Assess the claim that the family has become increasingly symmetrical

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Assess the claim that the family has become increasingly symmetrical

        In the traditional nuclear family, the domestic divisions of labour of the husband and wife are segregated and independent from one another. The domestic division of labour refers to the roles that men and women play in relation to housework, childcare and paid work. The segregation of labour roles means that traditionally the man or husband would do heavy work such as household repairs whereas the woman would do cooking and cleaning. Conjugal roles are the relationships between husband and wife in a marriage. A conjugal role is the jobs duties and responsibilities the marriage partners take on and perform in the home. A number of sociological theorists such as Ann Oakley and Willmott and Young now reject this trend and argue that the family is becoming increasingly symmetrical. However others would disagree to this for example Dobash and Dobash believe the male still has firm control over all important decisions and over his wife.

        Michael Young and Peter Willmott studied families in London’s Bethnal Green in 1973. They found that family roles are now becoming symmetrical and that the men do their fair share of domestic work. They see this as representing ‘increased personal democracy’ in the family. Willmott and Young take a ‘march of progress’ perspective on the family and its history. The family is viewed as a progressively improving situation for all members and that is becoming more equal and democratic. They also argue that for a while now the trend has been a movement away from segregated conjugal roles and towards joint roles where everyone helps in a ‘symmetrical family’. Willmott and Young’s definition of a symmetrical family is one where although not equal, the husband and wife roles are far more similar, this is because couples are now spending far more leisure time together whereas before the man would have gone to the pub or working men’s club and wife would have looked after children or socialised with other housewives or relatives. They are now more ‘home centred or privatised’. An increasing percentage of women are wage earners whether it is part or full-time work. Women are also freer to go out on their own and socialise while a husband will stay at home with children.

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 In their study, Willmott and Young generally found that the symmetrical family was most common in affluent, geographically and socially isolated young couples. For example couples who moved out of Bethnal green and away from family influences were more likely to be in a symmetrical relationship and that conjugal roles would be joint. Willmott and Young put this increase in equality down to significant changes in society in the last 100 years. Firstly a change in women’s position in society, geographical mobility with couples moving away from areas they grew up in, technological advances changing the home and higher standards ...

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Overall the essay needs more post-modern evidence and also needs to consider family structure in other societies other than Britain.