Assessing the Claim that the Nuclear Family had the Best Fit for Industrial and Modern Society

Assessing the Claim that the Nuclear Family had the Best Fit for Industrial and Modern Society

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Assessing the Claim that the Nuclear Family had the Best Fit for Industrial and Modern Society

The relationship between the structure of the family and the related
processes of industrialization and modernization is a major theme in
sociological study of the family. Industrialization refers to the
growth in the mass production of goods in a factory system which
involves mechanical production which started in the late 19th century
and continues still today and modernization is the development of
social, cultural, economic and political institutions which are
thought of as typical in a modern society. These developments include
the replacement of religious belief systems with scientific ones, the
growth of bureaucracy and the replacement of Monarchies with
representative democracies.

The claim that the nuclear family was the best fit for
industrialization and modernization has weighted arguments for and
against. Where some sociologists regard industrialization as the
central process involved in changes in western societies since the 18th
century; others attach more importance to broader processes of
modernization. However, there are a number of problems that arise from
relating the family to industrialization or modernization: they are
not fixed states but constantly developing processes, they do not
follow the same course in every society and some writers believe we
are in a stage of post-modernity. Further difficulties arise from the
fact that there are many forms of pre-industrial and pre-modern
families. So it is not always clear what the family in modern
industrial society is being compared to.

During industrialization the family went under many changes. It ceased
to be a unit of production as people started going to work for other
people in return for wages; there was no welfare state and therefore
unemployment, widespread poverty and ill-health which lead to high
infant mortality and death rates and extended families formed as
mutual support networks for security against hardship. These all meant
that the family would have to adapt more to survive in the
ever-changing social structure. At this time many people now lived in
extended families to support each other.

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However, growing geographical
and social mobility began to weaken kinship links. The now emerging
welfare state caused and increase in affluence, better food was
available, a better health service and improved hygiene and
sanitation. People began to live longer and healthier lives and the
infant mortality and death rates dropped. Society was now more
meritocratic so the family lost some of its functions.

The changes of modernization and industrialization had completely
changed the way people thought and looked at life. Everyone was
becoming more dependant on themselves and their ‘immediate’ family.
This led to a lower dependency on kin who could now possibly not live
locally- further breakdown in kinship ties. Community links also
weakened. The family became gradually smaller as parents had their own
jobs and didn’t need children to go to work as much, also the lower
death rates meant that parents were more confident that their children
would survive so had less of them. Couples as well now were becoming
more isolated and increasingly dependant on one another.

The product of all this change is what some writers call ‘the pinnacle
of society’. This is the nuclear family. It is privatized and isolated
and does not consist of any extended family members. There is far more
self-reliance and dependence on partners both ways and could be said
to be less patriarchal and more symmetrical. There are fewer children
per family but the families are now far more child centred. The modern
isolated nuclear family has only a few remaining functions and is now
a unit of consumption rather than production, except for domestic

Today there are more types of family and living arrangement than ever
before ranging from broken shell marriages to broken homes and gay
marriages to communes. However the most common is the nuclear family
and it is the most prominent sociological product of the industrial
revolution and therefore I believe that it had the best fit for modern
and industrial society.
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