Functions of the family Key terms Expressive role

Functions of the family
Key terms
Expressive role- Parsons term for the female function of a mother/housewife,
looking after children, emotional work and caring
Instrumental role- Parsons term for the male breadwinner, working and earning
money for the family
Industrialisation- when society moved from agricultural production to industrial
Nuclear family-a family that consists of a mother, father and their dependent
Extended family- a nuclear family with the addition of other relatives e.g.
grandparents, aunt/uncle who live together
Capitalism- An economic and political system in which a country's trade and
industry are controlled by private owners for profit.
Functionalist views on the family- structural consensus view
Main Points
• View society as having many parts, which must work together efficiently in order
to maintain social harmony and coherence
• See the nuclear family in positive terms, performing vital functions/roles for
individuals and society as a whole.
• Favour the nuclear family and oppose single parent and same sex families
• The nuclear family is at the heart of society and essential for its smooth running
Key sociologists
Murdock’s definition of the family… “a social group characterised by common
residence, economic, cooperation and reproduction. It includes adults of both sexes,
at least two of whom maintain a socially approved sexual relationship, and one or
more children, own or adopted of the sexually cohabitating adults”
“The family performs 4 essential functions to meet the needs of society”
1. Sexual- having a happy and stable sex life with the same partner, which prevents
social disruption caused by having sex with anyone
2. Reproduction- having babies to produce the next generation, without this society
cannot continue
3. Economic-the family functions as a productive and consumption unit (buying
things) to ensure the survival of the family
4. Educational- Passing knowledge and skills from one generation to the next.
Teaching children norms and values of society in order to fit in e.g. how to read
write, eat, behave (primary socialisation)
Parsons functional fit theory “the particular structure and functions of a given type of
family will fit the needs of society”
Women have an expressive role
Men have an instrumental role
Nuclear family lost many of its functions when society industrialised- they’ve become
a unit of consumption where they buy everything not produce it- family members go
to a work place for their employment and the family is hardly ever the employer
The family has two main functions:-
a) Primary socialisation of children
b) Stabilisation of the adult personality (so you can have a stable adult family, parents
teach you things for when your older e.g. manners)
Warm Bath Theory
Parsons describes the family as a ‘warm bath’ as he believes the family helps to
relieve stress and tension (e.g. job insecurity, money, deadlines) by washing away
his troubles so that he is fresh and ready for the next day at work where he can
contribute to society.
This helps stabilize adult personalities and make the family members happy
The nuclear family is not universal
Family is not always pleasant as functionalist make it seem
Ignores divorce, child abuse and domestic violence
Ignores family diversity
Functionalist (industrialisation) sociologists
Industrialisation led to smaller families as people moved away from their
parents to see a ‘better life’
People had greater economic independence- had more money don’t have to
pay for ill parents
Nuclear families became closer- they had closer relationships as there were
less people therefore they can spend more time with each other
Parsons distinguishes between two types of family structures:a) The nuclear family
b) The extended family
According to parsons, there are two types of societies
a) Pre-industrial society
b) Modern industrial society
Features of the pre-industrial and modern industrial societies:
Pre industrial society - Extended
Large family, large number of kin
(relatives) and children
Labour intensive- put hard work in
Production unit- make everything
Agricultural society- farming
Low technology
Modern industrial society- Nuclear
Small family- fewer children and male
Machine intensive- reliant on
Consumption unit- buy everything
Industrial society- businesses
High technology
Parsons argues that the nuclear family fits the needs of an industrial society whereas
the extended family fits the needs of the pre industrial society
Studied the 1851 census (who lives in each household) in Preston during
industrial times
Found 23% extended families due to hardship of working in mills
Why they needed an extended family:
Absence of welfare state
Large number of orphans- parents would die working in mills e.g. hand stuck
in machine, dusty air harmful for lungs
Cheaper to share rent
Mills recruited workers from extended families
Studied parish registers 1564
Found 90% nuclear families
Said this was due to the following:
Late marriage- had to save up for dowry (money)
Short life expectancy- grandparents would die before their grandchildren
were born
Young and Wilmot
Empirical research (proved through observation or experience) in the 1950’s
in the East end of London
Argue that extended families existed during industrialisation
Extended kinship was based on emotional attachment and obligation
Also a mutual (shared) support network (various types of help) offering
assistance with money, jobs, childcare and advice
Argue extended families went in decline during 1960’
Exam question for functionalist view
Assess the view that industrialisation led to the decline of the extended family and the rise of the nuclear
family (24 marks)
Define industrialisation
This is a functionalist view
Sociologists for this
Fletcher- industrialisation did lead to rise of nuclear family as people moved to seek a ‘better life’
Parsons- due to the fact that a certain type of family fits the needs of the society it’s in
EVALUATION- Sociologists against this
Anderson- during industrialisation 23% of extended families still existed so there wasn’t a total
Laslett- There was a high number of nuclear families BEFORE industrialisation, so how could
industrialisation cause it?
