A brief revision map of some of the main sociological concepts which have been developed to describe the ‘typical relationship’: taken together, they suggest a movement towards greater gender equality in relationships:
This is the briefest of revision slides on this topic, designed for A-level sociology paper 2: topics in sociology, families and households section (AQA exam board). For more details on this revision topic please see this post: are men and women equal in relationships?
A model answer for a 10 mark ‘outline and explain’ question on the AQA’s A level sociology paper 2 (families and households)
A model answer to a possible 10 mark ‘outline and explain’ question, written for the A-level sociology AQA A-level paper 7192/2: topics within sociology: families and households section).
Outline and explain two social changes which may explain the decline of marriage in recent decades (10)
The first social factor is in more depth than the second.
Economic changes such as the increasing cost of housing and the increasing cost of weddings may explain the decline of marriage:
Young adults stay living with their parents longer to save up for a mortgage, often into their 30s. Men especially might feel embarrassed to marry if they still live with their parents, because it’s not very ‘masculine’. This also reflects the importance changing gender roles: now women are taking on the ‘breadwinner role’, there’s no obvious need to marry a man. This applies especially to low income earning, working class men.
Furthermore, it’s often a choice between ‘marriage’ or ‘house deposit’: most people just co-habit because they can’t afford to get married. People would rather by a house because ‘material security’ is more important than the ‘security of marriage’. People also fail to save for weddings because of the pressure to consume in postmodern society. However, this only applies to those who want a big ‘traditional’ wedding, which costs £15K.
The significance of economic factors criticise the postmodernist view that marriage declining is simply a matter of ‘free-choice’.
A Second reason for the decline of marriage is secularisation, or the decline of religion in society.
Christianity, for example emphasises that marriage is a sacred union for life before God, and that sex should only take place within marriage. With the decline of religion, social values have shifted so that it is now acceptable to have sex before marriage, and with more than one partner, meaning that dating, serial monogamy and cohabitation have all replaced marriage to a large extent.
The decline of religion also reflects the fact that marriage today is not about ‘pleasing society’, it is simply about pleasing the two individuals within the relationship, the ‘pure relationship’ is now the norm, and people no longer feel like they need God’s approval of their relationshp, so there is less social pressure to get married.
However, this trend does vary by ethnicity, and Muslims, Hindus and Jews within Britain are all much more likely to get married in a religious ceremony.
Last year Japan’s population declined by 300, 000, to 126 million, and and its population is predicted to decline to 87 million by 2040.
Japan also has an ‘ageing population’ – it is already one of the world’s oldest nations, which a median age of 46, and its predicted that by 2040 there will be three senior citizens for every child under 15, the opposite of the situation in 1975.
This is an interesting case study relevant to the ‘ageing population‘ topic within A-level sociology’s families and household’s option (AQA 7192/2).
Why is this happening?
Excluding Monaco, Japan has the highest life expectancy of any country in the world – 83.7, and a very low fertility rate of 1.45. However, these figures are not too dissimilar from some European countries, so what really explains Japan’s declining population is it low immigration rate – only 1.8% of Japanese are foreign, compared to 8.6% in the UK for example!
What will the consequences be:
Nicholas Eberstadt argues that we already seeing some of the consequences:
Labour shortages, especially in care work, hospitality, construction and agriculture.
400 school closures a year.
The emergence of ‘ghost towns’ as the population decreases
Increased burden on elderly welfare – by 2060 36% of its population will be 65 or older.
Eberstadt suggests that Japan’s future has only been imagined in Science Fiction (perhaps Kim Stanley Robinson can offer some help?).
Why is the Fertility Rate so Low?
It’s basically a combination of two factors:
Economic problems – 50% of the population are in precarious jobs, and economic insecurity is a key reason for not having children. Also, if couples were in a position to have children childcare is too expensive for both partners to remain in work, so this may scupper the desires of even those in permanent jobs!
Traditional gender values remain intact – Japan is the 114th most gender unequal country in the world – traditional and patriarchal values remain in-tact – women don’t want children out of wedlock or with men with no economic prospects – which is about half of all men in Japan!
Why is Migration so Low?
