Assess the view that the symmetrical family exists in modern day society
Assess the view that the symmetrical family exists in modern day society.
The symmetrical family is Young & Willmott's view that in modern day society privatised nuclear families are more equal in the roles that the husbands and wives participate in. The husband does domestic labour and childcare as well as keeping the role as the breadwinner and the wives go to work and have careers as well as caring for the children and participating in domestic labour. The symmetrical nuclear family is becoming more common in modern day society according to Young & Willmott, because of the changes in society such as women’s positions, geographical mobility and new technology that makes house work easier. The symmetrical family can be viewed by the 'march of progress' and from a feminist view, both of which disagree with each other.
The march of progress view is that of which sociologists Young and Willmott agree with. Young and Willmott see the symmetrical family improving and becoming more common in modern day society. The symmetrical family is when the husband and wives do not completely have the same roles but are much more equal in modern day society. Men and women both go out to work, perhaps just a part time job, and bring in an income. This results in a more equal share in domestic labour and childcare at home. Commercialization of house work has made it much easier and quicker; therefore families spend more leisure time together. New technology and services, such as cleaners, dish washers, microwaves and child minders, have made domestic labour and childcare less of a burden so men and women have far less house work to do at home, making the symmetry between husbands and wives in families in modern day society much more prominent. Young and Willmott’s study in 1973 found that in London the symmetrical family was more common amongst young couples who were earning a reasonably high income and were geographically mobile. Couples who earn more money are more likely to afford new technology and services to do the domestic labour for them and even child caring, resulting in a much more equal share in roles between the couple. Also, as the study showed, young couples are much more geographically mobile, meaning they are more able to move to new places where they do not know anyone. This causes the couple to spend more time with each other and more likely to help and support each other whilst moving in and settling so they are more symmetrical in the roles they have between each other.
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Feminists, however, completely disagree with the 'march of progress' view that the symmetrical family exists in modern day society. Feminist sociologists argue that husbands and wives roles within families have not changed and are still unequal, therefore women still do the majority of house work. They blame the inequality on men still dominating society and families. Sociologist Ann Oakley rejected Young and Willmott's 'march of progress' view that families in modern day society are symmetrical. Oakley's study in 1974 showed evidence that husbands helped with house work very little and there was no symmetry within the families. Oakley's study also showed that only 15% of husbands participated in housework and only 25% participated in childcare. Therefore, childcare is more likely to be shared and equal between husbands and wives than housework.
Feminists also argue that the impact of paid work has created a dual burden and a triple shift for women in today’s society instead of leading to a more equal share in domestic labour. Feminists see no evidence of the ’new man’ who would do an equal amount of domestic labour. A third of women who are married or co-habiting are more economically active and less dependent on men’s income and therefore have to handle both domestic labour and paid work, and childcare if they have children. Feminists believe that because of the dual burden and triple shift in today’s society, instead of symmetry between husbands and wives, men now benefit from both women’s incomes and domestic labour.
Another view that suggests the symmetrical nuclear family does not exist in modern day society in is radical feminist Gillian Dunne’s view. Dunne’s view in 1999 was that little has changed in making modern day families more symmetrical due to gender scripts. Gender scripts are norms in society set for different gender roles for the husbands and wives that they are supposed to do. Dunne’s study involved thirty-seven cohabiting lesbian couples who had dependant children. She found that lesbian relationships were more symmetrical and equal than heterosexual relationships. Dunne found this was because lesbian couples interact in a different way to heterosexual couples as heterosexual couples have gender roles and play these roles according to their domestic duties, where as lesbian couples have no gender scripts and are therefore more equal.
An argument that disagrees as well with the view that the symmetrical family exists in today’s society is that joint incomes and pooling create inequality in families. The inequality between men in women is increased because of joint incomes as families do not share money or resources between each other. Elaine Kempson’s study in 1944 emphasises the view that the symmetrical family does not exist in modern day society. The study found that women of low-income families reject their own personal needs, social lives and decreasing the amount they eat because they do not have enough money. Also, women are more likely to spend their own money on their children’s needs instead of themselves, including women of a large income, leaving women with less money than men therefore the couple are unequal and un-symmetrical. Men also take more of a share in the family’s resources and make more of the family decisions because they usually have a higher income than women. Men take control over the family this way by pooling. Pooling is when the parents have a joint bank account, which involves having joint responsibility of how much money they spend and both have access to the income. According to feminist sociologists Jan Pahl and Carolyn Vogler in 1993, the amount of couples pooling is increasing, suggesting that the symmetrical family is not common in modern day society. Their studies showed a 31% increase of pooling between couples, mainly among those where both of the partners had a full-time job. Despite this, men still made the majority of the financial and leisure decisions of the family making the family un-symmetrical.
In conclusion, one believes that the symmetrical family does not exist in modern day society because, as studies show, the vast majority of couples are not equal in the roles they share and the financial and general leisure decisions that are made that effect the family because of pooling. Also, as feminists studies show, women are now taking on a dual burden or triple shift and men benefit from both their wives’ incomes, housework and child care. However, there is little evidence that the symmetrical family does exist in modern day society as Young and Willmott show in their studies because of the commercialisation of housework and childcare.