The nuclear family is a term used to define a family group consisting of aheterosexual pair of adults; wife and husband, and their children. It can also be known as a ‘beanpole family’ and it can be, especially in middle-class families, child-centered; child-centered is defined as being actively involved by spending lots of time together as the child’s needs and wishes are the most important thing. Only 17% of families in the UK are nuclear families, and this statistic is on the decrease as it is more so a norm in the 21st century to cohabit (an unmarried couple living together and having a sexual relationship).In 2012 there were 18.2 million families in the UK. Of these, 12.2 million consisted of a married couple with or without children. It is in fact 50% of people in the UK who cohabit and the number of opposite sex cohabiting couple families has increased significantly, from 1.5 million in 1996 to 2.9 million in 2012.
However, there are other types of families: extended family, unconventional families; single parent families, homosexual families and reconstituted families; step families. Single parent families and step families usually occur after ‘irretrievable breakdown’ of marriage, resulting in divorce. However, it could be that a martial partner or partner has died or left unexpectedly, and after this a new intimate relationship is formed and the couple is likely to procreate. Other characteristics of a nuclear family are: parents having high-paid or good occupations, living away from other family members; independent or privatised; they keep in contact with family via phone and mainly see family on special occasions, e.g. Christmas, Easter, marriages, funerals, and christenings. Despite this, the husband is actively involved in raising the children; ‘new dad’ and they are influenced by the media to be a ‘good father’ and perhaps their peers who are of the same age as them.
Also, they are likely to be called the ‘new man’, a term used to identify men who believe in equality, do house-work, spend time with family and children and do not use any offensive sexist language. There are five theories by sociologist that either support or resent nuclear families. The theories that resent nuclear families are: Marxist and feminist; the nuclear family is not a perfect family. The theories that support nuclear families are: functionalist, post-modern and new right; the nuclear family is the best type of family. Feminists believe: that the failures or ills of family life are due to men, in the family there is gender inequality as it has been proven that women do 3 times more house work than men, women are more likely to be victims of domestic abuse from males, children are more likely to be abused by men rather than women, 80% of divorce is women divorcing men, males are more likely to have addictions (drugs or alcohol or gambling) and men are more likely to have a career rather than have a strong focus on the children or housework. In contradiction to this, about two in five of all victims of domestic violence are men; and this is on the increase.
However, men do not report domestic abuse from their partners because they are ashamed or embarrassed. Also in favor of men, it is apparent that all men are different, the research and statistics are a generalisation; perhaps not completely reliable. In addition to this, recently there has been an increase in female dominated families;matriarchy. Catherine Hakim (1996) suggests that feminists under-estimate women’s ability to make rational choices. It is not patriarchy (male domination) or men that are responsible for the position of women in families. She argues that women choose to give more commitment to family and children, and consequently they have less commitment to work than men have. Ann Oakleyargues that gender role socialisation is responsible for sexual division of labor.
She also argues that there is still an expectation for women to take on the housewife and mother role. Because of this, it is more difficult for women to pursue careers as men do. Oakley also claims that employers expect women to play the role of housewife rather than pursue a career. This patriarchal ideology is justified by men through claims that women are more suited to caring roles because of their maternal instinct. However, Sue Sharpe said that not all women take on caring roles because of their socialisation. They may react against their socialisation, or pursue a career. Charlie Lewis (1980s) stated that fathers are playing a bigger role; they a more committed. Adrianna Burgess agrees with Charlie Lewis. He is a part of the ‘father institute’, a charity that supports fatherhood. A sociologist who wanted major changes was Charlotte Gilman. Gilman called herself a humanist and believed the domestic environment oppressed women through the patriarchal (male dominated) beliefs upheld by society. She argued that male aggressiveness and maternal roles for women were artificial and no longer necessary for survival in post-prehistoric times. She wrote, “There is no female mind. The brain is not an organ of sex.
Might as well speak of a female liver.” She also argued that women’s contributions to civilization, throughout history, have been stopped because of an androcentric (focus on male) culture. A Marxist view on the nuclear family looks at inequality. Similar to feminism, a Marxist approach to the nuclear family is cynical. A psychiatrist, David Cooper was critical of the nuclear family, and parents; they brought up children incorrectly, leading corruption! His views and research is clearly expressed in ‘The death of a family.’ He has certain beliefs about disciplining children; he believe that parents are obsessed with discipline; ‘control freaks’; children ‘cannot breathe’ and this it is not acceptable; parents should be liberal. He also thinks that this obsession is due to the past where parents were allowed to physically punish their children; violence and hitting.
