Assess the view that the Nuclear Family is no longer the norm'' - Functionalism vs. Post Modernism
‘ Assess the view that the Nuclear Family is no longer the norm'' - Functionalism vs. Post Modernism
The Nuclear family is seen as the traditional family and it is made up of a husband, a wife and one or more children, which can be either biological or adopted. In the family the husband is usually the breadwinner and is instrumental towards the children, where as the wife should be responsible for the housework and plays an expressive role towards the children. This is known as a 'cereal packet' family. Murdock a functionalist sociologist (1949) argued that nuclear family is a 'universal social grouping', which can be found in all societies, however according to postmodernists nuclear families are not necessarily the most effective family.
One reason that the nuclear family isn’t necessarily considered the norm anymore would be an increase in same-sex couples because it has become more socially acceptable as homosexuality was legalised in the UK in 1967. This has meant that there are more same sex couples and they now have the chance to adopt. Technology as well as social acceptance has made major advances recently so gay and lesbian couples are able to use IVF treatment. Functionalist sociologists do not believe that same sex couples would educate a child to the same extent as single sex families however studies of same sex families could not see any significant effects un terms of gender identification or sexual orientation. Weeks (1999), a Postmodernist, states that increase social acceptance may explain a trend in recent years towards same sex cohabitation and stable relationships that resemble those founded among heterosexuals. Postmodernists believe that family life can be anything as it is characterised by how diverse society is. However Cheal (2002) criticises homosexuals by saying ‘while gay and lesbians welcome the opportunity to have their partnerships legally recognised, others hear that it may limit the flexibility and negotiability of relationships.’ Which shows that functionalists feel that homosexuals are not willing to commit and therefore they should not be counted as a family.
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The number of one-parent families has tripled from 2% in 1961 to 7% in 1998. There are now almost 1.7 million in Britain and this makes up 25% of families. Women who have either had a divorce or separated from a partner head most of these families, this could be due to divorce courts being more likely to grant custody to the mother, the mother being single by choice, the widespread belief that the mother are by nature suited to ‘the expressive role’’ and primarily in the working class females experiencing abuse. Functionalists associate lone-parent families with under- achievement and delinquency. There is a point to this idea as typically one parent does not earn as much as two parents and therefore cannot afford to buy resources. Charles Murray (1984) sees the growth in lone parent families as result from an over generous welfare state providing benefits for unmarried mothers and their children, he also argues that this had created ‘perverse incentive’ and that it rewards irresponsible behaviour. On the other hand critics of Functionalism and the New Right argue that welfare benefits are far from generous and lone parent families are more likely to be in poverty and so typically would not chose this life style.
The reconstituted family or stepfamily is made up of divorced or widowed people who have remarried, and their children from previous marriage. The rise in divorce has meant that this type of family has increased. Divorce has become more acceptable because there were changes in the law, a decline in stigma and people now have higher expectations of marriage. Postmodernists see a high divorce rate as giving individuals the freedom to choose to end a relationship when it no longer meets their needs. Divorce used to be frowned upon and not accepted in society; people who did it were seen as weak. The couple would just have to work their problems out and many people suffered. However now it is now conventional for divorce to occur and it is almost normal. Since the 1960’s the divorce rate has increased, between 1961 and 1969 it had doubled and doubled again by 1971. The upward trend peaked in 1993 at 180,000. In contrast to Postmodernism, Functionalists argue that high divorce rates do not necessarily mean that marriage as a social institution is under threat. It is simply the result of people’s high expectations of marriage. The high rate of remarriage shows that people are continuing commitment to the idea of marriage. Ronald Fletcher argues that a relatively high divorce rate may be indicative not of a lower but of higher standards of marriage in society'
There are over 2 million people cohabitating in Britain. Chester (1985) believes this to be because for most people it is a part of the process of getting married and is the last step before the actually ceremony. Coast (2006) agrees with this statement and it is almost a trial marriage. These are both Post Modernist views, however Shelton & John (1993) state that if people cohabitate the women do less in the house than their counterparts so the expressive and instrumental roles and also the breadwinner roles are reversed.
Another reason that people are moving away from the nuclear ideal is that there are a lot of different religious beliefs and ethnic origins within western society. There is a tradition within Afro-Caribbean societies for women to live independently from their children’s father. In Essex over half of the Caribbean families with children are single parent. However a study of Pakistani families in Essex showed that they are most likely to live in traditional Nuclear Families, however they also live in extended families. Extended families are where one or more Grandparent lives with the family so there are three or more generations living under one roof.
Post Modernism states it is no longer expected for people to be married with children in a typical Nuclear Family. Men no longer have a clear cut position as women are working and getting money in, which results in men helping round the house more. This has led to men redefining both their family commitments and their sexuality, instead of the warm bath theory being practised it is much more common for both sexes to share the responsibilities. In contrast to this functionalism states that although there have been some minor changes to society the basic features of family life have remained largely unchanged for the majority of the population since the 1950’s.
In conclusion, there is no doubt that the Nuclear Family is very common however the increasing number of other family types point towards a slow but steady change away from the nuclear ideal.