Young and Wilmot- extended families existed during industrialisation
Marxist argument that the rise of the nuclear family was a deliberate action by the capitalist ruling class,
rather than being due simply to industrialisation
Other points to consider:
Extended families were very popular during pre industrial times
Extended families were responsible for the production of food, shelter and clothing
Extended families would support each other during difficult times
When industrialisation took over extended families were not required as the functions they performed were
Families had to work for others which meant the economy wanted geographic mobile( must be a small family
to easily move not take ill granddad too) workers
Nuclear family was best option, can easily move, large family is hard and expensive to move especially older
Marxist views on the family- structural conflict view
Main points
Marxists see the family in negative terms and believe the functions/roles of the
family benefit the ruling class, helping to maintain class inequality and capitalism.
Marxists believe the main role of the family is to serve the interests of the capitalism
and bourgeoisie
The middle class take advantage of the working class and their labour, they’re used
as a tool to make profits
Families are a unit of reproduction- Families need to reproduce as it provides the
next generation of workers to exploit (make use of)
Reproducing children is functional for the capitalist system
Families consume goods e.g. Cars, computers etc. As the family supports the
capitalist system and perpetuates (keeps it going) the capitalist market economy (if
you didn’t buy anything then the bourgeoisie wouldn't make any money)
Bourgeoisie (factory owners) get the profit- they use advertisements and the media
to convince us to buy things we don’t really need by putting ideas into our heads to
keep buying things
Women provide free care for the current (husbands) and future (children) workers
making them more productive
Children are taught to be obedient to the ‘system’
Women provide a cheap reserve army of labour they’re employed when needed
by the ruling class (women would be hired during the war as all men would have
gone out to fight therefore there were no workers)
Women do a ‘triple shift’- paid work, housework and emotional work in the marriage
Men needed control over women so there was no doubt over paternity of children as
property was passed down- this led to nuclear families
Marxists say the family serve capitalism is 4 ways
The family socialises children – thereby reproducing both labour power and an
acceptance of capitalism (false consciousness).
Women’s domestic work is unpaid which benefits capitalism.
The family acts as safety valves for the stresses and frustrations of working class
The family as a unit of consumption buys the goods and services provided by
Key sociologist
Quote from origin of the family, private property and the state “ Modern
family is founded on open or concealed domestic slavery of the wife” (quote from
Engels book) Engels is saying that housework is slavery of wives, slaves do not get
paid for their work and neither do housewives therefore it is slavery
Engels believed the means of production were communally owned, this era of
primitive communism was characterized by promiscuity, there were no rules limiting
sexual relationships and the society itself was the ‘family’
The monogamous nuclear family originated according to Marxists from the
inheritance of private property, men needed to be sure that they had legitimate
(lawful or rightful) heirs
Throughout history more restrictions were placed on sexual relationships, more
monogamous nuclear families developed to save the problem of the inheritance of
private property- men needed control over women so that there was no doubt over
paternity of children when property is passed down .... this led to nuclear families
Therefore the family is designed to control women and protect property
Zarestsky claimed the family props up capitalism
Working class men have power in their home and this can relieve their
frustration at being exploited at work
The family is one place where male workers can feel they have power and
control. This helps them accept their oppression in wider society. (Controlling
their wives/children at home helps them relive stress from work where they
have no control)
 Claimed that working class families are encouraged to purchase false needs in
the form of the latest consumer goods, which he said, served the interest of
capitalism rather than the consumers’, as it stimulated the economy and kept
workers distracted from seeking equality and justice.
Criticisms of Marxists
Negative about the family- sees it as exploitive
Marxists assume that the nuclear family is dominant in capitalist society
Functionalists argue that Marxists ignore real benefits of the family for its
members such as intimacy(closeness/relationship) and support
Exam question for Marxist view
Assess the Marxist view that the main role of the family is to serve the interests of capitalism. (24
Define capitalism
Write about the Marxist view of the family
Compare with functionalist view of the family
Compare with feminists view of the family
Feminists view on the family-structural gender conflict view
Feminists see the family (especially nuclear) in negative terms as it exploits and
oppresses women
The root cause is patriarchy (male dominated)
The purpose of the family is to reinforce the dominant position of men within a
patriarchal society.
1st type:: Marxist feminists – because of capitalism money
Patriarchy is caused by the capitalist system
Exploitation of women leads to the success of the capitalist system
Marxist feminists believe full equality can only be achieved by abolishing the
family at the same time as replacing capitalism with a communist society.