Japan is geographically remote and culturally homogeneous. Japan has long discouraged immigration – they see it as a threat to Japans’s culture and low crime rate – in fact they point to migration across Europe as an example of its negative impacts.
How is the government going to tackle the crisis?
There are a range of measures…
Government sponsored ‘speed dating’ services.
By providing longer maternity leave and childcare
To offset the shrinking labour force through a ‘robot revolution’.
Is there an Upside?
Well, there’s more land per head, and because Japan is the first to transition into what will likely become a global trend, it’s an opportunity for it to become a world leader in technologies that can assist an ageing population.
The research which tracked more than 10,000 teenagers found widespread emotional problems among today’s youth, with misery, loneliness and self-hate rife.
24 per cent of 14-year-old girls and 9% of 17-year-old boys reported high levels of depressive symptoms compared to only 9% of boys.
However, when parents were asked about their perceptions of mental-health problems in their children, only 9% of parents reported that their 14 year old girls had any mental health issue, compared to 12% of boys. (Possibly because boys manifest in more overt ways, or because boys are simply under-reporting)
Anna Feuchtwang, NCB chief executive said: “This study of thousands of children gives us the most compelling evidence available about the extent of mental ill health among children in the UK, and Lead author of the study Dr Praveetha Patalay said the mental health difficulties faced by girls had reached “worryingly high” proportions.
Ms Feuchtwang said: “Worryingly there is evidence that parents may be underestimating their daughters’ mental health needs.
Dr Marc Bush, chief policy adviser at the charity YoungMinds, said: “We know that teenage girls face a huge range of pressures, including stress at school, body image issues, bullying and the pressure created by social media.
The above data is based on more than 10,000 children born in 2000/01 who are taking part in the Millennium Cohort Study.
Parents were questioned about their children’s mental health when their youngsters were aged three, five, seven, 11 and 14. When the participants were 14, the children were themselves asked questions about mental health difficulties.
The research showed that girls and boys had similar levels of mental ill-health throughout childhood, but stark differences were seen between gender by adolescence, when problems became more prevalent in girls.
Variations by class and ethnicity
Among 14-year-old girls, those from mixed race (28.6%) and white (25.2%) backgrounds were most likely to be depressed, with those from black African (9.7%) and Bangladeshi (15.4%) families the least likely to suffer from it.
Girls that age from the second lowest fifth of the population, based on family income, were most likely to be depressed (29.4%), while those from the highest quintile were the least likely (19.8%).
The research also showed that children from richer families were less likely to report depression compared to poorer peers.
Links to Sociology
What you make of this data very much depends on how much you trust it – if you take it at face value, then it seems that poor white girls are suffering a real crisis in mental health, which suggests we need urgent research into why this is… and possibly some extra cash to help deal with it.
Again, if you accept the data, possibly the most interesting question here is why do black African girls have such low rates of depression compared to white girls?
Of course you also need to be skeptical about this data – it’s possible that boys are under-reporting, given the whole ‘masculinity thing’.
On the question of what we do about all of this, many of the articles point to guess what sector….. the education sector to sort out the differences. So once again, it’s down to schools to sort out the mess caused by living in a frantic post-modern society, on top of, oh yeah, educating!
Finally, there’s an obvious critical link to Toxic Childhood – this shows you that the elements of toxic childhood are not evenly distributed – poor white girls get it much worse than rich white girls, African British girls, and boys.
Sources and a note on media bias
You might want to read through the two articles below – note how the stats on class and ethnicity feature much more prominently in the left wing Guardian and yet how the right wing Telegraph doesn’t even mention ethnicity and drops in one sentence about class at the the end of the article without mentioning the stats.
How to get full marks for a 10 mark ‘item’ question in sociology A-level.
This question cam up as part of the families and households option in A level sociology paper 2 (topics in sociology), June 2017.
In the 1950s, most immigrants into the United Kingdom came from Commonwealth countries such as India and Jamaica. More recently, many immigrants have come from European countries such as Poland. May immigrants are young adults seeking work.
These migration patterns have affected household structures.
Applying material from Item C, analyse two ways in which migration patterns have affected household structures in the United Kingdom.
