family revision AS



Two heterosexual parents living with their own children.

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same sex

Where both parents are of the same sex

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Similar to extended but only generationally (children, parents, grand-parents)

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A family made up of more than just parents and children (grandparents, cousins, aunts, etc)

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A family made up of former families (also known as step parent or blended families)

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Single parent

A family headed by only one parent

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The nuclear family

Leach (1967) referred to as the ‘Cereal packet family’ Seen as the ideological family type. Smart (1999) says the nuclear family is the core element for a stable society

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Nuclear family criticisms

Feminists are critical of how it is shown as the preferred form. Barrett & McIntosh (1982) said it devalues other family types. They also said that the Nuclear family can be an institution of abuse and neglect.

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They stress the positive aspect of the family, in particular the Nuclear family. Murdoch (1949) studied 250 societies and found some form of family in all of them. He called the family a universal institution.

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Murdoch (1949): functions of the family





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Parsons (1959)

  • Despite industrialised, modern society the family is still a very important function for society.
  • Parsons said the family’s main functions are focused into:

1. The socialisation of children: norms, values, gender roles.

2. The stabilisation of adult personalities.

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Instrumental and Expressive roles

Division of labour: women= expressive, men=instrumental.

Warm bath theory: family should feel like a warm bath, concerned with; well-being, comfort, warmth and rejuvenation.

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Division of labour

Functionalists say that gender roles are biologically determined

Women’s expressive roles are because they are naturally caring.

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Division of labour

Functionalists say that gender roles are biologically determined

Women’s expressive roles are because they are naturally caring.

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critcisms of functionalism

Feminists say that women learn how to become mothers. (It is socially constructed) Doesn’t explain how male/female roles are more shared now. Neglects to explain negative aspects of the family. Downplays conflict Out of date.

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Marxism and the family

The family is one of many institutions that works to serve and maintain the economic system. In the industrialised West, family development has centred around meeting the demands of capitalist modes of production.

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Engels (1902) ‘The Origins of The Family…’

Capitalism stems from importance placed on private property. Marriage is based on monogamy: One man, one woman. Family, therefore, is the most efficient way for a man to ensure property and wealth are inherited through legitimate offspring.

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Engels (1902) ‘The Origins of The Family…’ part 2


Monogamy for love.

Positive ‘family life’ for working class people: social conditions should not deprive them of this.

‘Family’ itself: Should not be abolished!


Monogamy for sake of it.

Family as system of producing social heirs.

Limiting roles of women (some of these roles e.g. childcare could be socialised to grant women more freedom)

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Zaretsky – Personal Lives

•Family is an illusion of private life separate from the economy, offering satisfactions to its members unavailable elsewhere. •Family serves a capitalist economy through wives producing and raising the next generation of workers.

The family is a vital unit of consumption of the products of capitalism

Zaretsky (like Engels) recognises the value of a personal, family life for workers.

However, he believes it cannot meet individuals’ personal/psychological needs: “…cannot meet the pressures of being the only refuge in a brutal society”.

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marxist feminists

Focus on women’s domestic labour and its contribution to maintaining capitalism. Show link between roles in the family and how the economy is organised in wider society The way of organising family roles helps to keep wages down.

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Criticisms of Marxist View

Diversity of family forms not really accounted for.

Whilst some positive aspects of the family are recognised, Marxist focus mainly on the negative aspects.

Other perspectives view Marxist views on family as over- critical and undermining.

Some radical Marxists might seek to abolish the family, but there is no clear alternative (ref: attempts to abolish family in Soviet Union).

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Strengths of functionalism

Shows the importance of the institution of the family Stresses the importance of socialisation in the upbringing of children. Stresses the positive aspect of the family as a support mechanism

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Criticisms of functionalism

Ignores the dark side of family life. Overemphasises harmony The idea of change from pre-industrial extended family to nuclear family is too simplistic. Value of functionalism for other family types other than nuclear family has been disputed. Fails to examine power inequalities between men and women. Underplays significance of women’s paid employment.

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Strengths of marxism

Shows a link between family roles and capitalism.

