How the family changed over time

8 August 2016

How the family has changed over time? The institution of the family has changed dramatically over last 50 years and the main sociological perspectives, functionalism, Marxism, feminism and interactionism have described this changes in terms of family structure, divorce rates, marriage rate and gender roles. Defining family in Britain is problematic as until 1960’s few sociologists questioned the importance of the benefits of the family. Family is a group of people living together related by blood or marriage who support themselves economically and emotionally.

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It was assumed that the family was evolving with the change in Britain. From the 1960’s , with increasing divorce rates, living together before marriage, single parent families, one person households , separation and migration, family traditionally seen as nuclear (based on two adults and children) became harder to define. Sociologists have concluded that the family has become harder to define in the more traditional sense. A family can now consist of any group of people living together and/or bringing up children.

This could separate due to divorce and another family created through remarriage or cohabitation, with the introduction of step children or children born to the new parentage resulting in another family unit although the first one still technically exists. There are two basic types of family structure: extended and nuclear. Functionalists say industrialization changed the function of the family. In pre-industrial society the extended family was most prevalent. Families lived and collaborated in engendering goods and crops to live from, taking the surplus to market.

In industrial society, the nuclear family becomes ascendant. Status for an individual in pre-industrial society was ascribed. Talcott Parsons (1956) presumed that in industrial society an individual’s status is achieved by their prosperity. The nuclear family is the best way to achieve prosperity as individuals. Family structure adapts to the changing circumstances. Changes in economic, political, and moral approach led to the transformation of the family structure.

Postmodern times in which we live in a time of tolerance, emancipation of women, legalization and acceptance of homosexual relationships. All these changes meant that more and more people moved away from the traditional model of the family, universal fifty years ago. Statistics indicate an increasing number of households about 9. 2 million since 1961 but that is due to the increase amount of the divorce, migration, remarried people, single people and increase in length of life.

At the same time the increase amount of households decreased their size and the average number of children due to widespread access to the contraception, abortion, aging population and costs associated with children’s maintenance. More women are also delaying having children because they focusing on work and education seeing role of the mother as a barrier. It is related to ‘child centric’ model of the family, which learn society to treat children’s as the most ‘precious’ , whom one must completely conform their lives to them . Most mothers deciding to give a birth at age 30-34.

Although, life style changes have also caused decrease in married couples amount which is also related to religious approach, because from 1981, when only 49% of all marriages were civil marriages, at 2010, already 68,2 % of all marriages where civil marriages. However, married couple are still the most common type of the family. The functionalist view of the role of the family in society is that it maintains social order for benefits of all. The family is a tool for primary socialization and a key social institution in sustaining the value consensus (Harambolos 2008).Murdock (1949) claimed that family was universal. It is defined as a social group characterised by common residence, economic co-operation and reproduction. A family lives in the same home, has economic co-operation usually through the division of labour where the man will take on the instrumental role and provide for the family while the woman will adopt the expressive role and take care of the home and family members. Unfortunately, that’s the most common image of division of labour for as much, men, are more likely to help at housework or child care presently, it still seen as a responsibility of women.

Marxists would contest this viewpoint, arguing that the division of labour is capitalist dogma used to control the labour force and stop them from developing class consciousness. Marxism looks at the methods of control of the ruling class (bourgeoisie) in determining the way society is organised. The family is seen as part of the structure of society and is one of a number of social institutions which helps maintain the capitalists system. Marxists state that it is the requirements of the system that has come to shape the family in modern societies.

From this perspective view, society revolves around the infrastructure and social superstructure. The family helps to maintain this system. Friedrich Engels (1884) provides a basis for the Marxist view of the family were strongly linked to the evolution of the capitalist system. He also explored the concept of monogamy and argued that the monogamous nuclear family developed with the emergence of private ownership of the ‘means of production’. Engels stated that this system is maintained by the socialisation of capitalist social norms and values.

