The Family has long been considered by Sociologists as absolutely essential to Society and crucial to the way in which society runs.

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     The Family has long been considered by Sociologists as absolutely essential to Society and crucial to the way in which society runs. There are, of course many definitions of what constitutes a family, what its basic functions are and whether or not it is a positive or negative entity. In the light of G.P. Murdock's quote that " no society has succeeded in finding an adequate substitute for the Nuclear Family ... it is highly doubtful whether any society will ever succeed in such an attempt."1  It becomes necessary to clarify what exactly a Nuclear Family is, what the Functionalist Perspective of the family is and how it came into being.

      The Nuclear Family is generally assumed to be the most prevalent family type in most societies. It is a two generational family consisting of a Father and Mother, usually husband and wife, and their children. This type of family structure obviously does not apply to everyone but Functionalists would suggest that this is the most desirable state for a family to function in, indeed many other family types would be seen as dysfunctional.

      The Functionalist approach views the family in a positive light. It assumes that if any function exists then it exists for a reason, that reason being the performance of positive functions for society in general and the individual in particular. How effective a family works is judged on how able that family is at carrying out certain functions, deemed to be essential to society. These functions include the reproduction of the species, the socialisation of the young, caring for the emotional needs of its members and the stabilisation of adult personalities.

      The arrival to the conclusion that the family performs essential functions is chiefly the work of two early functionalist thinkers, George Peter Murdock and Talcott Parsons. Murdock undertook a study of 250 societies and concluded that some form of Nuclear Family existed in every society and it was on this evidence that led him to make the claim that the family is universal. The basic functions of the family in every society, according to Murdock were sexual, reproductive, economic and socialisation/education Murdock was of the opinion that the families universality was a gauge of its importance in performing these functions.

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      The changing face of society negated many of Murdock's claims and Talcott Parsons has argued that industrialisation brought with it the process of  " Stuctural Differentation."  and that many of the functions Murdock spoke of are now taken over by specialist Institutions such as Schools and the Health services. According to Parsons the family still has what he called " Two basic irreducible functions." which are " The primary socialisation of the young." and " The stabilisation of adult personalities."2 These functions are essential for the maintenance of society and the nuclear family is the ideal social structure ...

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