Since the Industrial revelation the nuclear family has been recognised as the norm of British society, but did it exist before within the extended family

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Since the Industrial revelation the nuclear family has been recognised as the norm of British society, but did it exist before within the extended family?

The pre- industrial family was said to be an extended family consisting of three generations, the children, parents and the grandparents. The family would all work together in the farms to help provide for the entire families needs, children as young a 5 or 6 would have been found work to do. However this was until the Industrial revolution when factories become the main source of work and development. The pre-industrial societies were largely based on extended kinship networks; land and other resources were commonly owned by a range of relatives that extended well beyond the unit of the nuclear family. It was very common for families to work alongside their cousins and even live with them. This extended family was responsible for the production of the shelter, food and clothing for the family. Roles in the family were usually ascribed to the offspring rather than being achieved. These roles would hardly ever be rejected and in return for this commitment, the extended network would perform other functions for the members. The family gave its members the skills and the education in which to take their place in the family division of labour. The family functioned to maintain health for its members, as there was no universal health care, they also provided welfare; those in the family who would make it to old age would have been cared for in exchange for childcare services.

Then came the industrial revolution. Parsons believed that the industrial revolution brought about the dramatic change from the extended family to the nuclear and three fundamental changes to society.

Industrialisation brought the geographically mobile workforce and no longer was the ascription of jobs important, instead achievement became the main and most important method once education had been introduced. Parsons believed that the separation of extended families caused nuclear families to be formed in order to take advantage of the new job opportunities that had been brought about. He also argued that the second fundamental change to the family was that they no longer needed to produce their own materials and food as specialised agencies gradually took over and the home and workplace became separate as people became wage earners. The state eventually took over the functions of education, health and welfare and so consequently the nuclear family was able to specialise in child centred functions like socialisation. Thirdly Parson also argued that the new nuclear unit provided the husband and wife with very cleaver social roles. The man was the “instrumental leader”, who was responsible for the economic welfare of the family group, and goes out and earns money, while the female was seen as the “expressive leader”, primarily responsible for the socialisation of the children and the emotional care and support of family members. Parsons concluded that only the nuclear family could effectively provide the achievement-orientation and geographically mobile workforce required by modern societies and that there is a functional fit between the extended family and pre-industrial Britain (having to grow food for family etc.) and the nuclear family in industrial Britain.

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However there were many criticisms of Parsons view. Historians suggested Parsons to be far too simplistic in his interpretation of the historic family. They point out evidence that suggests industrialisation may have followed different patterns in different industrial societies. The study of English parish records shows that only 10% of households in pre-industrial Britain contained extended kin, so most families may have been nuclear and not extended as Parsons claimed. Young and Wilmot take issue with Parsons over the speed of change and they believe that the movement towards the nuclear was not as sudden as he had claimed but ...

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