Discussion of the Extent to Which Families Have Become Symmetrical

Discussion of the Extent to Which Families Have Become Symmetrical

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Discussion of the Extent to Which Families Have Become Symmetrical
The idea of the Symmetrical family is that of Willmott and Young
following their research into family life in London. They found that
the symmetrical family consists of a nuclear family that have become
separated from their extended kin, the husband plays a bigger part in
family life, the conjugal bond is strong and the family is home
centred. Conjugal roles are similar in terms of contribution although
there is still the divide of "men's and women's work" and the conjugal
roles are not interchangeable although each spouse contributes equally
to the running of the household.

The rise of the Symmetrical Family can be attributed to many factors.
There is less need to rely on extended family due to the welfare
state, higher wages and less unemployment; there are more employment
opportunities for women leading to shared financial responsibility;
there are fewer children therefore enabling the wife to work; better
living conditions mean the home is more attractive to the husband; in
working class families the tedious nature of jobs leads members of the
family to be more 'home-centred' rather than 'work-centred' like the
middle-class.

Despite all the reasons for the rise of the symmetrical family, many
sociologists (particularly female) argue that the extent to which
families are symmetrical has been greatly exaggerated. Anne Oakley for
example found that Willmott and Young used inadequate methodology in
their research producing results which do not give an accurate picture
of the family, her own research gives a contrasting image of conjugal
roles to that of Willmott and Young. Willmott and Young simply asked
one question to husbands in their research - "do you help with the
housework?", a 'yes' answer to this question would include men who do

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the washing up once a week, and men who help on a daily basis,
therefore the findings would show that more help is being given than
there actually is. Oakley's research was based on in depth interviews
with unemployed housewives and her findings do not agree with that of
Willmott and Young that the Symmetrical family is commonplace, this is
possibly due to the fact that Oakley asked women about conjugal roles
and Willmott and Young asked men, showing that the perception of who
does the household chores differs greatly between the sexes.

Oakley did find some evidence to support the claim of the Symmetrical
Family, in her results she found men are more likely to help with
childcare than they used to. However, according to the 1984 British
Sociology Attitudes Survey this help seems to be restricted only to
jobs the men actually enjoy such as playing with the children, Oakley
found that very few men were willing to undesirable jobs such as
change a dirty nappy. It would therefore appear that men can easily
negotiate their way out of chores they do not like; a society with the
ideology that women should be homemakers, makes it easier for them to
do so.

Employment opportunities for women have increased but this has had
little effect on conjugal roles according to Morris' research, she
believed this to be because of our overriding influence of gender role
socialisation. Women who earn a high wage still perform the majority
of household/childcare chores although the husband is more likely to
do some household chores if his wife also works. The stage in the
family lifecycle along with the wife being employed/unemployed are the
biggest factors influencing domestic division of labour.

The fact that women still tend to do the majority of all household
tasks backs up the theories of Marxist and Feminists who see women's
domestic labour as exploitation. Radical feminists see their
biological role of childbearing as the reason for oppression by men.
Patriarchal ideologies socialise women to accept their conjugal roles
- this exploitation can only be overcome by dissolving patriarchal
family structure. Marxists see the women's lack of economic power as
her oppression - she is the "slave of the wage slave" and will remain
so in a capitalist society.

Family ideology has different meanings in reality. In Morris' and
other surveys, partners agreed that tasks should be shared equally,
but in practice they were not. If women see housework and childcare as
their main role they will not want joint conjugal roles. The very
assumption that husbands "help" their wives with domestic chores
demonstrates that these jobs are seen as "women's work".

Conjugal roles are constructed by people's views as to how they should
behave. Until these views, as influenced by the media and other agents
of socialisation, change, conjugal roles will remain largely
segregated into male/female roles.

Willmott and Young's idea of a "Symmetrical Family" is accepted by
many as the ideology of today's family, however in reality the
ideology of joint conjugal roles rarely materialises. The caring
sharing "new man" has not emerged and conjugal roles remain primarily
divided. Although equality in marriage has greatly improved in terms
of joint decision making the actual day to day running of the
household remains largely segregated into "men's and women's work."
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