Decline of nuclear family

Authors Avatar

Is the nuclear family in decline?

The family is an integral part of the social structure, responsible for primary socialisation of the next generation of society, an important unit of economic consumption and a stabilising influence on its members. Over recent years there has been intense debate about the decline of the nuclear family as an institution and the consequences of this decline for society as a whole. There are many factors cited as evidence of a marked decline of the traditional nuclear family, these will be examined below.

Many social commentators argue that the family is vital to harmony and consensus in society. Functionalists view the nuclear family as being the ideal family form to promote the social integration, satisfaction, value consensus and social solidarity necessary to hold society together. Therefore any perceived changes to the nuclear family tend to be seen as having a negative impact on social order as other family forms are not seen as being as effective in providing the necessary functions for society’s existence.

The New Right also take this view and claim that the emergence of an underclass with single parenthood, particularly female headed households, the dominant family form poses a considerable threat to society as we know it. They argue that single parenthood transmits deviant norms and values through inadequate socialisation by only one parent. Their argument even extends to claiming that the children of the lower socio-economic classes possess inferior intelligence to their higher socio-economic class (and properly socialised by functional two parent families) counterparts. The single mother is treated as problematic. The New Right stereotype of the single mother as possessing inferior morals, as having strings of casual relationships with resulting illegitimate off-spring and too young to rise to the challenge of parenthood is countered by evidence painting quite a different picture of the typical single mother. Single motherhood is often a temporary and transitional phase between separation and divorce and remarriage. It is generally not a permanent state, but the result of marital or relationship breakdown. Gans argued that there is very little evidence to support the New Right’s claims that single parenthood is connected to deviancy and the DSS survey found that 90% of single parents did not want to be in receipt of benefits and 55% would be encouraged into work if there was adequate provision for day care.

Join now!

The idealism of these approaches is countered by many social scientists who believe that the nuclear family can be extremely damaging for its members. Radical psychologist R. D. Laing lays the blame for serious psychiatric conditions such as schizophrenia, squarely on the shoulders of the nuclear family. He and others who share his views see the family as an oppressive force in the lives of its members. Cooper even suggests that only a complete change of how society performs the job of raising its next generation can improve the lives of individuals and the oppressed masses. Whilst these views ...

This is a preview of the whole essay