Rd Laing believes that the nuclear family is the cause of a person’s unhappiness; it should take full responsibility for depression or mental illness. It is in fact 50% of adults in Britain are depressedand about eight percent of children and adolescents suffer from depression.More specifically, he states that schizophrenia occurs due to the family. However, it may be un-noticed as mental illness is usually hidden. Edmund Leach; ‘A runaway world’ 1967. He believes that the nuclear family is isolated due to distant relationships with peers, and other family, which is caused by the location in which you live and the occupation you possess.
The nuclear family should be outward looking, and it is not, it is inward looking. There should be support from other family members regardless of the situation as, apparently the nuclear family can’t cope with the stresses and strains of modern day society. In contradiction to the beliefs of the above Marxist sociologists: the family, or within primary socialisation play an imperative in teaching their children discipline and self-discipline, which is vital for future employment. It is therefore inevitable! With regards to the believes of Rd Laing, it has been known that when diagnosing mental disorders or illnesses, other factors are present. In addition to this, every individual deals with stress differently, so by assuming that the nuclear family can’t cope with stress isn’t compatible with every family. Divorce is also more likely to occur in the nuclear family, in comparison to the extended family. The functionalist view on the nuclear family is optimistic.
They believe that the nuclear family is the norm in modern industrial societies, and it has major functions that contribute to the well-being of society: the family is the primary agent of socialisation; teaching norms and values; the family is central in creating consensus and order. Parsons (1955) argued that families are ‘personality factories’, producing children who have a strong sense of belonging to society. Talcott Parsons believes that the nuclear family provides key functions for society by learning morals, norms and values; primary socialisation, and it provides stability for children. It is described to be universal and functional. Parsons also argued that the family functions to relief the stress of modern day life. It can be known as the ‘warm-bath’ theory, in that the family provides a relaxing environment for the male worker to immerse himself after a hard day. Children or adolescences in nuclear families are unlikely to engage in crime, recreational drugs, anti-social behavior, and violence.
It is only a small minority who engage in this acts; majority have been successful indoctrinated to be a good citizen. Also, Children or adolescences do better in education, exam results, universities, health and career, in a nuclear family. Children in nuclear families are likely to achieve (academically, better health and career), whereas children in single-parent families have lower academic performance, are more susceptible to peer pressure to engage in deviant behavior, have higher dropout rates from high school, and have greater social and psychological problems.However, Kellaghan and this colleagues (1993) conclude that family social status or cultural background don’t determine a child’s achievement at school. They propose that for academic success, it is what parents do in the home, and not children’s family background, that is significant. Similarly, Sam Redding (1999) indicates that in relation to academic outcomes, the potential limitations associated with poor economic circumstances can be overcome by parents who provide stimulating, supportive, and language-rich experiences for their children.
The criticisms of the functionalists perspective of the nuclear family is that: there thinking suggests that all members of the nuclear family are underpinned by biology, functionalist’s analysis on the nuclear family tend to be based on the middle-class; they don’t consider other influences such as wealth, social class or ethnicity and the harmonic view from functionalists on family tends to exclude social problems such as increases in divorce rate, child abuse and domestic violence. Ronald Fletcher, ‘shaking the foundation’ (1988) is also in favor of the nuclear family. He argues that people expect more out of marriage and family life than they used to. Couples are no longer prepared to be part of ‘empty-shell marriages’ (marriage without the partners being in love).
Therefore divorce is becoming more popular; re-marriage is more successful and procreation is likely. Robert Chester; ‘the rise of the neo-conventional family’ (1985). He believes that the nuclear family has a positive impact on life; 80% of people will live in a nuclear family in sometime in their lives and 80% of people will get married- most people are also likely to become parents. He contends that the neo-conventional family that is characterized by joint conjugal roles and greater sexual equality has replaced it. Chester argues that the statistics only reflect one stage in a person’s life and the ultimately the majority of people will get married, have children and stay in this relationship. New right or traditionalists believe that the nuclear family is the best type of family to live in and that everyone should live in this type of family, on the assumption that, it is on a permanent basis.
A relevant example of the New Right approach to the family can be seen in the view that there exists and under-class of criminals, unmarried mothers and idle young men who are responsible for rising crime. It is argued that this under-class is welfare-dependent, and that adolescence girls are deliberately getting pregnant in order to obtain council housing or state benefits. To hinder things further, this under-class is socializing its children into a culture revolving around crime, anti-authority, anti-world and anti-family values. The New right thinkers believe that there has been a significant amount of damage inflicted upon the nuclear family by, for instance, government policies. For example, they claim that government have encouraged mothers to get back to work, but this has resulted in maternal deprivation; lack of love resulting in psychological damage. There have been few taxes or benefits to encourage mothers to stay at home.
