The question is to outline and critically evaluate the functionalist view that the typical family unit is nuclear. The other part of the question is to critically evaluate the work of Willmott and Young that suggests that the family is becoming increasingly symmetrical.
In defining the symmetrical family according to Willmott and Young, males and females are becoming equal within the family. Willmott and Young also stated that there are three stages in becoming a symmetrical family.
The first stage is the pre-industrial family, which is a unit of production consisting of a husband, wife and unmarried children. The family worked for themselves on the land as a unit of production. This is still represented in a small minority of families today. The family started to decline in the nineteenth –century due to the industrial revolution which gave rise to the emergence of the factory system. (Haralambos and Holborn, 2002).
The stage two families began with early industrialization. Factory production replaced the domestic system and such families ceased to be a unit of production and focused more on the individuals employed as wage earners.
During the nineteenth century there was high unemployment and widespread poverty amongst the working class.
Stage three families began in the early 1970’s. This is a new emerging family called the symmetrical family. It is egalitarian and democratic. The conjugal bond between husband and wife is strong and they share their work and time around the home. The nuclear family has become a large self-containing and self-reliant unit. Wives still have the main responsibility of raising the children with a little help from their husbands.
Women started a network of support in order to help each other and their children during hard times. This extension of network was done to cope with poverty by creating an insurance policy and support. The bond between married daughter and mother became closer and the conjugal bond between husband and wife became weaker.
A survey carried out by Willmott and Young in the 1950’s showed that stage two families still exists in Bethnal Green. There is still a strong bond between mothers and daughters. (Haralambos and Holborn, 2000)
Historically the symmetrical family brought changes to the structure of the family. However, there are feminist theories on the family for example, radical feminists believe that that the family is a unit of oppression. Radical feminists see the home as a place where women were exploited by the capitalists and their husbands. Men were the head of the family and household. The men had political and economic powers allowing them to make decisions in the home. As a result the women would be dependent on the men.
In order to understand the family, feminism has probably had more influence on the study of the family than any other approaches in society. Feminists have highlighted the dangerous effects on women within the family. Also the dominance of men within the family was highlighted. They also question whether the family life is becoming egalitarian. In addition, feminists view the family as an institution, which has greater benefits for men compared to those for women (Haralambos, 2000).
In regards to the Marxist feminist perspective, Marxists such as Engel and Zaretsky recognised that women are treated unfairly in the home. However their focus is on the relationship between Capitalism and the family. Margaret Benston states that women are the emotional support for her husband. This support provides him with comfort, which enables him to continue to go out to perform well in his job. In terms this is good for the Capitalist employee working well in order to perform his role as a wage labourer (handout feminist perspectives on the family).
According to Bryson (1997), radical feminists view the oppression of women as the most fundamental and universal from of control. In this view, this is a patriarchal society rather than a Capitalist society in which women have different interests than men. Men are not seen as the source of male domination, although the feminists do see the family as important in keeping male power. Women are seen as exploited because of the housework and child care duties that she has to carry out unpaid. Men are seen as the ruling class and females as the subject in which patriarchal power control women’s sexual activity.
Willmott (1970) argues that the way society is organised enabled men to dominate women. In the extreme from this can take the form of violence. As Dobash and Dobash (1980) indicates this violence from men is a real threat to many women and children.
Liberal feminists views ague that women wanted equal rights. However they point on that changes in the political, economic and social system of western societies will be a gradual process. Liberal feminists see inequalities as affecting both males and females. They see women with potential in the workplace as not having the opportunity to progress.
Liberal feminists are a strong advocate of equal opportunities for males and females.
According to Haralambos and Holborn (2000) liberal feminists supported such measures as the Sex Discrimination Act (1975) and the Equality Act (1970) with the intention that these laws would help end discrimination.
Critically evaluate the functionalist view that the nuclear family is both universal and typical.
According to Murdock a functionalist who’s claimed that some kind of family existed in every society and was universal. His definition of the family states that ‘the family is a social group characterised by common residence, economic co-operation 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 co-habiting adults’ (Haralambos, 2000)
His idea of the universality of the family seems to focus on one type of family. However, the kind of family form that Murdock based his findings on when he did his research in 250 societies he found only nuclear families. This led him to the conclusion that the nuclear family was a universal social group. However, Murdock views of the family is somewhat flawed due to the different type of families that exist in today’s society. Murdock and Parsons have the view that women should be a t the home looking after and nurturing the children, while men should go out to work and are bread winners of the family.
Murdock states that the nuclear family is universal and is based on three key functions for a family to survive in society. These are, it stabilizes sexual and reproductive functions. It also provides basic economic requirements such as food and shelter. Moreover it provides the function of socialization of the next generation into the norms, values and other aspects of culture in that society. Murdock argues that without these functions the nuclear family would not survive (Kirby, 1997)
However the functionalist view that the nuclear family is both universal and typical can be contradictory. Murdock studied families in 250 societies and found that some kind of family existed in every society and was therefore universal. The types of family structure that Murdock found in all 250 families was the nuclear family which lead him to conclude that the nuclear family is a universal social grouping, (Handout the family)
Parsons agrees with Murdock and goes on to say that the nuclear family is typical and normal. Parsons states that the female role is expressive. He makes distinction on the basic biology in that the female is more expressive because of giving birth to the child. Due to child birth the mother has a closer relationship with her baby. The female is a real carer and good at expressing her emotions and is natural in socialising children. The female is a role model for girls in the family. On the other hand the male role is instrumental. He is the breadwinner, provider, supporter of the family, a role model for male children in promoting achievement and giving motivation.