Focus on gender inequalities by MFs has helped give an understanding of the position of women in the family.

Shows a link between control of women & capitalism

Shows a link between family consumption & the economy.

Contemporary Marxists show a need for family-friendly workplaces.

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Criticisms of marxism

Over deterministic in how it shows family roles. Critics question the degree to which the family acts as a refuge against capitalism, as highlighted by Zaretsky. Some postmodernists may argue that family consumption can be an enjoyable, liberating experience because of the choice it offers.

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A Comparison of Functionalism and Marxism


  • Both Macro theories
  • Both are known as structuralist theories. They look at the family in society as a whole and its relationship with society


  • Functionalists say that the family works for the whole and everyone benefits. Marxists say family is meeting the needs of capitalism.

Functionalists say the family works in connection with other institutions. For Marxism, there is conflict.

Passing on norms and values is seen as a good thing in functionalism. Seen as a bad thing in Marxism.

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Changes in family structure…

The Nuclear Family is still the most common form of family but it has declined. Because….

People don’t stay in monogamous relationships because they have to anymore. Decline in religion Increase in women in the work force. People live longer (extended, bean pole family)

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Family Diversity

Different types of family:

Single-parent Beanpole (Sandwich generation – Grundy & Henretta 2006) Reconstituted Same sex Co-parenting

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The Rapoports (1982) 5 elements of family diversit

1)Organisational : Differences in the way family roles are organised.

2) Cultural :

Different cultural, religious and ethnic groups have different family structures

3) Social Class differences:

Differences in family structure are partly the result of income differences between households of different classes. Also affects child-rearing practices.

4) Life-stage :

Family structure depends on the point at which you find yourself in your life-cycle

5) Generational:

Defined as older and younger generations having different attitudes and experiences that reflect the historical periods in which they have lived.

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roles and responsibility

Role: ‘the function assumed or part played by a person or thing in a particular situation.’

Responsibility: ‘the state or fact of having a duty to deal with something or of having control over someone.’

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Young and Willmott (1973)

The ‘Symmetrical Family’ 3 main features: 1)Married couple & children are centred on the home. 2)Extended family doesn’t mean as much and nuclear family means more. 3)Roles of men and women have become less segregated and more balanced.

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Gershuny (1992)

Agrees with Young and Willmott, to an extent, however said ‘Women remain housewives even when they become breadwinners’.

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postmodernism: Views of the changing structures of

Variation is normal. Because identify is fragmented and individualised, family relationships have too. Stacey (1996) argues that families are diverse and that there is no dominant type of family in contemporary society. Based on choice. People choose how to live, roles are negotiable. Pakulski and Waters (1996) say that contemporary family roles are chosen. These roles interact with consumption and media.

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The New Right

Similar to functionalism, see Nuclear family as the ideal family type. Critical of other family types. They say the ‘Overly generous’ welfare state are to blame for the rise of single parents, and single parents can socialise their children properly. Cohabitation undermines the idea of life long relationships. Dennis (1993) argues that social control exercised by the family has weakened. Boys who don’t have a male role model will become delinquent.

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new right continues

Initiatives :

1998 – changes in taxation. Cohabiting couples couldn’t benefit from better tax allowances than married couples. 1993 – CSA. Meaning absent parents had to pay for their child, regardless of their relationship with the mother. Allan & Crow (2001) points out only 30% of absent parents were contributing by the late 1990’


Biased towards traditional family structures.

Intolerant of family diversity.

Shifts blame from structural factors to the individual, in terms of social problems and their causes.

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Generally argue that relationships between men and women are still patriarchal. Generally want equality between men and women but differ in terms of their explanations of the causes of women's oppression in the family. Somerville (2000) argues that women have more choice now and social policies can help parents work. Liberal feminists say that the way forward for women is legislation. Radical feminism say sexism is embedded in the system and patriarchal ideology presents the women's work within the family as normal.

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criticisms of feminism

They don’t allow for the fact that some women enjoy domestic work and carrying out a caring role in the family. They ignore positive aspects of family life for women. The discount any progress that has been made in the move towards equality.

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