Answer (hints and tips)
Point one – has to be about the variation in Caribbean and Indian household structures… quite easy I think… Of course you could talk about both separately.
Point two – asks that that you talk about more recent structures, drawing on Polish immigration.
What kind of household structures could you discuss?
Number of people in the household – so single person, or multiple occupancy.
The relationships between the people in the household – married or not? Friends or families? Ages?
Gender roles in those households – domestic division of labour
Numbers of adults and children (e.g. single person households)
Matrifocal/ Patrifocal household
The relationships between people in one household and other households (maybe a useful way to demonstrated analysis)
So a potential answer might look like this:
Point one – focusing on Caribbean and Indian migration
Caribbean households – 60% single parent families
Link to male unemployment/ racism in society
Contrast to Indian households
Higher rate marriage/ lower rate divorce
But later generations – divorce more likely
Discuss Mixed race couples
Point two – focusing on European migration
Almost certainly less you can say about this! But as long as you’ve made the most of the previous point, you could easily get into the top mark band…
Younger age structure
More likely to have children and be married
Higher proportion of married families with children
Probably more shared-households – younger people without children sharing.
However, it does concern me that the AQA’s online specification explicitly directs teachers to really dated material, and most of the text books focus on this, while this exam question expects students to know about recent events relating to migration and the family which are neither on their online specification or in any of the major A level text books.
I think the AQA needs to relax it’s focus on that really dated material (the classic question on ‘Functionalism and the Family’ in the same paper is a good example of how students are expected to know in-depth this stuff from the 1950s) if it’s going to demand a more contemporary focus.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with a contemporary focus, just all that dated material that was such a waste of time students learning (like Pahl and Volger FFS), just in case it came up. This is a real problem because it makes sociology lose credibility, undermining the discipline.
Critics might say this problem emerges from the fact that whoever sets the agenda for the AQA families and households syllabus is something of a timeserver who can’t be bothered to update the specification appropriately by cutting down all the dated material. They might cite as evidence for this the fact that the specification hasn’t really changed significantly in 30 years.
Full answer from the AQA
Below is an example of an abbreviated (by me) marked response to this question, which achieved a top band-mark, 10/10 in fact!
The example is taken from the 2017 Education with Theory and Methods Paper (paper and mark schemes available from the AQA website).
The Question with Item
The Mark Scheme (top band only)
Item C points out that most immigrants come to Britain from commonwealth countries such as Jamaica. Bertod did a study of Caribbean families which found a type of individualism: the norm that people had to right to be free within marriage even if they had a child with the other person. This meant many Caribbean fathers chose not to stay with the mother of their children, leading to an increase in lone parent families.
Thus it follows that the increase in Caribbean immigration has lead to an increase in single parent families which is up from 10% in the 1970s to 23% today.
Item C also says that immigrants come from India. A study by Ballard found that South East Asians have collective, traditional values and tight knit extended families which support traditional family values – women having many children and being in the expressive role, and men in the breadwinner role, with close ties to grandparents.
This should mean an increase in traditional extended families in the UK due to Indian immigration, however the statistics do not confirm this as the divorce rate has increased dramatically since the 1970s. This does not support the idea of increased traditional families as these value marriages.
However, functionalists argue that divorce can be healthy as it there is better quality relationships in surviving marriages and remarriages.
This is overkill, easily 10/10!
Apparently 4 students died instantly of boredom on seeing the question because of reference to yet more sociology from before their parents were born.
Feedback on the Examinations
Student responses and commentaries: Paper 1 7192/2 Topics in Sociology
Published: Autumn 2017
NB – this document is NOT available on the AQA website, but any teacher should have access to it via eaqa. I’m sharing it here in order to make the exam standards more accessible, and to support the AQA in their equality and meritocratic agendas, because there will be some poor students somewhere whose teachers aren’t organised enough to access this material for them.
the relationship of the family to the social structure and social change, with particular reference to the economy and to state policies
changing patterns of marriage, cohabitation, separation, divorce, childbearing and the life course, including the sociology of personal life, and the diversity of contemporary family and household structures
gender roles, domestic labour and power relationships within the family in contemporary society
the nature of childhood, and changes in the status of children in the family and society
demographic trends in the United Kingdom since 1900: birth rates, death rates, family size, life expectancy, ageing population, and migration and globalisation.
