Some people take for granted that most families are nuclear. This is what is desirable from the perspective of modernist like the New Right and those who believe in the neo conventional family like Chester. Other sociologists say that we live in a postmodern fragmented society where there are many different family structures due to a range of different reasons. This essay will assess these two perspectives using a range of different sociologist.
In the 21st century, there is more variation in family structure than ever before. Therefore by definition family has become a much broader phrase which include; nuclear, lone parents, reconstituted, ethnic minorities, same sex, extended, bean pole, boomerang and many more types of family units.
This postmodern world is growing industrially, consequently the extended family (which is a family household of three generations) that was seen as the basic family structure in pre-industrial society, is not as significant as it used to be. The nuclear family structure (is a heterosexual couple and their dependent children which) has developed into the major family structure in most industrialised societies. Parsons explains this through his "functional fit" theory whereby the particular structure and function of a given type of family will 'fit' the needs of the society in which it is found. According to Parsons there are two basic types of society: modern industrial society and traditional pre-industrial society.
He argues that the nuclear family fits the needs of industrial society and is dominating family type in that society. The basic relationship between the family and industrialisation is one that has caused the family to progressively lose many of its functions as they have been taken-over by other institutions such as welfare, schools and hospitals in society.
While extended family fits the needs of pre-industrial society, as the quantity of work was equally shared among the large family. Conjugal roles were more equal in pre-industrial times, as mentioned in Item A functionalist and the new right would view this as undermining the expressive and instrumental roles - which they consider essential for the well being of individuals and social stability. Children were treated like mini adults who dressed and worked the same. While the elderly that could no longer farm took over child rearing tasks in return for financial support. The extended family is not simply a result of pre-industrial society but additionally a consequence of ethical culture.
Industrial society has two essential needs: a geographically mobile workforce and a socially mobile workforce. The pre-industrial family type (i.e. the extended family) had to adapt in these two ways to become suitable for the industrial society. The family changed its structure to gain finance that would be earned through industrialisation. In order to gain said finance families moved from rural areas to urban areas towards the work, however, extended families are so large it was impractical to move everyone - so only immediate family relocated. This cause the family to become more interdependent and society to become increasingly privatised. Industrialised societies reinforce the suitability of the nuclear family through such methods as 'the cereal packet family' and laws (most family based laws are orientated around the nuclear family).
Additionally, postmodern Britain although nuclear families are the dominate family structure type there are other forms, namely:
Boomerang families are an evolution of the nuclear family, whereas nuclear families consists of heterosexual couples and their dependent child(ren), the boomerang family is made up of a heterosexual couple at their non dependent children - who have returned.
The opposite of the boomerang family is empty nesters, whereby the children have left the home and parents.
About a quarter of families with children are now lone parent families. The cause for such family structures can include divorce, separation, single motherhood or death. Lone parent families by definition are parents not living with a spouse or partner that are solely responsible for their dependent child(ren).
If relationships end creating a lone parent family there is the opportunity that this family structure will develop into a reconstituted family. Reconstituted or blended families are the result of remarriage/serial monogamy. The causation of the new couple is a step-family.
The number of gay and lesbian families has significantly increased over reason years as there has been a decrease in social stigma around the topic of same sex relationships, as well as an increase in partnership rights. Same sex couples can now legally get married and adopt children.
Chester recognises the increase in family diversity however does not believe it is as significant as the New Right do - as stated in Item A. Chester argues that the only important change is a move from the conventional nuclear family to what he calls the neo-conventional family (of the same social class). By the conventional family he is referencing the nuclear family portrayed by Parsons and the New Right. Specifically, this is the family structure with the man as the instrumental breadwinner and women as the expressive housewife; this family structure demonstrates a clear division of conjugal roles. Contrastingly, the neo-conventional family is a dual-earning family in which both spouses go to work and both spouses are responsible for child care. Similar to the symmetrical family (Younge and Willmott), the conjugal roles are completely equal and Chester argues that functionalists exaggerate this - he proposes that people are not choosing to live alternatively to the nuclear family, that this is in fact the idealistic family structure of many people.
