A second functionalist, Murdock, would encourage a nuclear family because a necessary function of the family is reproduction, where the nuclear family unit is the best form for reproduction of future productions. This is because the husband can support his wife and their baby. Economically, Murdock thought the family was a necessary unit of food and shelter for the individual. The item supports this by saying that ‘Murdock saw the family as meeting its member’s economic needs’. With husband and wife working as a team e.g the husband earning the money for the food, the wife buying and cooking the food, it seems the unit was very efficient in keeping their children and each-other safe from starvation or homelessness. With only one parent, it could be quite hard to support the family. Such criticisms of his theory are the success of lone-parent families in passing on the norms and values of society, preserving society’s collective conscience. Most lone-parent families bring up happy, healthy children and turn to grandparents or other relatives to help with housework and childcare. Families like this get a lot of support from the state in the form of free nurseries and benefits.
However New Right would say that this support from the state is often misused by people in lone-parent families, Charles Murray argues that these families form an underclass of society. After the rise in lone-parent families in the 80s they were blamed as causing within society like youth crime (e.g London Riots), educational underachievement and teenage pregnancy. They say that this is because of lone-parent families providing poor discipline in the home and poor socialisation, for instance the lack of male role models. New Right say that the nuclear family is more desirable because it provides a child with all these things i.e stronger discipline and better socialisation.
However according to the Rapoports the conventional family no longer makes up the majority, in fact 35% are couple only households and 10% are lone parent households. This change has occurred due to a number of factors.
Allan and Crow identify how a growing trend of diversity has arisen from a changes in marriage and divorce patterns. They say that people now follow an unpredictable pattern of cohabitaion, marriage, divorce, periods living alone and re-marriage. There are now so many different family forms and relationships that has led to different family forms e.g reconstituted family and shared households.
People are now living longer, thanks to a number of advances in health services. These demographic changes also shape the family structure that we live in today. This is because of a rising number of dependent the ageing population, elderly relatives who help with childcare and need family support. This leads to classic or modified extended family. And this is leading to what is called the beanpole family.
There has also been changes in law and social attitudes which have changed the typical family forms. As in the item, there has been a rise in the number of same-sex couples, following the legalisation of civil relationships (2008) which had changed the social attitudes to same-sex relationships. According to Weekes these families have a greater degree of choice as their relationship is more egalitarian. Also changed through social attitudes is the growing acceptance of cohabitation. In today’s society cohabitation is common-place.
Changes in the position of women has also affected social attitudes and therefore the family forms in society. The Rapoports claim that there has been a significant increase in the number of women as breadwinner. Young and Willmott, both Postmodernists, say that this has led to an increasing number of ‘symmetrical families’ where the conjugal roles are shared, moving away from the classic nuclear family which gives partners equal opportunity to take on the instrumental or expressive role. Feminists would support this because it gives women more choice and the ability to move out of the expressive role, which some find oppressive.
Also, changes in welfare support bring a greater diversity to the family. New Right Conservative politicians claim that there has been a rise in single parenthood as an effect of welfare benefits. This view is associated with Charles Murray, who claimed that lone mothers on benefits constituted as the underclass. But on the other hand state welfare is unlikely to cause the development of lone-parent families. This is because, as claimed by Perry, being in a lone-parent family does not give an advantage over others seeking council housing and also that lone parents have a low standard of living. Alan and Crow further state that welfare support for lone-parent families is often a temporary situation, with the parent hoping to lose the necessity of the benefits soon.
A rise in immigration has led to more ethnic diversity. And this has led to a change in family structures because these different ethnic groups have different lifestyles. For instance, Ballard claims that South Asian families live in patriarchal nuclear families where marriage is highly valued. However in Britain these families adapt and conform to the culture with women finding work outside the home and families being split into smaller domestic groups. Furthermore, Driver has found that west Indian families in Britain may appear to be nuclear, but are in fact mother-centred. In these families the man has no role, no job and no work to do inside the home. Bertoud found that Afro-Caribbean women were choosing to raise their children without a husband, they saw Afro-Caribbean men as an unreliable source of income.
A general rise in secularisation can also effect the diversity of family structures. This decline in the religious significance on society can lead to more children outside of marriage, an increase in same sex families and an increase on divorce as marriage loses its value, which of course leads to a rise in lone parent-hood.
Whilst diversity in family structure is evident, the nuclear family still exists and is seen by the government as the most desirable and acceptable. Chester says the family has adapted to become neo-conventional. Sommerville-item Supported by Chester.
Kelda Leevers 12A