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Sociologists and views on family structure.

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Introduction

For many years the majority of Sociologists accepted the following view about family structure before and after the industrial revolution. Parsons [1955] and Fletcher (1966) viewed the extended family as the dominant family form, which evolved through industrialisation into a modern, isolated, nuclear family. Essentially they were claiming that the industrialisation process created and increased the numbers of nuclear families and led to the decline in the numbers of the extended family. These are ideas are known as both the march of progress or theory of transition. March of progress / theory of transition explanations of why the extended family developed into isolated nuclear families are as follows. The nuclear family is small, therefore more geographically mobile and could more easily move around to pursue the new opportunities available because of industrialisation. The need for extended families has been removed by the increased provision of state / government services to support the family e.g. education and health care. The status of individual family members was no longer dependent on the ascribed status of the overall family. Industrialisation increased the number and variety of job opportunities which meant that individuals could develop achieved status based on their own personal efforts. ...read more.

Middle

It seems that although the members of the nuclear family live together as an independent unit, there are still strong ties, either local or more distant, with other extended kin, especially grandparents. Research by Litwak found that the geographical and social mobility that had separated kin had not weakened the affective ties between them. For 52 per cent of his sample, this meant one or more family visits per week. Modern methods of communication such as the telephone and private cars, together with letters and so on, enabled families to keep in close contact even when living in different parts of the country. Litwak coined the term 'modified extended family' to describe this situation, emphasising the connections between families rather than their isolation. Supporting evidence for modified extended families, is provided in a study of working class families in Swansea by Rosser and Harris (1965). They too found that the entirely isolated nuclear family was a rare occurrence. Different employment patterns had made the family less close-knit, but strong sentimental ties between family members resulted in practical help for each other. Extended kin provided social identity and social support, particularly in times of crisis, when relatives were the first port of call for help. ...read more.

Conclusion

Other types of help that were frequently provided were child care, emotional support and practical help. Throughout the sample the relationship between parent and child was of paramount importance. The overall picture revealed by Finch and Mason, therefore, is not one of isolated, privatised nuclear families but of members of family groups connected by a web of assistance that can take many forms. Although there are no clear rules governing these relationships, there are guidelines, and the existence of such widespread assistance emphasises the importance of relationships beyond the nuclear family. They certainly do not present us with an image of an isolated and introspective nuclear family, cut off from other kin. In conclusion, the early assumptions by the supporters of the march of progress / transition theories have been successfully challenged by modern research. Historical document records, based on Parish registers, have shown that the nuclear family clearly existed before the industrial revolution. Historical census data further shows that the extended family didn't go into decline as a consequence of the industrial revolution. Whilst research from the 1970s onwards shows that although the nuclear family has clearly increased in numbers it is not particularly isolated / privatised, and large numbers of nuclear families maintain regular contact with kin, benefit from the support of kin. Many so called nuclear families are really part of modified extended family networks. 1 ...read more.

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