The Function of the Nuclear Family

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The extended family predominated pre-industrially because of the need for a large family to help tend the land or look after those who were unable to do so. Infant mortality was high so you had to produce more children to be sure of having enough help. The family were a unit of production producing only the goods needed to survive and trading the remainder. Following the Industrial Revolution in the late 19th century, it was replaced by the nuclear family which was a unit of consumption as family members became wage earners and families needed to become more geographically mobile and move to where they could find work. Functionalists emphasise the harmonious nature of the nuclear family, believing it provides a more stable environment for the family and its individual members but also for society as a whole. It draws attention to the positive aspects of family life, fitting in with many people’s experience and expectation of the family as somewhere they are safe and cared for. Functionalists see the father taking an instrumental role, supporting the family by earning a wage with the mother taking the expressive role, caring, nurturing and taking main responsibility for the home and childcare. New Right agrees segregated conjugal roles are human nature and are reinforced by society’s norms and values. A criticism is that it focuses on the nuclear family to the exclusion of other family types that can be just as successful. Feminists Dobash & Dobash (????) and Bryson (1992) criticise functionalism for ignoring negative aspects of the nuclear family and the ‘dark side’ - domestic violence, child abuse and mental illness occurring as a consequence of unequal power relationships within the home and how the ‘housewife’ role wa... ... middle of paper ... ...from violence and abuse. Children are now entitled to have much more of a say in their futures such as in residency cases where the Court will give consideration to the child’s wishes. “The family is a social group characterised by common residence, economic co-operation and reproduction. It includes adults of both sexes, at least two of whom maintain a socially approved sexual relationship, and one or more children, own or adopted of the sexually cohabitating adults.” MURDOCK (1949) Murdock’s idealised view of the family could now be seen as outdated as it is no longer the most common family structure in Britain today although it can still be used as an argument against other perspectives. While there have been many changes to the structure of the family and the roles performed within it, the nuclear family remains an ideal for the majority of people in society.
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