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Is the Nuclear Family universal?

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Is the Nuclear Family Universal? A nuclear family is a family that consists of two cohabiting parents in a sexual relationship with children. The parents must be heterosexual as this is 'socially acceptable', a nuclear family does not have to contain a certain amount of children and the children may be adopted or step children. The nuclear family can also contain an extended family such as a spouse of the children or a grandparent. This idea was first developed by Murdock who believed the nuclear family was universal. George Peter Murdock was a Sociologist who was prominent around 1940 onwards when he developed his 'nuclear family' idea which he believed to be universal. The nuclear is a unit of people living together and this could be considered universal as most countries and cultures raise their children within their own household. Murdock was one of the first sociologists to propose the idea of a nuclear family and applied it to all cultures proclaiming it was universal. Economic cooperation, common residence and reproduction are the main points of the nuclear family and Murdock believed all these things applied to families around the world. ...read more.


In the Nayar society the husband and wife did not live together, there was no commitment to each other, the children were not necessarily fathered by the husband and the husband had no obligation to provide for them economically. This system worked for the Nayar society and showed the point that different societies can have varied definitions of what a family is. There is nothing that shows that these types of family do not work as the children in a Nayar society still received care and primary socialisation just they were not cared for by two cohabiting parents. Socialisation is very important and as the children would still receive it society has filled its main objective to carry on with its culture and values leading on into the future. Another example of not having a universal family archetype is the Lakker who reside in Burma; they do not believe there is a blood tie between mother and child. Women are seen as a container for the child to be born from rather than an actual blood relation. Their society allows for children of the same mother but different father to be sexual partners. ...read more.


Also socially acceptable relationships are not withheld by the Lakker in that they are able to have sexual relations with half brothers or sisters. The family according to Murdock work as a unit and pool their resources, share an income and to an extent share domestic tasks, the Kibbutz community does this but not in the standard way in that the community supports itself and everyone in it not just their own immediate family. In conclusion there are parallels between the nuclear family and other cultures as previously mentioned but to fit the nuclear family label the communities just don't fulfil all of the requirements. The nuclear family clearly isn't universal as a whole but certain aspects of it are in different countries and communities. Murdock's idea of the nuclear family is a little narrow sighted in that not all families are happy ones or involve all of his functions and his idealistic view of a family. Different communities believe in different things and to say everyone in the world is exactly the same is evidently wrong. From this it can be said the theory of a nuclear family cannot be universal as everyone around the world is individual and as individualism becomes more prominent the nuclear family will cease to exist in even a large majority of countries. ...read more.

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Response to the question

This question has been answered fairly well for a GCSE candidate. The writer evidently has a sound understanding which is shown particularly with multiple references to Murdock, who is a key sociologist in the field of the family as a ...

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Response to the question

This question has been answered fairly well for a GCSE candidate. The writer evidently has a sound understanding which is shown particularly with multiple references to Murdock, who is a key sociologist in the field of the family as a universal institution. Murdock’s ideas are referred to (or criticised) throughout the essay, which is useful to do as it shows that the writer has understood the question being set, as they can apply his theory to other families in different societies. This shows that the writer can evaluate, by providing modern examples of families that disprove the “nuclear family is universal” theory. The essay is well structured, with a good introduction and conclusion, which makes it clear and easy to read.

Level of analysis

The writer uses sociological terminology in context frequently; however I feel that this could be used with regard to Functionalism, improving the essay to the highest standard which can be expected at GCSE level. For example when the writer refers to concepts such as “primary socialisation” and “economic cooperation” they could explain that these are Functionalist ideas, and that Murdock is a Functionalist. This is because he indeed sees the nuclear family as universal, as they all provide these concepts.
The writer has made cross-cultural comparisons to argue against the idea that the nuclear family is universal. They have successfully done this by providing examples of other family types, for example the Kibbutz in Israel, and then relating this back to the norms we have in the UK. This shows that they have an awareness of other societies and cultures, and that they have different norms and values to what we do in the UK. Most candidates tend to forget that they need to apply theories to other peoples/places around the globe, so this writer should be credited for their multitude of examples. But they should more explicitly use the terms “norms and values” as this is essentially the reason that we have a variety of families – not just the nuclear. In doing this I feel it would demonstrate and crystallise their understanding of sociology.

Quality of writing

The quality of writing is of a high standard. Spelling is accurate and the use of some punctuation is effective in demonstrating that the writer is aware of sociological key terms. This is because the essay uses quotation marks to show that a sociologist has developed this concept: “nuclear family”. The only minor comment I would make would be to perhaps use more varied punctuation. For example, “Sexual relationships being the means of reproduction this links in to the idea of marriage and socially approved relationships”, could be improved by inserting a hyphen: “Sexual relationships being the means of reproduction - this links in to the idea of marriage and socially approved relationships”. This just ensures that the essay makes more grammatical sense.

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Reviewed by cwhite 26/02/2012

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