Critically examine the Functionalist idea that the nuclear family exists for the benefit of everyone.

Authors Avatar

Critically examine the Functionalist idea that the nuclear family exists for the benefit of everyone

The Functionalist sociologist, Murdock (1949) defined the family as a social group characterised by common residence, economic co-operation and reproduction. He claimed it must include adults of both sexes of whom maintain a socially accepted sexual relationship, and own or adopted, of the sexually cohabiting adults. Murdock’s definition is focuses on the Nuclear family stereotypically made up of a two-generation family: heterosexual couple with offspring. This definition of the family is popular among right wing sociologists who believe it is the ideal type of family unit that people should aspire to have. They argue this because they believe the nuclear family is the best type of family for the individual and for society. This is why they encourage it and regard it as the most beneficial family structure. They believe that it is the nuclear family unit by which the process of socialisation is transmitted at it’s strongest with the most benefit for society.  

However, functionalists tend to see the family as harmonious but this is simply not the case in society today. Feminist criticise the functionalist view on the nuclear family by arguing that the nuclear family doesn’t suit everyone within the family unit and is more damaging than it is beneficial. Sociologists use the term ‘the dark side’ to refer to the negative side of the family that challenges the functionalist idea of the ‘happy family’ with accounts of child abuse domestic violence and divorce rate.  Feminists, such as Elliot (1996) point out that there is a 'dark side' of the modern-day family. The "dark side" of the family is found in the patterns of abuse and family violence that often occur within it. Feminists argue it is based around the principles that the family contains a large amount of psychological harm for women, women do the majority of housework, even today, women do the majority of emotional work and there are lots of instances of sexual and domestic abuse of women in the family context.  Elliot states that male dominance is the key cause of abuse of both women and children within the family. She suggests that this is based on two linked factors, that male dominance is supported by physical force and that men simply ‘cannot help their actions’. Elliot argues that the nuclear family, as a construction of masculinity puts women at constant risk of sexual harassment, that male sexual fidelity is all but impossible, and that children are at risk of sexual abuse unless men are regularly ‘serviced’. This implies that the dark side of the family is, in fact the most dominant factor of family life which is most common in nuclear family units. The ‘dark side’ of the family does not benefit anyone and is extremely damaging to society as a whole and individual families.

Join now!

Secondly, Functionalists believe the family structure allocates people to family and occupational roles which make the best use of their talents and abilities. Parson’s argued that mothers were essential in playing the major role in the process of nurturing and socialization in families. He argues that mothers are ‘biologically’ suited to looking after the emotional and cultural development of children and play the ‘expressive leaders’ of the family, dealing with the domestic and nurturing side of the family life.

However, feminist sociologist, Beechey (1986) states that in society, the family is often seen as natural, and goes ...

This is a preview of the whole essay

Here's what a teacher thought of this essay


This essay would score 5/5 stars. It contains breadth (lots of studies and named sociologists) and depth (it explains each one well). The candidate scores well on application(sticking to the question) and also gives plenty of evaluation (criticism).