Theories on the Family

Authors Avatar by han1201 (student)

Sociology B Assessment

In sociology the topic of the family is important because of the role it has in society. Three theories in sociology that give an account of the role and purpose that the family has in society are functionalism, Marxism and feminism. Each theory has strengths and weaknesses as well as research studies that support their argument.

   Functionalism, which is a consensus theory, describes the family as having its role or function within society. Functionalists normally assume that if a social institution is evident then it must have a role or function in coordinating with other institutions such as schools to help society work. Functionalists argue that all societies need these institutions as they are functional prerequisites which exist in almost every society. The family is looked at in terms of its functions being beneficial for society and the individual. The ideal family in the functionalists perspective is the ‘nuclear family’, husband and wife living with children in one household. One of the main roles the family has in functionalists theory is primary socialization. It is through this socialization process taking place during the early years of childhood when children are taught norms and social roles within the family. Primary socialization involves the internalization of society's culture and the structuring of the personality (Parsons, 1955). Also another role in the family is the stabilisation of personalities, were in members of the family provide each other with emotional support. The family for functionalists also has a role in the continuation of society, as the family provides a basis for reproduction in which the next generation is produced. A strength of the functionalist perspective on the family is that some form of family can be found in nearly every society and the nuclear family is still the most common form of the family even though there has been various changes in the family unit in the last couple of decades. The nuclear family, which functionalists believe is the best type of family for society, have the strongest financial position amongst the different type of families, with single parent households which functionalist see as being at a dysfunction to society have the weakest financial position.

    The functionalists theory of the family has been criticised by both Marxist and feminists. One of the criticisms from both perspectives is that functionalism only sees the family in a positive manner and ignores negative aspects of the family such as domestic abuse and divorce. A specific criticism from the feminist perspectives is that the allocation of roles in the family, such as housewife, limits female employment opportunities. A specific criticism from the Marxist perspective is that the functionalist view of the family supports the superstructure of the ruling classes and therefore  benefits capitalism. They also believe that the family socialises its members to accept the false consciousness, that capitalism is good for all, even though it exploits the working classes.

Join now!

    A study that supports the functionalist theory on the family is that of Wilmot and Young (1973),the Symmetrical Family. The research studied changes in the family structure using historical and survey evidence. The research was carried out in London between the 1950s and 1970s. The study showed the gradual change in family structures by industrialisation and a changing economy as well as other wider social changes. In the study Wilmot and Young(1973) identified three stages in the development of the family. Stage one was the pre industrial family, where the family would work together on the land to ...

This is a preview of the whole essay