a significant amount of the domestic labour, such as housework at home. According to radical feminists, it is mainly women who suffer this.

Economic Factors 

Refers to things to do with money – for example how wealth a society is and the amount of wealth and income an individual or family has.

Emotion Work 

Thinking about the emotional well-being of other members of the family and acting in ways which will be of emotional benefit to others. For example, hugging and reassuring children when they have nightmares, organising Christmas and birthday parties so that everyone feels included and has a good time.

Extended family  

Family beyond the traditional nuclear family, incorporating aunts, uncles, and grandparents. In the traditional extended family, members live in the same household, in more modern extended families

Family as a Unit of Consumption

A Marxist idea that the primary function of the family in capitalist societies is to consume products to keep capitalism going. Two main ways this is done is through spending on the children, especially at Christmas, and through spending on house and household purchases and improvements.

Functional Fit Theory

The main type of family changes as the structure of society changes so that the former better fits with the later. See Parsons’ Functionalist theory of the family for more details.

Gender Norms 

The ‘expected’ patterns of behaviour associated with masculinity and femininity – for example, femininity = caring, masculinity = competitive.

Gender Roles 

The social positions and occupations we associate with men and women – for example we tend to associate the caring role with women, and the ‘provider role’ with men.

Globalisation (simple definition)

The increasing interconnectedness of societies across the globe.

Ideological Functions 

Refers to the ways in which the ideas spread through institutions work top maintain the power of dominant groups in society.


The process where individuals have more freedom to make life-choices and shape their identities because of a weakening of traditional social structures, norms and values. For example, secularization means people have more choice over whether they should get married or simply cohabit.

Instrumental Role 

The provider or breadwinner role which involves going out to work and earning money for the family – the traditional male role within the family.

Matrifocal Household 

A family structure in which mothers are the heads of household and fathers have less power and control in family life and the allocation of resources.


Moving from one country or area to another.

Multigenerational household

Where at least three generations live together in one household, such as grandparents, parents and children.

Negotiated Families 

Vary according to the wishes and expectations of their members, who decided what is best for them by discussion. Negotiated families are more equal than traditional nuclear families, but more unstable. This is the typical type of family in postmodern society.

Net Migration

The difference between the numbers of people immigrating to and emigrating from a country.

Nuclear Family

A father and mother with their dependent children, either their own or adopted, living together in one household.


A society where men hold the power and women are excluded, disadvantaged or oppressed.  An example of a patriarchal society is one which women are not allowed to vote, but men are.

Personal Life Perspective 

A sociological perspective which believes we should understand family life from the perspective of the individuals who make up the family, focusing on the diverse ways in which different individuals within the family define and perceive their own experiences of family life.


Where one husband legally has many wives. The opposite is Polyandry, where one woman has many husbands.


The view that social changes (such as globalisation and more consumerism) since the 1950s have resulted in a world in which individuals have much more choice and freedom than is suggested by Modernists social theories such as Functionalism, Marxism and Feminism.

Primary Socialisation 

The first stages of learning the norms and values of a society which is primarily done within the family with parents as the main agents of socialisation. This is where children learn the basic skills and norms, such as language, and basic manners.

Promiscuous Horde

Engels’ ideas of a tribal group structure which is found in ‘primitive societies’ in which all members share property and sleep together, such that no one knows who the fathers of the children are. It is lack of private property which ’causes’ the promiscuity: there is nothing to pass down to the next generation and so it is not necessary to know who the biological farther of a specific child is.

Pure Relationship

Where couples enter an intimate relationship purely for their own mutual benefit, rather than doing so because they feel they should be in a relationship to fit in with social or religious norms or societal or parental pressure.

Reconstituted families

A reconstituted family is where one parent with a child from a previous relationship starts a new relationship with another partner who may or may not have children themselves and thus a new family is formed. Also known as a step family.

Serial Monogamy 

Where an individual has a string of committed relationships, one after the other.

Social Construction of Childhood 

The idea that the norms and values and social roles associated with childhood are influenced by society, rather than being determined by the biological age of a child.

Stable satisfaction of the s*x drive

One of the four essential functions of the nuclear family according to Murdock who believed that the nuclear family provided a long term monogamous relationship in which s*xual desires could be met without recourse to frustration and promiscuity.

Stabilisation of Adult Personalities

Where the nuclear family provides a structure in which both adult partners gain emotional and psychological support from one another.

Symmetrical Family

A family in which  the roles of husbands and wives, although not identical are more similar. There are three elements:
– Both men and women do paid work.
– Men and women both do housework.
– Couples spend their leisure time together rather than separately

Total Fertility Rate 

The average number of babies a woman will have during her fertile years (15-44).

Toxic Childhood 

Where social changes, especially the invention of new technologies, does increasing amounts of harm to children. For example, the internet and mobile phones results in screen saturation with increases anxiety and reduces attention spans.

Triple Shift

Builds on the idea of the dual burden: women in families have three types of work: paid work, housework and emotion work.

Warm Bath Theory

The Functionalist idea that within the nuclear family the wife takes on the role of the carer, providing support as a homemaker and carer while the man goes out to work. The role of the wife is to ‘run him a warm bath’ when he gets home to help him destress after a hard day of earning income for the family.

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