Barrat and McIntosh
The nuclear family is presented as the ideal
Other families are inferior (lower)
The state will stereotype and scapegoat alternative families (e.g. they will blame
single parent families for crime etc.)
2nd type:: Radical (extreme) feminists- because of male power
They believe patriarchy oppresses women
Patriarchal ideology leads to the tyrannization (ruling/power) of women and children
in the family.
Men dominate women through domestic and sexual violence or the threat of it
Rape and assault are evidence of this
Men exploit and benefit from women’s unpaid domestic labour
The family exploits women and functions to benefit men
Radical feminists believe women can only be ‘free’ by abolishing the family and
living independently of men. For example, all female (matrifocal) households.
3rd type:: Liberal (open minded) Feminists
Patriarchy is caused by cultural attitudes and discriminatory laws e.g. birth law or
contraception laws
Norms and values are reinforced by family and other institutions
Relationships between men and women becoming more equal due to legal changes
such as equal pay act 1970 and sex discrimination act 1975
Rape within marriage is illegal
Equality can be achieved through social policies which are family friendly e.g. flexible
working hours and extended paternity leave which would encourage more equality
between the two sexes
Evaluation/criticisms of feminists view on the family
Doesn’t explain the subordination (inferior or lower) of women in pre capitalist
societies (Marxist)
Portrays women as passive (accept or allow things) but women can make changes
and improve their situation e.g. the suffragettes who fought for the right of women
to vote
Doesn’t acknowledge that power can be shared
Ignores the positive aspects of family life – many women actively choose and enjoy
looking after a home and bringing up children.
Doesn’t look at single parent or gay relationships
Doesn’t look at different ethnic groups e.g. black women
Doesn’t explain why marriage and cohabitation are still popular
New Right views on the family
Assumes the nuclear family is ideal
Shares the functionalist view that the stability of the family is important for society
Supports clear cut roles e.g. male breadwinner
Believe in two groups the New Rabble (underclass-reliant on gov, high crime etc)
and New Victorians (traditional family)
Criticise changes to social policy and changes in society which have resulted in the
growth of abnormal family and household types
Believe the welfare state is leading to a culture of dependency and eventually the
society will only depend on the government
Single mothers are condemned (destined) and held responsible for problems such as
crime and poverty
Breakdown of morals and values In the family have led to crime within society
The role of the family is to teach children the difference between right and wrong,
and to provide a sense of morality more widely known as ‘family values.’
1st New Right Sociologist
Charles Murray
The traditional nuclear family is under threat
Visited the UK in 1989 to investigate the following >> ‘is this country developing a
USA style underclass?’ (underclass=people who’ve never been employed before)
He found an increase in illegitimacy, cohabitation and divorce
Welfare benefits are too high and are creating a culture of dependency
There is an ‘underclass’ caused by single parents consisting of people in a society
who live only from benefits and make no effort to find a job or go out to work and
commit crimes and become pregnant at an early age
2nd New Right sociologist
Paul Johnson
Wrote about ‘the malaise (depression/illness eating away the British life) affecting
British life’ and gave an example of a mother with 11 children who was given 3
council homes worth £196,580 which is equivalent to 60 peoples taxes for a year
Evaluation/criticisms of New Right view on the family
Puts forward a romantic view of the family life
Is historically superficial- rates of illegitimacy have been high in the past
Ignores the ‘dark side’ of the family
Has a narrow (constricted) view
Terms ‘New Victorians’ and ‘New Rabble’ are emotive and lack credibility
Policies have been criticised for blaming and punishing the victims of social problems
e.g. single mothers
Post modernists view on the family- after the modern era/what society is
like in the modern times
There is a much wider range of living opportunities available nowadays due to
social and cultural changes
Society is not predictable anymore, there is no dominant family type
Families are now less stable therefore function differently in Postmodern societies
There are fewer nuclear families and more diversity in families e.g. more same
sex couples, cohabiting, single
Judith Stacey
No assumptions on what is the best or normal type of family- it could be any
type of family
There is uncertainty, insecurity and doubt- people are doubting themselves they
don’t know what family type they should be
New family types function differently
General critical views of the family
 Studied schizophrenia
 The family can damage an individual
 Parents extend the dependence of children-parents cling onto children so they
don’t feel lonely, gives them more responsibilities
 Doesn’t account for the role of siblings, teachers, media etc
 Blamed it all on the family especially parents
 Family relationships can cause stress, guilt and violence
 Family relationships form a ‘love trap’ not able to be ourselves- children
behave different at home as parents make you feel guilty that you must do
housework-whereas with friends we can act how we like don’t have to act a
certain way
 Like Laing he only looked at schizo
 Only looked at western societies