Marxists do not see this as benefitting the family at all, only the system, and therefore this helps support their theory that family exists as a largely negative institution. Both of these sociological perspective see the role of the family in the opposite way, but in the meantime both of them describing family as a unit of socialization. On the other hand functionalists assume that the family is a positive and beneficial institution in which family members receive nurturing, care and unconditional love which helps keep society functioning well.

However, this is not always the case, when it comes to domestic violence, divorce and child abuse. All couples and families who were nuclear families or had potential to be were being ruined each day, providing that the functionalist’s view of a beneficial family was much overestimated. In comparison, Marxists state that family helps to maintain class differences in society as the rich can afford to give their children a better start in life than the poor, such as. pay for a better education, and get them a good job either in their own business or their friends business.

Marxists believe the family socializes the working class to accept that it is fair that the classes are unequal. A different view on the family, presented by Feminists, focuses also on socialization but sees its effects in division of labour and gender role stereotyping. They states that family is bad for women. Girls and boys learn their different gender roles within the family through socialization. Girls copy their mothers, doing housework, whilst boys copy their fathers, doing DIY. They then learn that this is how male and female roles should be.

Feminists believe that the family is male dominated- the term for this is patriarchal. Their theory is still relevant nowadays, because although more women are having careers it’s still expected from them to take care of children’s and home. Perceptions of roles is so deeply rooted in society that, despising the false image of a woman liberated, having range of capabilities which can freely pursue her dreams when in the end ,is still required from her to perform, in the meantime, the role of housewife.

In contrast, interactionist state that the family assists in the construction of the identity for the social individual and looks at the society at a micro scale. In this perspective the family, through interaction helps the social individual to understand ‘self’ when feminists could argue that vision of how one should look like and behave originates from socialization. They also believe that family helps the social individual identify her/his social role without considering how institutions, class conflict and gender stereotyping influence on creation of those roles.

In Great Britain the family is built on the concept of marriage with children had a very well-established position but during last century divorce rates increased 200%. Which is also reflected in the number of separations reported annually by 150,000 to 200,000 pairs per year. Some researchers place the cause of increased divorce on higher expectations (Fletcher, 1966). And given the rates of remarriage it is not the institution of marriage, or the ideology picturing lifelong happiness that is rejected, but an insufficient partner.

(Denny1984) regards western style marriages based on romantic love as fragile because they are only held together by emotional ties. Another reason why divorce rates increased is that now considerably less social stigma and blame is attached to divorce. One of the main reasons for this phenomenon are changes in divorce law making it much easier to divorce now then for example 50 years ago. Statistics show that the number of children in divorcing couples declined from 153,000 to 104,000. However, this data does not take into account cohabitating couples whose separation is not recorded.

The amount of cohabiting couples has increased significantly in recent years. In the majority of relationships still the most important are children’s. The average time spent with children nowadays by mothers is 2h 32 minutes and by fathers 2h 16 minutes when 50 years ago that that was only 25 minutes per day for both parent. Currently fathers are more involved in bringing up children, and the belief in the society that children are an extension of us and their success is our success modernized power image of the families. Is widely spread on the increasing number of single fathers to 178,000 from 60,000 from 1670. This shows how evolved the role of the father in the family. Increasingly, we find also reconstituted families where the connection partners cohabitation or marriage jointly raise children from a previous relationship. That happens because of the increased amounts of divorce and remarriage trends. Humans as far didn’t create any more successful structure than family. But is nowadays family a well-functioning institution ? Very big influence on how present family looks like has mass media which are creating image how does family should look like which society is fallowing.

Traditional family model become a consumption unit which glorifies children and parents are responsibility to make them happy and fulfill their all desires. All values and norms changed dramatically over time and people lost respect to institution like marriage. In conclusion family is still a basic part of the society but it evolved creating new forms of it. References: Haramolos, M & Holborn, M (2008) 7th Ed. Sociology, themes and perspectives, Harper Collins: London Scott,J. & Marshall, G (2009) Oxford dictionary of sociology , Oxford University Press: Oxford

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