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Changes In Nature And Structure Of The Family Sociology Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Sociology
Wordcount: 1533 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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In this essay I will describe the different structures and roles within a family unit, from pre-industrial to modern day. I will include statistical evidence to back up these changes. I will then evaluate the consequences of these changes and give an analysis of family diversity now and in the future and how it affects society.

What is a family? This question has been raised by many sociologists, with the majority of these having a range of different opinions. The answer to this question is; “The family is a social institution that unites people in cooperative groups to oversee the bearing and raising of children.” (Macionis 2001. P336)

During pre-industrial times (pre 1750), the family unit which existed was the extended family. This type of family mostly consisted of different generations of family members who all worked together on the land and supported each other in terms of household chores, childcare and economic wellbeing. However this type of family unit changed dramatically with the industrial revolution (1800-1900) with the introduction of mechanical means of production and factories. When these factories opened up in the cities, many families streamlined and became nuclear families which generally consisted of parents and children within a unit. The emergence of this type of family was mainly due to individual family members earning wages independently rather than as a collective unit. However for many families this posed a problem in terms of the sharing of household and childcare duties. As a result of this, the adult male of the house would go out to work to provide for the family (patriarchal role) and the adult female was expected to stay at home and be responsible for the household chores, childcare and producing the future workforce (instrumental role). During these times as soon as the children reached six or seven they would be sent out to work in the factories and down the coal mines to bring money into the family home. However this brought about higher mortality rates because children were not as strong as adults. These mortality rates began to decline during the first part of the twentieth century due to the emergence of the modern industrial family. However, over the years and in many families children have begun to be seen as children and not as a working member of the household. The relationships between parents and children have become stronger which has led to families becoming more child centred.

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Towards the middle of the twentieth century a new type of family began to emerge, although mainly seen as a nuclear family with two generations of parents and children, another view of this family was of a symmetrical family, because the women of the house were beginning to be offered opportunities in education which led to more women working outside the home in offices, factories and other places where until previously only men were seen to work. This resulted in a change from segregated roles to conjugal roles where the household chores and childcare were shared among the family members.

The family is changing. The ‘typical’ family headed by two parents has undergone substantial changes during the last century. There has been a rise in the number of single-person households due to people getting divorced or not getting married at all. Fifty years ago this would have been socially unacceptable in Britain, as when couples got married they stayed married, as divorce was not only frowned upon but very expensive. However in the last fifty years not only have society’s attitudes changed but also the cost of getting a divorce has been reduced considerably which has allowed many couples to be financially capable of applying for and being granted a divorce. This has led to more people getting divorced and in some cases remarrying which brings about a new type of family structure ‘the reconstituted family’. According to Taylor et al (1995) “this type of family is becoming more common in society, with an estimated six million people living this way”. This is backed up by evidence from the National Census (2001) who has put this figure at around 8% of the population of England and Wales. However there are still a majority of divorced and unmarried parents who prefer to stay as lone parents due to the introduction of tax credits, child benefit and income support and development of the welfare system which was first introduced in 1942, which offers a wide range of services designed to help parents care for their children. Information from the National Census (2001) showed that in 1971 lone parents accounted for approximately 7 % of the population in Great Britain which rose to 22% in 2001. These figures demonstrate a greater acceptance and understanding of society today.

As families and households have started to change since the early industrial times, so has the roles and functions within the structure of the family changed as well. When families moved to the cities to work, they lost the ability to share the domestic and childcare duties among other family members. This function was taken over by the newly formed specialised institutions (NHS, education and welfare systems) which were being introduced within the cities to accommodate the growing workforce. Parsons (families and households class handout) calls this process ‘structural differentiation’, Parsons believes that after these introductions, the family was left with only two functions which were the ‘primary socialisation of children’ and the ‘stabilisation of adult personalities’. However other sociologists like Fletcher (1966) and Shorter (class handout 2009) deny Parsons claims, and suggest that before these institutions were developed, the basic functions of the family were not carried out and children were often neglected and abused due to the high rates of poverty which encompassed many families. So the development of these institutions was a step in the right direction for the benefit of all families who were poverty stricken.

In today’s post modern society, evidence suggests that as social trends are changing, so is the family, in terms of Britain becoming a diverse and multi cultural society. J.E. Goldthorpe (1987) ‘found that among British ‘Asian’ families he identified some common characteristics similar to that of the pre-industrial family over fifty years ago: men have the authority over women (patriarchal), parents have control over the children (teaching of the norms and values), families were extended usually in multigenerational households whereby housing, childcare, jobs and the support of each other was shared’, (Harris S.2008.p49).

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When we say family diversity we mean the difference or variation within the family structure. In Britain today there is a range family types, with diverse internal set ups within contemporary families which reflect the changing nature of British society: Organisational refers to the family structure e.g. single parent, nuclear, extended, beanpole etc. Another type is cultural diversity. Britain is a multi-cultural society which relates to differences in lifestyles of different ethnic origins and religious beliefs. The Afro-Caribbean family has the stereotypical view of being a one parent household which tends to be mother-centred. South Asian families tend to be extended, traditional and patriarchal.

So what are the consequences for the individual and society? The issue of whether or not changes of the family are good or bad is debatable. The consequences for children in today’s society has meant less socialisation at home due to not only the rise in single parent households but also in the homes where both parents go to work and childcare is taken over by playgroups, nurseries and schools.

As societies change, so does the family structure. Major changes such as an increase in divorce, the reluctance to marry or re-marry, homosexuality and the escalated acceptance of cohabitation. Some people reject the on-going changes as catastrophic to family norms and values, while others observe these new trends as evolutionary and progressive. However family changes have not been caused by moral decay, but by specific demographic, economic and social changes. Contemporary society often demands highly mobile groups of workers who will go where the jobs are. Since there is no single universal family form that satisfies everybody, families must be open to revision and change. Society has had to readjust to continually evolving structures and new attitudes. It is through this process of structural, value change and adaptation to these changes that the modern 21st century family is emerging.

To conclude this essay I believe that since pre-industrial times there have been a lot of changes to the family through major social, economic, cultural and technological trends that have been underway for many centuries. However, whether these changes brought forward are positive or negative depends on the individuals perspective.


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