The New Right argues that commitment to marriage has been weakened by divorce being made easier and single-parent families have been encouraged by welfare policies. It is apparently, more likely for those who are married and have children to stay together, which enables stability for children; children should only be brought up in the marriage by its heterosexual parents, both should be equal. The New right completely looks down upon divorce as in a unconventional family, children do not do as well, in terms of health, education, career etc. The New Right also perceives homosexuality as the symbol of moral decline, ‘unnatural’ and deviant. Many ‘New Right’ thinkers see the 1960s and early 1970s as the beginning of an attack upon the nuclear family; traditional family values. Specifically, the introduction of the contraceptive pill and the legislation of abortion in the 1960s have been associated with the family decline.
The sexual freedom women experienced due to these changes apparently lessened their commitment to the family and equal pay and equal opportunities drifted women away from their roles as ‘natural’ mothers. Also, the 1969 Divorce Reform Act was seen as undermining commitment to marriage. Charles Murray (1989). Murray sees the traditional family to be under threat and Murray made this link to the idea of this ‘culture of dependency’. The ‘culture of dependency’ is the idea of people living off benefits rather than working for money. Patricia Morgan’s ‘Farewell to the family’ states that government policy has directly and indirectly contributed to the growth of the mother/child household. While looking to the needs of sole parent families, governments have overlooked or ignored the needs of intact families. Morgan states that the arrival of feminist advisers into governments has radically changed the way government benefits are distributed.
The burden of taxation has increasingly been shifted onto married parents to the benefit of the single and the childless. As a result, lone parents can end up with higher final incomes from any given wage than two-parent families. Also, more mothers are tempted into the workplace, and more children are pushed into day care, in order for traditional families to stay afloat economically. To contradict the beliefs of the New Right are: that the traditional nuclear family is still central to government plans; ‘key ministers have stated that children are best brought up by married natural parents’ andnew rights or legislation for children and women are aimed to strengthen the nuclear family as a whole, rather than weaken it! A post-modernist view on the family is more neutral; all families can face difficulties; any family can be unsuccessful or successful.
Post modernists suggest that in the post modern era there is a wide variety of family arrangements people can choose from – nuclear, extended, reconstituted, cohabitation etc. They claim that not one type dominates and that family arrangements are diverse and fluid. Post modernists see such flexibility as a positive thing. Judith Stacey for instance, suggests that a single individual will experience a variety of family structures throughout their life span. Post-modernists argue that the post-modern family life is characterised by diversity, variation and instability. For example, women no longer aspire to romantic love, marriage and children. Cohabitation, single-sex relationships, economic dependence, pre-marital sex and childlessness are now accepted alternative lifestyles. Men’s role(s) are no longer clear, which has, apparently led them to redefining both their sexuality and family commitments. Others disagree with this view; they believe that the basic features of the family have remained identical to the 1950s.
Also, the increase in single-parent families and reconstituted families indicate that there is a slow drift away from the nuclear family. Pakulskic and Waters (1996) believe that class can be seen as just one, not very important, division in society along with ethnicity, gender, age, disability, etc. They offer a number of explanations for ‘the death of class’. The development of welfare states and the institutionalization of class conflict have reduced the direct impact of class relationships. Property has increasingly moved from private hands to being owned by organisations and the division of labour has become more complex. Moreover, increasing affluence for the majority has meant that most people are able to choose what they consume and therefore they are able to create their identities. Class background no longer restricts people’s opportunities, confining them to a particular pattern of life and range of experiences.
Judith Stacey argues that the greater choice for women gives them the ability to break out of there patriarchal oppression and shape their families to their needs. Therefore, women are the main agents of family change, by changing their role. For example, many reject the traditional house-wife mother role for a career or higher qualifications. Jeffery Weeks; growing acceptance of diversity. Weeks identified that there are shifts in attitudes since the 1950s. The shifts in attitudes are: sexual morality is mostly a matter of personal choice, Church and state have lost the potency to influence morality and there are favourable attitudes to homosexuality and cohabitation.
However, despite these changes in attitudes Weeks states that family patterns are not changing; most people want marriage, children are mostly still brought up by couples and many people who divorce get re-married. To contradict this, the New Right and functionalists would disagree and say that the patriarchal nuclear family is the best family as it meets the needs of society. To conclude, I believe that the nuclear family can have a negative impact on its members, which feminist would agree. However, all types of families, e.g. reconstituted family can have a negative impact on its members also. But, the nuclear family is seen to be the traditional family which people have been living in for centuries, so it can therefore be suggested that the changes in society have negatively affected the nuclear family, e.g. equality legislation, and therefore promoted, discreetly, alternative families.
Courtney from Study Moose
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