There are biological factors that contribute to the difference between male and female in the family. However as Haralambos and Holborn suggested ‘there is no single blueprint for the family which applies to all societies’ (Haralambos and Holborn, 2000) Families vary in shapes and sizes and come in different forms such as the Nayar tribe, which is communal.
There is the single parent, the same sex, contemporary and reconstituted family. Murdock and Parsons view of the nuclear family implies that women should be looking after the home and men as the provider and breadwinner. Murdock views can be contradictory because of the different types of families that led us to discuss the following families, which can be referred to as the exceptions to the rule of the universal existence.
However, according to Gough the cross-cultural Nayar family perform qualities of the nuclear family in that there is a special and social recognised tie, which exists between a girl and the boy when she had her first sexual experience. The Nayar society of southern India performs as a nuclear family. Before puberty girls were ritually married to a Nayar man in the tali-rite. However after the tali-rite the female was free to take up several sexual partners as a result paternity was often uncertain. The only responsibility the women possess was to mourn at her husband’s funeral. Women would receive visiting ‘husbands’ after puberty as the men spend a lot of time away fighting. Husbands would visit other wives although the husband took preference when he was back home. The husband or wife would end the marriage any time. Other women share in the caring of the children and the fatherhood of the child was not important because of its matrilineal society. The economical contribution of males was minimal towards their children. Brothers and sisters of both parents side contributed to the economics and bringing up of the children (O’Donnell, 1985) the functionalist views regarding children’s need for social and stability works well in the Nayar society (O’ Donnell, 1985)
Murdock’s view on the universality of the family is too narrow because it excludes many family forms. For example the single parent family is a distinct and viable family type as O’ Donnell states one in five families with dependant children in Britain in 1994 was headed by a single parent. Single parent family is the most common in western society (Bourne, 1995) states that in 1996 11 per sent of people in Britain lived in this type of family. Today it has doubled.
However, there are professional women who choose to be single parents as studied by Jean Renvoizes single mother by choice (1985). She examined 30 mothers of this type who could afford to raise a child single-handed. On the other hand the Cashmore Study this showed that non-professional single parents were poorer and some of these women found being single was better than being in an oppressive relationship.
Then there is the same sex family ‘as Plummer (1976) argued that homosexual are less likely to establish long-term relationships. Legally homosexuals cannot marry but there are changes in the law that may allow this group to foster or adopt children. There is not enough evidence to support the notion that same-sex relationships are more dysfunctional than heterosexual families.
Kirby states (1997) lesbian mothers maybe seen as unfit to nurture children. Then there are mothers who leave heterosexual relationships and enter lesbian relationships- are these women seen as unfit mothers (Kirby, 1997)
The contributing family is one in which couples live together with their children for a period of time, before getting married. As Mc Rae (1993) shows many of these couples may never marry. Evidence shows that this type of family is less of a problem for themselves or society as a whole, than single mothers, who have been divorced or never married and live without a partner (Kirby, 1997)
The reconstituted family is when there are previously married and divorced people with children coming together and getting married who form a new family. Many children are being brought up in this type of family. Many children are being brought up in this type of family of step-parents and step siblings.
The extended family is still present in the 21st century. As study conducted by Willmott and Young in the borough of Green in the East End of London such families had intertwined in their lifestyle. The children and parents live in the same area as parents for three or more generations. This family helps and maintains links with each other. Also the mother housewife role is shared by the female members of the extended family (Haralambos and Holborn, 1996)
The Neo-Conventional family are family of past divorces coming together and re-marrying to form a new family with children from previous marriages as stated by Chester Kirby (1985)
There are alternatives styles of family such as the Kibbutz in Israel. Haralambos and Holborn state there are 3 per cent of the population that live in about 270 Kibbutz. These sizes vary from 100-2000 members and it consists of an agricultural lifestyle with some light industry.
Children spend most of the day and all the night away from their parents in the children houses. They are educated and socialised by trained staff. Parents do visit their children and spend time together as a family, which keep the strong bond within the family. This bonding meets the children’s emotional needs, whereas the Kibbutz provides for children’s physical needs. (Haralambos and Holborn, 2000)
From the post-modern perspectives of the family this views the modern alternatives to the family. This view is saying that in contemporary society there is a wide diversity of family forms all equally valid, which provide the function of the modern family (Kirby, 1997)
In conclusion, according to Murdock and Parson this nuclear family is universal and typical. However this is contradictory because from my research there are a vast variety of family forms that are all existing and functioning, such as the single parent family, Kibbutzim, co-habiting, same sex and reconstitutional. As in the case of the lone parent family it could be argued that the family in industrial society has lost many of its functions. Many of these functions are taken over by the state in the form of specialised organisations for example the social security agency, schools and hospitals. (Haralambos and Holborn, 1983)
The extended family still exist in some developing countries today and carry out the duties as the nuclear family. The post-modern view of the family fits in with modern contemporary society. The feminist view highlights the oppression of women within the family and changes that has come about.
Even though there are differences in the family forms we have to celebrate all types of families. From the nursing profession it is important not to be judgemental towards people and to learn to accept that there are a wide range of families and groups of people in the contemporary society.
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