The 10 Mark ‘outline and explain’ (no item) question
Modified from the AQA’s advice on 10 mark questions sheet…
These ask about two elements from one or more bullet points within the specification topic (e.g. the nature of childhood in relation to demographic trends).
It will generally ask about the links or relationships between these two elements.
For example: ‘Outline and explain two ways in which the decline in birth rates has affected the position of children in society’ (10 marks)
Students don’t need to evaluate. Analysis is specified in the mark scheme for assessment objective 3.
Using PEEL (Point, Explanation, Evidence, Link) is useful for developing sufficient analysis.
Expressing each of the two ways in at least two separate paragraphs is useful tool.
Two examples of outline and explain families and households questions
Modified from the AQA’s advice on 10 mark questions sheet…
Outline and explain two ways in which women’s going into work has affected relationships (10)
Outline and explain two ways in which changes to gender roles have affected diversity of family structures (10)
10 Mark Analyse using the item questions
These have an item which is linked to the question. It encourages linking two elements from the same or different bullet points in the specification.
The first part of the item contains a number of points about the first of these elements.
These points provide possible hooks, designed to be developed into an explanation of the relationships between the two elements.
The second part of the item links these points back to the question.
Example of a 10 mark ‘analyse from the item’ question
Read item A then answer the question below
Item B Many commentators seem to agree that the ageing population is a problem for society – as it leads to an increasing strain on public services, and results in a greater burden being put on the younger generation to care for the elderly.
However, some claim that such problems have been exaggerated, and are based on stereotypical views about the elderly.
Applying material from Item B, analyse two consequences of the ageing population for British society (10 marks)
20 Mark Essay Questions
Allow yourself enough time – 1.5 minutes per mark = 30 minutes.
Read the Question and the item, what is it asking you to do?
Do a rough plan (5-10 mins) – initially this should be ‘arguments and evidence’ for and ‘against’ the views in the question, and a few thoughts on overall evaluations/ a conclusion. If you are being asked to look at two things, you’ll have to do this twice/
your conclusion should bring the two aspects of the essay together.
Write the essay (35 mins)– aim to make 3-5 points in total (depending on the essay, either 3 deep points, or 5 (or more) shallower points). Try to make one point at least stem from the item, ideally the first point.
evaluations – don’t repeat yourself, and don’t overdo this, but it’s useful t tag this in before a conclusion.
Conclusion (allow 2 mins minimum) – an easy way to do this is to refer to the item – do you agree with the view or not, or say which of the points you’ve made is the strongest/ weakest and on balance is the view in the question sensible or not?
Point (relate to question)
(repeat 3-5 times)
Conclusion (refer to item)
Some possible examples of 20 mark families and households essay questions…
Assess the view that the main aim of the of the family is to serve the needs of capitalism (20)
Assess the view that the family has become more child-centred (20)
Assess the reasons for changes in the birth rate and family size (20)
This post summaries some of the changing trends (and continuities) in family and household structure in the UK, using data from the Office for National Statistics which collects a range of data annually on families and households in the UK
In 2015 there were 18.7 million families in the UK
The most common family type in 2015 was the married or civil partner couple family with or without dependent children at 12.5 million
The cohabiting couple family continues to be the fastest growing family type in the UK in 2015, reaching 3.2 million cohabiting couple families
In 2015 around 40% of young adults aged 15 to 34 in the UK were living with their parents
There were 27.0 million households in the UK in 2015, 35% of all households were two person households
In 2015 there were 7.7 million people in UK households who were living alone
Changes to families and households 2005 – 2015
Changes to Family Households
There has been a significant increase in the number of cohabiting couples, both with and without children, and a slight increase in lone parent households. The number of married couple households both with and without children has remained stable, which means that the overall picture is one of a slight trend towards increasing family diversity and away from marriage.
2. Marriage and Cohabitation Trends
The chart below clearly shows the slight decline in married households compared to cohabiting and single parent households, but there are still almost three times as many married households compared to cohabiting households!
