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The Sociological Definition of Family

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Sociology
Wordcount: 4834 words Published: 27th Jul 2021

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At the outset itself, this quotation describes the position of women in practically most society. Women are there to make children, are mothers and wives, act as the ‘house-maid’, take care of their husbands and families, bear male authority, being deprived of high status jobs and position of power. So, there is this element of discrimination which has prevailed through time.

Definition of Family

According to Sociologists, the family is an intimate domestic group of people related to one another by bonds of blood, sexual mating, or legal ties. It has been a very resilient social unit that has survived and adapted through time. So, the element of time referred to above, is again present here.

The family acts as a primary socialization of children whereby the child first learns the basic values and norms of the culture they will grow up in. a child needs to be carefully nurtured, cherished and molded into responsible individuals with good values and strong ethics. Therefore, it is important to provide them the best childcare so that they grow up to be physically, mentally and emotionally strong individuals.

Similarly, The United States Census Bureau (2007) defines the family as a relatively permanent group of two or more people who are related by blood, marriage or adoption and who live under the same roof.

Stephen (1999) defines the family as a social arrangement based on marriage including recognition of rights and duties of parenthood, common residence for husband, wife and children are reciprocal economic obligations between husband and wife.

The family is seen as the main pillar block of a community; family structure and upbringing influence the social character and personality of any given society. Family is where everybody learns to love, to care, to be compassionate, to be ethical, to be honest, to be fair, to have common sense, to use reasoning etc., values which are essential for living in a community. Yet, there are ongoing debates that families’ values are in decline. Moreover the same family is viewed as an ‘oppressive and bankrupt institution’.

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George Peter Murdock (1949) defines the family as a universal institution. According to him, the family is a ‘social group characterised by common residence, economic corporation and reproduction. It includes adults of both sexes at least two of whom maintain a socially approved sexual relationship and one or more children owned or adopted of the sexually cohabiting adults’. However, K. Gough (1959) criticises Murdock definition and argues that the family is not universal. The critics were founded in the Nayar society.

Women and the Family

The main role of women according to John Bowlby (1953) is particularly to act as mothers and as such their places are at home to take care of their children in their tender age. He states that juvenile delinquencies among young children are the result of psychological separation from mothers. The mental stability of children rests solely on their mothers. Therefore there is a need for a close and intimate mother and child relationship.

However, Oakley (1974) uses the example of Alor, an island in Indonesia to refute Bowlby statement. In ‘small-scale horticultural societies, women are not tied to their offspring’, and there is no apparent side effect to it’. Moreover, she does not see the ‘intimate and close relationship’ necessary. Research has proved that mothers return to work after childbirth and that the children of working mothers are ‘less likely to be delinquent’ than non-working mothers.

Crouch (1999) describes the benefits gained by wives and mothers as the ‘mid century social compromise’. Duncan et al. (year) argue that women who define themselves as ‘primarily mothers’ are located at all points on the social spectrum.

Patricia Day Hookoomsing (2002) states that, plans and projects are designed and implemented by men. It is assumed that if men as heads of the family will reap the benefit from projects designed, automatically women and children will benefit.

The Darker Side of the Family / Erosion of Family Life

Earlier in this review of literature, it is shown that the family is warm and supportive. However, many writers have questioned the ‘darker side of the family’. The fact that women spend most of their time either at work or doing household chores can lead to emotional stress in the family. The twentieth century family is mostly nucleus and thus children at times feel isolated and lacking the support of their extended kins: grandparents, aunts, cousins etc. They become introvert and their stress level rise to such an extent that when ‘explosion’ occurs, it can have dramatic results. This may lead to violence, psychological damage, mental illness, drug intake, crime etc.

The breakdown of children may lead to quarrel between parents. In the long run, marriages may fail and consequently lead to divorce. Incidence that may appear trivial can blow out of proportions and cause drastic consequence within the family. The mass media is increasingly bringing to people attention the sexual, physical and emotional abuse of children through neglect. Similarly, The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (2000) parts that around 10% of children suffering from serious abuse or neglect at home by natural parents.

Domestic violence is very prevalent in any society. It is estimated that one in four women are victim of domestic violence.

