Why family formations have changed in Britain.
Sociology Assignment Two-Sociology of the Family.
Explain how and why have family formations changed in Britain?
Family formations have significantly changed since the late 1960’s. Many sociologists have their own theories on why families are important and the functions a family should maintain.
Functionalists believe that the main function of the family is to perform vital functions for society to survive. The family has essential functions which it must perform to meet the basic needs of society and its members. G.P Murdock (1949) states that the family performs four basic functions. Sexual-The family provides and controls sexual access to its family members. Reproductive-The family members reproduce at a child bearing age in order for society to have new members. Economic-the family should provide a warm and loving home with the basis needs in order to survive such as food and warmth. The family also teaches us social norms and values needed for economic co-operation. Education-The family sends their children to school which is needed to provide socialisation skills which are essential to pass on to the next generation. Functionalism stresses the positive role of the family. The family is seen as a universal institute that has a key relationship between other social institutes. Functionalists see the male and female roles as being set. The male is the sole breadwinner of the family and the wife stays at home and takes care of the house household duties and the children.
Functionalists have been criticised for concentrating on harmony to much and not recognising that conflict can occur within the family. Functionalism sees society as being status-quo (the way things are) and does not allow for change. The view of the family as ‘normal’ or ‘natural’ is said to be ideological.
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Marxist’s theory on the family emphasizes the conflict and equalities and, in particular the dominance of the economy over other institutions such as the family. The nature of the family is determined by the economic system. In modern society the family seems the main interest of capitalism. Marxist’s believe that the family provides a steady supply of workers to the economy free of charge. Marxist’s also believe that the key function of the family is to provide socialisation skills to their children and teach them the correct discipline and the correct attitudes of obedience to survive in society. The family provides a ‘safety valve’ a release from alienation and oppression at work or in school, thereby allowing the oppression to continue.
Marxist’s theory for the family is said to be based on western society and does not recognise that there are many variations of the family worldwide. Marxists have been criticised for not being able to explain the similarities of family structures in different societies.
New rights had the most influential changes in the law leading to a lot of changes in today’s family. New rights believe that the heterosexual marriage between two-parents is needed for social stability. The women and man have separate roles based on their biology. New rights are strong believers in two parent families and believe that strong discipline is needed in order to prevent the collapse of social order. Any other family formations are seen as being deviant against society therefore being a threat. New rights are concerned bout the supposed current disintegration of family life resulting from co-habitation and single parent families. Some of the changes in the law which new rights campaigned for are the child support agency in 1993 which intended to get absent fathers o take responsibility for their children. In 1988 the change in the taxation law also meant that benefits were withdrawn from 16-18 year olds forcing parents to maintain unemployed teenagers. Marxists criticise new rights as being an ideological justification for capitalism.
The feminists approach to the family is one of the most influential theories in sociology.
Feminism is a conflict approach to this sociological theory. Feminists believe that the family serves the interest of patriarch. Family has the strongest factor of female oppression as the women’s role in the family is already presumed. Women are oppressed by capitalism. Women provide unpaid work but also provide a reserve army of cheap and temporary workers who can be engage as sacked as and when they are needed by the economy. All feminists agree that women re exploited in some ways in society and more so in the home. Oppression of the women is a result of male dominance through biology and physical strength. Feminists view the traditional nuclear family as being around male power and supporting male power. Feminists believe that it was the industrialisation period that put a women’s place in the home.
New rights have criticised feminists for undermining traditional family values. Feminists assume that all families have a male head who dominates the rest of the household and feminism tends to focus too much on the negative aspects of family life. Because feminism has been a political agenda, feminists have over estimated the extent of family equality.
Patterns of family formation and dissolution have dramatically changed since the late 1960’s. Then the traditional family consisted of family unit containing two generations, parents and children, also known as the nuclear family. In the 1960’s this was the only type of family that was deemed as normal and any other type of family was seen as being deviant. In modern society there is no such thing as a ‘normal’ family. This is largely due to a number of changes in the law. Now in modern day Britain other family families such as single parent and symmetrical families are becoming evermore common. One of the main effects on the change families in Britain is the divorce rates. In the early 1960's a divorce was hard to obtain. You could only get divorced on the grounds of irretrievable breakdown. Divorce was also quite costly and was very rare then. Now you can get divorced for a number of reasons and divorce does not seem anything other than ordinary. The rate of divorce has more than doubled over the last century. The first and second world war seen the beginning of increase in divorce rates. This I because married couples were separated for long periods of times which led to a change in conjugal roles and the wife having to take on more responsibility. Social attitudes towards divorce have also changed and have now become more acceptable. Cockett and Tripp (1994) claim that ‘divorce has now become a normal part of family experiences’. Other reasons for the increase of divorce are individualisation and freedom. Gibson (1994) argues that modern society emphasises individual satisfaction, achievement and freedom. This is largely influenced by the change in male and female roles. Another change in family formations is the number of working moms and stay at home dad. Changes in the law meant that this was possible as a couple could claim state benefits for a family regardless to whom was bringing in the income. The 1960’s law’s only allowed you to claim benefits if the father was absent and did not allow for married couples to claim state benefits. Another reason for the change in family structures is the increase in pregnancy rate. Abortion has become more frequents as well as the number of teenagers having unplanned babies. This, therefore leading to the increase of cohabiting couples without marriage. Abortion is easily planned and advised about, whereas before you could only be advised on family planning once you reached the age of 16.
Another family that is now commonly known in Britain is the gay marriage. Changes in the law allowed for same sex marriage to be seen as legal when carried out by a civil service. This change in law seen the beginning of same sex families being able to adopt and nurture children as their own. Also the rise of the cereal packet family has become ever familiar due to the increase in divorce rates. Couples divorce then find themselves in another relationship with a partner that already has children. The male usually takes this role then raises their partners children as their own.
The dominance of Conjugal roles has also had a big influence in the change in family formation and family roles. In 1975 Anne Oakley conducted a survey on 40 married women. She found that women took a lead in household duties as well as childcare, and males had the stereotypical role as worker. Women did not expect husbands to share roles as it was seen as a normal way of living. Today there is a significant difference in conjugal roles and what society expects the role of a man to be. In 1984, 1991, and 1997 another survey was carried out by the British Social Attitudes and found that household duties were more shared, and women had become more involved in traditional men’s work such as household jobs. Joint conjugal roles are now more popular, this is where a husband and wife both share roles and make decisions together.
In summary I think it can be said that there is a large number of reasons and factors that have contributed to the change in family formations in Britain. Not only has the changes in the law participated in his but the ever changing attitude of society has been a great influence. Britain is now more tolerant to the number of different family structures therefore allowing families to develop and change.
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