3. Family Size
Family size appears to have remained pretty stable over the past 15 years
4. Households Size in the UK
We have quite a small average households size in the UK – with two and one person households making up around two thirds of all households.
5.Multi Family Households
Given that they’re starting from a small base, there has been a significant ten year increase in multi family households – households with two or more families in, an increase of one third in twenty years.
6. The increase in People Living Alone
There has been a slow and steady increase in the overall numbers of people living alone, but this varies a lot by age – generally the number of older people living alone has increased, the number of younger people living alone has decreased.
Why are increasing numbers of people all over the world living alone? (Scroll down for a video summary)
According to a recent book by Eric Klinenberg: Explaining the Rise of Solo Living, this is a global phenomenon and mainly reflects the increasing degree of individual choice that comes with increasing wealth.
A review of the trends in Single Person Households
29% of UK Households are single person households.
Most people who live alone are 65+ and increasing numbers of those aged 45-60 are living alone. However, the numbers of younger people living alone are declining (so Wayne in the video above is actually wrong when he says solo living is on the increase among younger people!)
A Summary of Going Solo by Klinenberg
Klinenberg argues that the rise of solo living is an extremely important social trend which presents a fundamental challenge to the centrality of the family to modern society. In the USA, the average adult will now spend more of their life unmarried than married, and single person households are one of the most common types of household. We have entered a period in social history where, for the first time, single people make up a significant proportion of the population.
Eric Klinenberg spent seven years interviewing 300 single Americans who lived alone, and the general picture he got was that these people were exactly where they wanted to be – living on their own was not a transitory phase, it was a genuine life choice. On the whole, living alone is seen as a mark of social distinction, living as part of a couple is for losers.
While single by choice is very much on the up among younger people who have never settled down into a long term cohabiting relationships and have no intention of doing so, it is also the norm among older people who have come out of relationships. Where older people living alone are concerned, and these are mostly women, they are not all chasing the dwindling population of men in their age group (given the higher life expectancy for women). Most of them are in fact wary of getting involved in relationships because doing so will probably mean becoming someone’s carer (again), and similarly they are skeptical about moving back in with their children (and possibly their grandchildren too) because of fear that they will become an unpaid domestic and child-sitting slave.
NB, as a counter to the above, not all singles are happy about it, however. One such group consists of mainly men on low wages who are unmarriageable and live in ‘single room occupancy facilities’ often suffering from various addictions and who practice ‘defensive individualism’ in order to cope with their bleak situation.
So how do we account for this increasing in single person households?
Klinenberg suggests four reasons…
The wealth generated by economic growth and the social security provided by the modern welfare state – the basic thesis is that the rise of single living is basically just a reflection of increasing wealth. When we can afford to live alone, more of us choose to do so. We especially see this where Scandinavia is concerned, and nearly half of the adult population live alone.
The communications revolution – For those who want to live alone, the internet allows us to stay connected. An important part of his thesis is that just because we are increasingly living alone, this doesn’t mean that we are becoming a ‘society of loners’.
Mass urbanization – Klinenberg suggests that Subcultures thrive in cities, which tend to attract nonconformists who are able to find others like themselves in the dense variety of urban life. In short, it’s easier to connect with other singles where people live closer together.
Increased longevity – because people are living longer than ever and because women often outlive their spouses by decades rather than years — aging alone has become an increasingly common experience.
Video version of some the above.
In the video below, Wayne discusses his motivations for ‘going solo’ with his friend Archie, and together they explore some of the reasons for the increase in single person households.
To what extent do you think Kleinberg’s findings apply to the increase in Solo Living in the UK?
What other ‘deeper’ Sociological reasons might explain the increase in Solo Living?
Do you agree that the rise of Solo Living challenges the centrality of the family in modern society?
The main trend in marriage in the UK is that of long term decline. This post examines some of the reasons behind this, such as changing gender roles, the increasing cost of living and individualisation
Sociological explanations for the long term decline in marriage include changing gender roles, the impact of feminism and female empowerment, economic factors such as the increasing cost of living and the individualisation associated with postmodernism.