Conception about Family and Work

Families and work have often been illustrated as separate entities, with women being linked to the home and men to the workplace. This separation unfortunately emanated by the sociology of the family being carried out as a separate domain from the sociology of work and occupations. However this assumption does not stand good in view of the increased participation of married women in the workplace.

Early work by Rhona Raraport and Robert N. Raraport (1969) on dual-career families has talked about the benefits and strains of families with dual-earners. There are, however, many questions still to be answered concerning the interaction of family and work.

Harkness and Waldfogel (1999) advocate that the formation of a family touches mostly female rather than male labour force behaviour. The withdrawal from labour after childbirth may lead to a ‘depreciation of human capital’. This may affect career commitment to employers and affect career progression.

There are changes in family arrangements which prompt changes in production arrangements (Zaretsky 1976). Consumption was favoured to production within the household. ‘Market relation became overruled by a capitalist market society and instead of economy being embedded in social relations, social relations are embedded in the economic system’ (Polanyi 1957). Dapne Johnson (1982) relates that the hours of work and schooling are organized at such time that it has become difficult to single-parent and dual-worker family. Moreover, school holidays add up to the problems of who will look after the child.

Full-time married or cohabiting women generally have less time for leisure, as they are often expected to do two jobs – their paid work and unpaid housework inside the family, Ken Brown (2008).


For most of us, work occupies a larger part of our lives than other single type of activity. In our modern societies having a job is important for maintaining self-esteem and to live in better conditions. According to Ken Brown (2008), work is the production of goods and services that usually earns a wage or salary or provides other rewards. The work may be effected in the formal or informal economy. He argues that work is an ‘important element in occupying, directing and structuring the individual’s time – the demands of working life involve a high degree of self discipline if jobs are to be kept. It is, for most people, the single biggest commitment of time in any week, and it is perhaps one of the most important experiences affecting people’s entire lives.’ Work affects the amount of time and money available for family life.

Work and family life have always been interdependent, but the increased employment of mothers just like nowadays the number of women working has risen from 66.2 million in 2009 compared to 1950 where it was 18.4 million.

Pauline Wilson and Allan Kidd (1998) refer to work as a distinctive and clear cut activity. Work refers to the job or occupation undertaken. Work is both the place where one goes in order to do one’s job and the activity that one’s does.

Sociologies increasingly recognize however that it is not easy to define work. The definitions concentrate solely on paid employment and are too narrow. Keith Grint (1991) also states the same thing and even presents a number of definitions to prove what he says:-

Work can be seen as ‘that which ensures individual and societal survival by engaging in nature’. The problem is that many activities which cannot be seen are often regarded as work.

Work cannot be defined simply as employment. Activities in which people are employed are also performed by people who are not employed. Examples include washing, ironing, etc.,

Work cannot be defined as ‘something which can be done’ whether it is liked or not.

Work can finally not be seen as non-leisure activities. Activities may be leisure for some but work for others. Work and leisure would be hard to separate if it goes together.

Reasons for working in paid employment

Women work in paid employment for a number of reasons. These are as follows:

  • Job satisfaction
  • Money
  • Company and friendship
  • Status and identity
  • To get out of the home and feel free
  • To be independent

Functionalist Perspectives on Work and family

Functionalist has given their views on the link between work and family and they argues that family meets the need of the workplace. The family adapts itself in the requirement of the society. They are living in a post modern way of living which is very good for the society as they prefer not to have children because of their career and some prefer to stay single and they are going according to the needs of the society. Functionalist like Talcott Parsons (1981) argues that women are proving the love care and affection to the family and men are maintaining order and security within the family. He also argues that it strengthens the conjugal bond between husband and wife and they complement each other. Young & Willmott (1973) lay emphasis on how family evolved with the requirement of the society. Hence, both men and women are equal and they share the household work like for example man help in the kitchen when a woman is taking care of the child. P and B Berger argues that the bourgeois family already teach the child what the society want that is strict moral values and value economic success. Hence, how far does it apply in our modern society is highly debatable.

