Is the Nuclear Family universal?

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Is the Nuclear Family Universal?

A nuclear family is a family that consists of two cohabiting parents in a sexual relationship with children. The parents must be heterosexual as this is ‘socially acceptable’, a nuclear family does not have to contain a certain amount of children and the children may be adopted or step children. The nuclear family can also contain an extended family such as a spouse of the children or a grandparent. This idea was first developed by Murdock who believed the nuclear family was universal.

George Peter Murdock was a Sociologist who was prominent around 1940 onwards when he developed his ‘nuclear family’ idea which he believed to be universal. The nuclear is a unit of people living together and this could be considered universal as most countries and cultures raise their children within their own household. Murdock was one of the first sociologists to propose the idea of a nuclear family and applied it to all cultures proclaiming it was universal. Economic cooperation, common residence and reproduction are the main points of the nuclear family and Murdock believed all these things applied to families around the world. A sexual relationship was a point Murdock thought was important, within most societies there are rules that limit sexual relationships or even forbid them before marriage. Sexual relationships provide sexual gratification for both adults in the relationship. This makes the family stronger as the strong emotions sex creates helps bring them closer together. Not only this, but it helps strengthen society as the disruptive effects that would result is there was a free for all helps to unite people. This function applied to most societies making it a universal feature of the nuclear family. Another aspect of the theory is reproduction, without reproduction society would collapse because there would be no future generations. Sexual relationships being the means of reproduction this links in to the idea of marriage and socially approved relationships.

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 Economic cooperation is another key part of the nuclear family in that it is a unit of production or consumption. In the past families worked together to produce food on farms, in more recent years this has changed in that families are a unit of consumption. Consumption is still a means of providing for the family but it involves buying and using services to provide for the family. These are both universal aspects of a family in that a family provides for itself through earning or working. The educational process also begins within a family; after you are born ...

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The quality of writing is of a high standard. Spelling is accurate and the use of some punctuation is effective in demonstrating that the writer is aware of sociological key terms. This is because the essay uses quotation marks to show that a sociologist has developed this concept: “nuclear family”. The only minor comment I would make would be to perhaps use more varied punctuation. For example, “Sexual relationships being the means of reproduction this links in to the idea of marriage and socially approved relationships”, could be improved by inserting a hyphen: “Sexual relationships being the means of reproduction - this links in to the idea of marriage and socially approved relationships”. This just ensures that the essay makes more grammatical sense.

The writer uses sociological terminology in context frequently; however I feel that this could be used with regard to Functionalism, improving the essay to the highest standard which can be expected at GCSE level. For example when the writer refers to concepts such as “primary socialisation” and “economic cooperation” they could explain that these are Functionalist ideas, and that Murdock is a Functionalist. This is because he indeed sees the nuclear family as universal, as they all provide these concepts. The writer has made cross-cultural comparisons to argue against the idea that the nuclear family is universal. They have successfully done this by providing examples of other family types, for example the Kibbutz in Israel, and then relating this back to the norms we have in the UK. This shows that they have an awareness of other societies and cultures, and that they have different norms and values to what we do in the UK. Most candidates tend to forget that they need to apply theories to other peoples/places around the globe, so this writer should be credited for their multitude of examples. But they should more explicitly use the terms “norms and values” as this is essentially the reason that we have a variety of families – not just the nuclear. In doing this I feel it would demonstrate and crystallise their understanding of sociology.

This question has been answered fairly well for a GCSE candidate. The writer evidently has a sound understanding which is shown particularly with multiple references to Murdock, who is a key sociologist in the field of the family as a universal institution. Murdock’s ideas are referred to (or criticised) throughout the essay, which is useful to do as it shows that the writer has understood the question being set, as they can apply his theory to other families in different societies. This shows that the writer can evaluate, by providing modern examples of families that disprove the “nuclear family is universal” theory. The essay is well structured, with a good introduction and conclusion, which makes it clear and easy to read.