Overview of the trends in marriage in the UK
The above graph only shows the long term overall decline in marriage. Other trends include:
People are more likely to cohabit (although in most cases this is a step before marriage)
People are marrying later
The number of remarriages has increased.
Couples are less likely to marry in church
There is a greater diversity of marriages (greater ethnic diversity and civil partnerships)
There has been a very recent increase in the marriage rate.
Evaluation Point – Even though it’s declining, marriage is still an important institution because….
Most households are still headed by a married couple
Couples may cohabit, but this is normally before getting married – they just get married later
Most people still think marriage is the ideal type of relationship
The fact that remarriages have increased show that people still value the institution of marriage.
Explaining the long term decrease in marriage
You may need to click on the image below to see it properly
1. Economic Factors– The increasing cost of living and the increasing cost of weddings.
Increasing property prices in recent years may be one of the factors why couples choose to get married later in life. The average deposit on a first time home is now over £30 000, with the average cost of a wedding being around £18 000. So for most couples it is literally a choice between getting married in their 20s and then renting/ living with parents, or buying a house first and then getting married in their 30s. The second option is obviously the more financially rational.
2. Changing gender roles
Liberal Feminists point to changing gender roles as one of the main reasons why couples get married later. More than half of the workforce is now female which means that most women do not have to get married in order to be financially secure. In fact, according to the theory of the genderquake, the opposite is happening – now that most jobs are in the service sector, economic power is shifting to women meaning that marriage seems like a poor option for women in a female economy.
3. The New Right
Blame the decline of marriage on moral decline – part of the broader breakdown of social institutions and due to too much acceptance of diversity. This results in the inability of people to commit to each other, and they see this as bad for society and the socialisation of the next generation.
Postmodernists explain the decline in marriage as a result of the move to postmodern consumer society characterised by greater individual choice and freedom. We are used to being consumers and picking and choosing, and so marriage is now a matter of individual choice.
Another process associated with Postmodernisation is the decline of tradition and religion (secularisation) – as a result there is less social stigma attached to cohabiting or remarrying after a divorce.
5. Late Modernism
Associated with the ideas of Anthony Giddens and Ulrich Beck – argues that the decline in marriage is not as simple as people simply having more freedom – People are less likely to get married because of structural changes making life more uncertain. People may want to get married, but living in a late-modern world means marriage doesn’t seem like a sensible option.
Ulrich Beck argues that fewer people getting married is because of an increase in ‘risk consciousness’ – people see that nearly half of all marriages end in divorce and so they are less willing to take the risk and get married.
Beck also talks about indivdualisation – a new social norm is that our individual desires are more important than social commitments, and this makes marriage less likely.
Giddens builds on this and says that the typical relationship today is the Pure Relationship – one which lasts only as long as both partners are happy with it, not because of tradition or a sense of commitment. This makes cohabitation and serial monogamy rather than the long term commitment of a marriage more likely.
6. Evaluation Points
The decline of marriage is not as simple as it just being about individual choice
There are general social changes which lie behind its decline
We should not exaggerate the decline of marriage (see details above)
Functionalists focus on the positive functions of the nuclear family, such as secondary socialisation and the stabilisation of adult personalities.
This brief post is designed to help you revise the Functionalist Perspective on the Family, relevant to the AS Sociology Families and Households Module.
The Functionalist View of Society
Functionalists regard society as a system made up of different parts which depend on each other. Different institutions each perform specific functions within a society to keep that society going, in the same way as the different organs of a human body perform different functions in order to maintain the whole.
In functionalist thought, the family is a particularly important institution as this it the ‘basic building block’ of society which performs the crucial functions of socialising the young and meeting the emotional needs of its members. Stable families underpin social order and economic stability.
George Peter Murdock – The four essential functions of the nuclear family
Looked at 200 different societies and argued that family was universal (in all of them).
Murdock suggested there were ‘four essential functions’ of the family:
1. Stable satisfaction of the sex drive – within monogomous relationships
2. The biological reproduction of the next generation – without which society cannot continue.
3. Socialisation of the young – teaching basic norms and valuues
4. Meeting its members economic needs – producing food and shelter for example.
Criticisms of Murdock
1. Feminist Sociologists argue that arguing that the family is essential is ideological because traditional family structures typically disadvantage women.