On the other hand the functionalists have been criticized by E.Leach (1966) where he argued that the nuclear family is stressed. They are exploited by the capitalist and alienated; they work because they have no choice. Laing on the other hand argued that they are privatized they do not want people to know what is happening in their yard or house and they do not want people to come at their place without informing. Parents inculcate fear and suspicious in children so that they fear to revolt.

Feminist Perspectives on the work and family

However, the Marxist feminists like Margaret Benston (1969) argue that capitalist pay women for their work at minimum wage scale. At present, the support of the family is a hidden tax on the wage earner that is his wage buys the labour power of two people. Thus, at work place women get jobs in the primary labour markets which are insecure, low wage income easily hired or fired. Even if women work they still have to act as a safety valve for the husband and men are still like a boss in the house. Hence, this lead to the work-family role conflict and tension are aroused by conflicting role pressures. Fran Ansley (1972) on the other hand wife still act as a “safety valve” and men are like boss at home.


Defining work-family conflict

Howard (2008) in summarizing the definitions put forth by prior scholars (Greenhaus & Beutell, 1985; Boyar, Maertz, Pearson, & Keough, 2003) conceptualized work-family conflict as a type of inter-role conflict where both work and family issues exert pressures on an individual, creating a conflict where compliance with some set of pressures (family matters) increases the difficulty of complying with the other set of pressures (work matters). Work-family conflict has been shown to be related to negative work outcomes such as job dissatisfaction, job burnout, and turnover (Greenhaus, Parasuraman & Collins 2001, Howard, Donofrio & Boles 2004), as well as to outcomes related to psychological distress, and life and marital dissatisfaction (Kinnunen & Mauno 1998, Aryee et al., 1999).

Conflict occurs when the demands from one of these domains (home, work, personal, family etc…) interferes with the other and causes imbalance (Frone et al., 1992, 1997). In today’s hectic society, home and work are two colliding forces (Greenhaus and Powell, 2003) that has often lead to an imbalance, where women, lives to achieve fulfillment and satisfaction (Auster, 2001, Chalofsky, 2003). On the other hand, (Zedeck, 1992) suggests that a person’s work experience influence his or her behaviour at home, influencing basic behaviors towards self and family members.

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Balancing the demands of work and the responsibilities of the family is an ongoing concern in organizational leadership. Today we are busier than ever. Gone are the days of the 40-hour work week, the two-hour lunch, leaving the office on time, and forgetting about office demands until the next business day. With today’s advanced technology, such as cell phones with paging and instant messaging, wireless Internet access, and the mobile office following us wherever we go, it is easier to take the office on the road when we travel, even when the road leads home. Once at home, office responsibilities easily impose on family time with a quick call here and an email reply there limiting the amount of quality time available for the family. This incompatibility between the pressures of work and family concerns generates role conflict and stress on the follower.

Researchers define the incompatibility between the domain of work and the domain of family as work-family conflict. Conflict between these domains occurs when participation in one role is more difficult due to participation in the other role. Today, work-family conflict (work interfering with family) is more prevalent than family-work conflict (family interfering with work) though both can occur. However, regardless of the direction of causation, when one domain is discordant with another domain, the result is conflict and increased stress on the individual. Current research focuses on the causes of work-family conflict, balance of time, involvement and satisfaction, quality of life, and the outcomes between the two domains.

Types of work-family conflict

Greenhaus and Beuthell (1985) identified three major types of work-family conflict:

(a) Time-based,

(b) Strain-based and

(c) Behaviour- based conflict.

Time-based conflict occurs when time devoted to one role makes it difficult to participate in another for example, when mothers have to do overtime at work with little notice might make it difficult for them to meet family obligations, like picking up children from school. Time-based conflict, is the most common types of work-family conflict when multiple roles reduce the time and energy available to meet all role demands, thus, creating strain (Goode, 1960) and work-family conflict (Marks, 1977).

Strain-based conflicts suggests that strain experienced in one role intrudes into and interferes with participation in another role; for example, mother who is anxious about their child’s illness might not be fully concentrate on her job and this can cause mistakes in her work.

Behaviour-based conflicts occur when specific behaviors required in one role are incompatible with behaviour expectation in another role. That is, when work roles cause problems at home or when home role causes problems at work.

All these three forms are formulated based on the role theory, which conceptualize conflicts as reflecting incompatible demands on the person, either within a single or between multiple roles occupied by the individual (Kahn et al., 1964).