Whereas, New Right/functionalist perspective believes the only correct family type is the patriarchal nuclear family. The New Right sees the family as a natural occurrence with biological differences between men and women illustrating the appropriate conjugal roles. Due to men's physical attributes such as strength, they are the proposed protectors of the smaller, weaker and therefore more venerable women and children; while women's hormones (estrogen) contribute to the view that they are responsible for nurturing/expressive roles.
The new right not only argue the suitability of the traditional nuclear family because of biological reasons but also based on the "functional fit" theory - the patriarchal nuclear family is in their opinion the most functional to the post modern society and family diversity will cause social problems. (Social activists believe in free will/the power of individuals to effect society so would completely disagree with the biological explanation for family structure.)They (the new right) interpreted lone parent families as insufficient socialisation method as well as a burden on the welfare state. According to the New right marriage is the fundamental foundations of a stable family, well adjusted children and therefore a functional society. This was derived from Bensons (2006) data analysis - results showed that 3000 of the 15000 children born between 2000-2001 were lone-parent families, 6% of which were a result of divorce where as the 94% was due to either cohabiting or closely involved couples. Therefore, (as documented in Item A) the New Right interprets this to mean that marital couples are more practical structure of the family. This is criticised as some argue it is not the marriage but the level of commitment between the couple that ties them together.
New Right rejects lone parent families under the perception that the children of lone parent families are more at risk of succumb to poverty, educational failure, health problems and crime - according to Amato (2000).
Rhona and Robert Rapoports (1982) contradict the New Right and functionalist opinion, concluding that diversity is central to understanding the modern family. The Rapoports believe that Britain is a pluralistic society - a society where a various of religious, ethnic, racial, and political groups are able to thrive - therefore families have evolved (from the traditional nuclear family) too accommodate one in which culture and lifestyle is more diverse. The Rapoports identified the evolution within five different types of family diversity in Britain today.
Organisational Diversity - this references the different ways family roles are organised; it includes the conjugal roles, wage earning, child rearing, etc.
Cultural Diversity - Different between family structure due to religious, cultural and ethnic beliefs.
Social Class Diversity - The influence of money and the different norms and values between the classes on family structure.
Stage in the life cycle - The age of family members effect the structure of the family, for example the transfer from nuclear family to empty nesters and possible continuing to a boomerang structure.
Generational diversity - The dissimilarity between the expectations of the generations and the difference in family structure (across time) this causes.
The Rapoports viewed diversity as a representation is social freedom of choice much like social activists and post modernist.
Postmodernist the predictability of society has decreased Society entered a new chaotic where is no dominant family type and there are more opportunities of the life style. That gives a freedom to create family relationships which are more suitable for certain individuals; which represents the freedom of choice they believe in. Postmodernists suppose the development of family diversity and change in social stigma around marriage, family and relationships came about of contraception. Contraception reduces the likely hood of preproduction allowing for family planning it also lead to the continuation of education women as they were being educated; as educating women on contraception extended to general education. Which lead to working women all resulting in feminism, those changes affected family types, as then they can choose the relationship they want despite of the law and traditions.
Family Planning links in with life course analysis in the sense that family planning is about making choices and life course analysis is about using how people make choices and the meanings the give to life events/choice in order to understand family life. Tamar Hareven (1978) uses this approach to investigate the flexibility in people family lives. In this case their family lives include turning points in their lives the timing or sequence of these events as well as the decisions they make in effect to their family.
The decisions or actions of a person in effect to their family are known as family practises. Our family practises are influence by outer societies believe and our own person believe we have about our rights and obligations within the family. Functionalist see the family a distinct structure separate from other aspects of society, however, family practices are influenced by outer society for example gender norms dictate men are the breadwinners and society enforces this by making men higher wage earners (even for the same work).
Post modernists go a step further than the Rapoports five diversities of the modern family. Post modernists believe there is no longer a modern society that in fact we live in a chaotic postmodern stage. Where family structure is fragmented