Sociology- Unit 1 Family



Sociologists disagree as to whether couples are becoming more equal. Functionalists and the New Right argue for the necessity of segregated conjugal roles based on biological differences between the sexes. However, 'march of progress' sociologists argue that the family is becoming more symmetrical, with joint conjugal roles. Feminists disagree, arguing that men's contribution remains minimal and women now shoulder a dual burder of paid and unpaid work, or even perform a triple shift that also includes emotion work.

Couples remain unequal in terms of decision making and control of resources. Men earn more and are more likely to make the major decisions, even where incomes are pooled. Radical feminists argue that domestic violence is an extreme form of patriarchal power over women. However, though most victims are female, not all women are equally at risk. 

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Childhood is a social construction and varies between times, places and groups. Most sociologists see our idea of childhood as a fairly recent one, the result of industrialisation and other social changes. Modern society constructs childhood as a time of vulnerability, innocence and segregation from the adult world.

'March of Progress' sociologists believe that we live in an increasingly child-centred society. They state that children have never had it so good. Critics argue that this ignores the continued existence of child poverty, abuse and exploitation.

Child liberationists argue that children in modern western society are victims of age patriarchy and are subject to adult control. Some argue that we are witnessing the disapperance of childhood as the media erode the boundary between childhood and adulthood. Others argue that the West is imposing its ideas of childhood on the Third World.

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Functionalists take a consensus view of the role of the family. They see it as a universal institution that performs essential functions for society as a whole and all members of the family. Parsons sees a functional fit, with the nuclear family fitting modern society's need for a geographically and socially mobile labour force. However, critics argue that he is wrong about the relationship between industrialisation and family structure.

Marxists see the family as serving the economic and ideological needs of capitalism. Feminists see the family as serving the needs of men and perpetuating patriarchal control of women. Liberal, Radical and Marxist feminists differ over the cause of women's subordination and the solution to it. Functionalist, Marxist and Feminist theories have all been criticised for neglecting family diversity and individuals' capacity to choose their family arrangements.

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Population size is influenced by natural change (births and deaths) and net migration (immigration and emigration).

Since 1900, the birth rate and total fertility rate have declined, producing smaller family sizes. Reasons include lower infant mortality rates and changes in the position of children.

The death rate declined and life expectancy increased because of better nutrition, public health measures and other social changes and, to a lesser extent, medical advances. The UK has an ageing population. Effects of this may include greater need for expenditure on health care and pensions, ageism and an increase in the dependancy ratio.

Until the 1980s, more people left the UK than arrived to settle. Migration has implications for age structure and fertility rates. Reasons for migration can include both 'push' and 'pull' factors.

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Recent decades have seen some major changes in family patterns. Changes in partnerships include fewer first marriages, more divorces, re-marriages and cohabitation. Changing patterns of parenting include more births outside marriage, lone parents and stepfamilies. There are more one-person households and same-sex families. There are also ethnic differences in household composition. The extended family survives mainly in dispersed form.

Reasons for these changes include greater individualism, secularisation, reduced stigma and changing attitudes, changes in the law (regarding divorce and homosexuality) and in the position of women.

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Modernists such as functionalists and the New Right see only the conventional nuclear family as normal and other family types as deviant. Chester sees only one major change- the neo-conventional family- whereas the Rapoports identify 5 types of diversity.

Sociologists influenced by postmodernism and social action theories reject structural views. They believe individuals today have more choice in their relationships and family practices, and use life course analysis to uncover their meaning.

Gender equality and increased choice and producing both diversity and risk and instability, since people can now leave unsatisfying relationships. Couples now seek the pure relationship, based solely on satisfying their own needs.

While the New Right and functionalism oppose diversity, postmodernists and feminists welcome it since it represents freedom, especially from patriarchal oppression.

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Social policies may work to undermine or support different kinds of family. The New Right argue that over-generous welfare benefits to unmarried mothers encourage a dependancy culture. Feminists disagree, arguing that government policies legitimate the heterosexual patriarchal nuclear family and make other family types seem less valid.

Countries with individualistic gender regimes follow policies promoting women's equality. Familistic regimes perpetuate women's patriarchal dependance. Marxists see policies on the family as serving the needs of capitalism. Donzelot argues that state professionals exercise control and surveillance, intervening to regulate family life.

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