(Carlson et al., 2000) also argue that another form of work/ family conflict is the Worry-based conflict in modern industrial society. On the other hand, increasing living cost, marital distress and parental stress may erode the stability of the family life (Lu, in press), causing worries which interfere with work. (Carlson et al., 2000) thus, defined worry-based conflict in terms of pervasive and generalized worries experienced in one role into and interfering with participation in another role.

In a study, Fu and Shaffer (2001) identified several family and work specific determinants of FWC and WFC conflict, respectively. Testing these across the three forms of conflict-time, strain, behaviour-based they found that the family- specific variables were only effective in predicting time-based FWC conflict. As a group, the work-specific variables had much stronger effects and role conflict, role overload and hours spent on paid work were especially influential in explaining both time-based and strain-based forms of WFC conflict. Family conflicts was to be strong risk factor for the onset of elevated need for necessary need for recovery from work and fatigue.

Theoretical explanation of work-family conflict

Two of the theoretical explanations of work-family conflict are:

  1. Attribution theory,
  2. Compensation theory.

Attribution theory states that there are internal and external explanations for work-family and family-work conflict. An internal explanation is the desire to be successful in multiple roles such as mother or father, brother or sister, leader or follower, and peer or subordinate. Internally, work-family conflict occurs when what needs to be accomplished at work interferes with personal values. Personal values may include spending daily quality time with family or simply rejuvenating after a hard day of work. Internally-generated conflict can also occur when family responsibilities such as attending a school function or taking care of a sick child spills over into the responsibilities of work and increases the time spent away from the job. External causes of work-family conflict may occur when your work assignment takes more time to complete than what you have to give or when your spouse is unwilling to support your endeavors both at home and at work. Conflict between these domains also occurs when the amount of control followers have over their job is limited and flexibility is minimal.

Compensation theory suggests that people add more to one domain than the other in order to balance what lacks in either. In other words, life balance is a direct result of the amount of time and psychological resources an individual decides to commit to both domains. If the individual commits more time or psychological resources to work, then work-family conflict may increase. If an individual decides to commit more resources to family than work, but work requirements increase, then family-work conflict also increases.

While the conflict between work and family may be inevitable, researchers such as Friedman and Greenhaus (2000) suggest alternative methods for reducing the stress. For example, more autonomy in the workplace and networking with peers can increase the quality of work life. Their studies show that individuals who work for organizations that allow individuals to spend more time at home, work in virtual employment, and make flexible time arrangements, tend to perform better as a parent than those who do not have these opportunities. Maintaining satisfaction on both fronts is important for reducing the feelings of conflict.

Concept of childcare

The concept of childcare does not refer to supervision and responsibility of feeding, clothing and other aspects of daily care for a child for a certain period of time. Infact, childcare includes the responsibility of maintain a healthy balance of love, affection and discipline, to help all-round development of the child.

Child care is one of the biggest challenges for working families. Due to their work responsibilities, parents are not always able to stay with their children and take care of them, as they would like to. Parents would like to leave their children in care of such individuals whom they can entrust their precious kids without any worries or misgivings.

“For a long time, childcare was the responsibility of the extended family. With industrialization and modernization of the family has created rather serious childcare problems. As the extended family weakens, help from relatives before more difficult for women who cannot afford childcare services, may have no choice than to opt out of the labour market”. (Situation analysis of women and children in The Republic of Mauritius October 2003).

When childcare arrangements break down, employed parents are more likely to be absent, late, report being unable to concentrate on the job, to have higher levels of stress and more stress-related health problems and to report lower parental and marital satisfaction (Galinsky & Hugues, 1987; NCJW, 1987; Shin et al; 1987).

Whenever a child is sick, very often it is the mother who has to take leave to take care of the child. “Women spend more hours per week on household and on childcare than men do. And motherhood is a career liability for women while for men, being married and having children are both associated with higher earnings and being in upper level positions.” (Friedman and Greenhaus, 2000).

