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Has the family became symmetrical?

Categories: FamilyOptimism

When we talk about family, we should think of the relationships and the roles between the individuals in families. Young and Wilmott’s ‘The symmetrical family’ is the study based on middle class families in London, showed that families have become more equal and symmetrical with husbands and wives having an equal share of responsibilities in the home.

They see the family as having passed through 3 stages to reach this:

1. The Pre-industrial families – the family is a unit of production, parents and children work as a team to provide shelter, food, clothing etc.

in order to survive. Family unit mainly consisting of extended families.

2. Early Industrial families – this phase was seen as one of disruption, in which the family and household were torn apart by the effects of the industrial revolution. The father became more absent from the family and role of housewife and mother became more common for women.

3. The symmetrical family – developed from the early 20th century, spreading from the middle class to the working class (stratified diffusion).

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Home centred family life, greater equality between men and women and less role segregation by sex. Family type-nuclear.

In their study Young and Wilmott found that 72% of husbands did housework other than washing up during the course of a week. They also found that men help more with raising children and that leisure time and decision-making is becoming increasingly shared.

Their view is also shared by other march of progress theorists, Goode and Shorter who both argue that industrialization and capitalism have led to greater freedom for individuals and greater equality for women.

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Also that marriage has become more equal and that marital love and romance have taken over from the unfeeling, pre-industrial family.

But they also has complete different point of view.

Ann Oakley. ‘The sociology of housework’ 1970.

Challenges Young and Wilmott’s optimistic view of an egalitarian, symmetrical family. She found that although in middle class households there was a greater degree of equality, that generally women were responsible for household tasks, and that few marriages could realistically be described as egalitarian.

Elston (1980) found that even in households where both partners were full-time doctors, women nevertheless did the great majority of the shopping and cooking, while men undertook most of the household repairs. Interestingly, in 71 per cent of these medical household it was the women who took time off work when their children were ill.

Such findings led to a questioning of the assumption that conjugal roles were changing among the middle class, let alone the working class. Far from being a present reality, joint conjugal roles and the ‘principle of stratified diffusion’ were unlikely to be realized in the near future. One reason for Willmott and Young’s optimism could be that their own ideas of joint roles did not mean equal roles. They described as ‘symmetrical’ families where 72 per cent of men studied helped their wife with something other than the washing up more than once a week. This ‘something’ could include taking their sons out on a Saturday afternoon.

These conclusions are known not only to sociologists. In 1993 the market research group Mintel conducted interviews with 1500 men and women about how domestic labour was shared out. Their conclusions were that 85 per cent of women living with a man said that they did all the laundry, ironing and cooked the main meal. As many as 20 per cent of the women stated that their partner shared only one domestic task, and less than one on ten thought that their partner shared the cooking equally. Only one men in 100 shared domestic tasks equally.

When the wider question of power in the family is examined, a similar picture emerges. Dobash and Dobash (1980) reveal asymmetry in marriage by focusing on domestic violence. Using Scotland for their case study, they found that a quarter of all cases of violence brought to court concerned men assaulting their wives, although the fines they received were frequently lower than the average parking fine.

Obviously, these two different point of views point out their own views of whether nowadays families symmetrical or not. Young and Wilmott’s ‘The symmetrical family’ points out that the Industrial Revolution does a great effect on families life nowadays, so that families have become more equal and symmetrical with husbands and wives having an equal share of responsibilities in the home. This theory was called ‘optimistic view of an egalitarian’ by Ann Oakley, who holds the different view of symmetrical families theory. Other facts also proved that the theory of Young and Wilmott’s is a slight optimistic view.

Although the symmetrical family theory is not the perfect point of view, it pointed out the influence of the Industrial Revolution in the family members, it has changed the roles and the relationships. Compare to families before, the conclusion could be like this, families have became symmetrical, but unsymmetrization still exists.

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Has the family became symmetrical?. (2020, Jun 02). Retrieved from

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