2. It is feasible that other instiututions could perform the functions above.
2. Anthropological research has shown that there are some cultures which don’t appear to have ‘families’ – the Nayar for example.
Talcott Parsons – Functional Fit Theory
Parson’s has a historical perspective on the evolution of the nuclear family. His functional fit theory is that as society changes, the type of family that ‘fits’ that society, and the functions it performs change. Over the last 200 years, society has moved from pre-industrial to industrial – and the main family type has changed from the extended family to the nuclear family. The nuclear family fits the more complex industrial society better, but it performs a reduced number of functions.
The extended family consisted of parents, children, grandparents and aunts and uncles living under one roof, or in a collection of houses very close to eachother. Such a large family unit ‘fitted’ pre-industrial society as the family was entirely responsible for the education of children, producing food and caring for the sick – basically it did everything for all its members.
In contrast to pre-industrial society, in industrial society (from the 1800s in the UK) the isolated “nuclear family” consisting of only parents and children becomees the norm. This type of family ‘fits’ industrial societies because it required a mobile workforce. The extended family was too difficult to move when families needed to move to find work to meet the requirements of a rapidly changing and growing economy. Furthermore, there was also less need for the extended family as more and more functions, such as health and education, gradually came to be carried out by the state.
I really like this brief explanation of Parson’s Functional Fit Theory:
Criticisms of Parson’s Theory of Functional Fit
Basically – it’s too ‘neat’ – social change doesn’t happen in such an orderly manner:
Laslett found that church records show only 10% of households contained extended kin before the industrial revolution. This suggests the family was already nuclear before industrialisation.
Young and Wilmott found that Extended Kin networks were still strong in East London as late as the 1970s.
Parsons – The two essential or irreducible functions of the family
According to Parsons, although the nuclear family performs reduced functions, it is still the only institution that can perform two core functions in society – Primary Socialisation and the Stabilisation of Adult Personalities.
1. Primary Socialisation – The nuclear family is still responsible for teaching children the norms and values of society known as Primary Socialisation.
An important part of socialisation according to Functionalists is ‘gender role socialisation. If primary socialisation is done correctly then boys learn to adopt the ‘instrumental role’ (also known as the ‘breadwinner role) – they go on to go out to work and earns money. Girls learn to adopt the ‘expressive role’ – doing all the ‘caring work’, housework and bringing up the children.
2. The stabilisation of adult personalities refers to the emotional security which is achieved within a marital relationship between two adults. According to Parsons working life in Industrial society is stressful and the family is a place where the working man can return and be ‘de-stressed’ by his wife, which reduces conflict in society. This is also known as the ‘warm bath theory’
General criticisms of the Functionalist perspective on the family
It is really important to be able to criticise the perspectives. Evaluation is worth around half of the marks in the exam!
1. Downplaying Conflict
Both Murdock and Parsons paint a very rosy picture of family life, presenting it as a harmonious and integrated institution. However, they downplay conflict in the family, particularly the ‘darker side’ of family life, such as violence against women and child abuse.
2. Being out of Date
Parson’s view of the instrumental and expressive roles of men and women is very old-fashioned. It may have held some truth in the 1950s but today, with the majority of women in paid work, and the blurring of gender roles, it seems that both partners are more likely to take on both expressive and instrumental roles
3. Ignoring the exploitation of women
Functionalists tend to ignore the way women suffer from the sexual division of labour in the family. Even today, women still end up being the primary child carers in 90% of families, and suffer the burden of extra work that this responsibility carries compared to their male partners. Gender roles are socially constructed and usually involve the oppression of women. There are no biological reasons for the functionalist’s view of separation of roles into male breadwinner & female homemaker. These roles lead to the disadvantages being experienced by women.
4. Functionalism is too deterministic
This means it ignores the fact that children actively create their own personalities. An individual’s personality isn’t pre-determined at birth or something they have no control in. Functionalism incorrectly assumes an almost robotic adoption of society’s values via our parents; clearly there are many examples where this isn’t the case.
A Level Sociology Families and Households Revision Bundle