For many women parents stress starts as school ends. Most mothers cope with their child-care needs by taking children with them to work; leaving children with relatives, neighbors or older siblings and for short period of time leaving them alone. Children who are too old for day-care must stay in an empty home for several hours after school before the parents return from work. Such children are sometimes called “latchkey children” because they are usually given a key of the house or apartment so that they can let themselves in when they get home.

Although the recent practice of women working brings financial independence, it also exalts difficulties and stresses to the working women’s lives. This stress damages not only the quality of life and health of those who are victims (Parasuraman and Greenhaus 1992; rice et al; 1992). It can drive to unsatisfactory behaviors at jobs: delays, absenteeism, lack of motivation, reduced output (Beuthell et al., 1991) and in more difficult relation within the family (Duxbury and Higgins 1991; Parasuraman et al., 1992; Frone et al., 1992)

This increased participation of women in the labour force has changed the traditional roles of men and women within the two-parent family resulting in the phenomenon of the dual-career couples (Kirrane and Monks, 2004). Balancing work, housework, and child-care responsibilities can become strenuous which can result in work-family conflict. This can be very costly to both organizations and employees within them (Posig and Kickul, 2004). As highlighted by Allen, Herst, Bruck, and Sutton (2000), the increase of dual-career couples with young children and changes in the traditional family structural configurations have resulted in changes in home and family responsibilities for both men and women.

Even for today’s dual-career couples, the transition to parenthood tends to mark a reversion to a more traditional division role, with women doing the lion’s share of the household maintenance and child care planning (Carler, 1996; Hoschchild, 1989)

Childcare is a conceptually distinct and especially burdensome aspect of household labour (Berk, 1985; Rexroat & Shehan, 1987). Floge (1986) points out that one major problem facing dual-earner couples are arranging for child care. As the number of dual earner couples with children increases, responsibility for child care arrangements becomes an increasingly important aspects of household labour.

In addition to bearing the responsibility of proving adequate child care to their children, women may also experience feelings of guilt if they do not at least devote some of their free time to this task. Some women may therefore reduce their amount of sleep of free time resulting in the accumulation of strain and stress (Sterwart D.Friedman, Jeffrey H.Greenhaus, 2000).

In addition to globalization the other key that has affected dual-income working families is the dramatic change in the characteristics of labour force. We all know that that due to globalization there has been a change in the nature of work and this has resulted from long hours of working. We cannot just blame families especially women for not being able to provide enough care for their children we must also know why the situation is like this. Hence, families has no other choice because may be they fear from being unemployed and nowadays being unemployed is not a pleasant thing due to the high standard of living. Families may no choice except from working because of being a single parent who has to take up all the responsibilities alone or because of being poor.

However, we do agree with the fact that parents are working for the benefit of the family but how far is it really benefitting the family? When both parent work especially for long hours of work it become impossible to take care of the house and children because of exhaustion, stress and sometimes office work is being continued at home. This usually creates conflicts at home like domestic violence, long disputes where it affects not only parents but children as well. Sometimes everything end up by a divorce, the child will not be able to say anything but it affect him mentally and are unable to cope at school.

Moreover, even if children are grown up they still need care and affection of parents which parents are unable to provide them due to their work overload. In a recent research “women’s work burden and human development in Mauritius (Feb 2006), Miriam Blin found that most women from EPZ felt they could not give their children care and attention they needed. Many could not provide care their children required. This, is why sometime children does not work well at school just like (see, for example, Behrman et al., 1999 Lack of parental support and involvement, as well as the absence of early stimulation, together with the breakdown of the family structure have been found to be important factors affecting children’s performances. Therefore, parents should find time to know what children are doing at school. Nowadays, children spend most of their time on “Facebook” and due to the fact that there is no parental control they have access to other site like “pornography”. Children are sometimes influence by peer group and may be this is why there is juvenile delinquency, like school truancy, smoking. There is lack of communication at home and children are unable to communicate with parents. Parents take children for granted where they think that their values and way of thinking do not differ. In a way parent should be involve with children so that they know what their children are doing and build a close relationship between both of them because it is not money that count, love, care and affection are more important and we should not forget that today’s children are future adults citizen whom lies the responsibility to ensure the social and cultural harmony. Seeing all this we can say that we cannot apply the functionalist view in our society but we should also know that all society and all family differ.


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