The concept of what a "family" is varies hugely depending on what each school of thoughts theory is and how it is examined and to what depth it is examined.In the course of this essay it will look at two of the different schools perspectives on the function of the family.
Also within this essay it will discuss some of the different trends that have come to light in the last 50 years. The perspefic trends that will be discussed are the decreasing number of people per household, the sharp increase in single parent families, the rising age of first time parents, delay of marriage within society and the decline of the 'nuclear family' within Britain. Not only will it point out the trends but it will also comment on what effect this may have on society. Within the conclusion it will include a comparison of two schools of sociologists theories.
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The first trend that will be looked into and discussed is the number of persons per household decreasing since 1961 to modern day. This in some ways a misleading trend as it is not so much decreasing but being repositioned within the same 5 categories of: one person, two person, three person, four person, five person, six or more person and other. The number of one and two person households has increased by around half over both categories, meaning that 60% of Britain's households are one or two people. The decrease in the number of homes which have three, four, five and six or more people dwelling with in them ,has steadily been decreasing to less than 40% of total households in Britain today.(social trends, 2010)
The second trend that will be looked at is the number of single parent households (with dependents) have almost quadrupled in the same time frame in Britain, This demographic currently accounts to around 7% per cent of all households, this is an increase from around 2% in the 60's(this includes dependents). With such a high increase of lone parents making up households in Britain makes a huge impact on the number of couples with 1 - 2 dependent children making to fall dramatically from 30% to almost half at 18 %.( Social trends, 2010)
The third trend that will be looked at is the age at which women have their first child, this has risen from under 25 years in the 60's, to between 25 - 34 years in the current climate, although this seems to defy the general belief that women are having children much younger (teenage pregnancy). There are some very offevers reasons this such as women wanting to have a career first or they live on their own so are the sole bread winners in the household. (Social trend, 2010)
The final trend that seems to be a larger age gap between when women and men in the 60's and when women and men in the 21st century are committing to marriage, this seems to show that both men and women are choosing to marry later in life, waiting till their late twenty's now compared to their early twenty's or even teens in the 60's. All of these trends seem to be leaning towards the demise of the 'nuclear family' (Murdock, 1949); this is back by the trend of the decrease in one family household from 30% to just 18 %.( Social trends, 2010)
That which is understood by the different schools of sociologists, on the "family" changes depending on which school the sociologist belongs to, even when looking at the same theory, such as that of "Functional" differs from not only each school but also on each individual theorist.
Based on this the two theories that will be outlined are those of the "Functionalist" and of the "Marxist", including one or two of the differences within the theory itself.
The first of the two theories is functionalism concentrating, this theory may be seen as coming from one of older or more traditional schools of thought, Although it can be said that there are may still be parts of it that are relevant today. This is due to some trends that have not changed in the years since 1960 to modern family culture. Functionalism states that the family has a key role within society due to one of the schools core beliefs that the "family" can be called a social institution, To meet this criteria it must have a role or function, whether that be as a production unit or as a consumption unit both of which the family can be, whether the family meets a singular of this criteria or both at the same time. They will meet the requirements of "The Functionalism Perspective". ()
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Most functionalist theorist follow this core perspective of the family group is and most sociologists agree that the family group does serve two general purposes within society. There for: Socialisation, of the individual, and Social Order, giving individuals a safe enverment so they can find their place within society. From this common point, different sociologists attribute
various additional aspects to the family. In the case of Fletcher(1974) states the main roles of the family as a social unit are to reproduce and nurture children, give guidelines of that which is sociably expectable behaviour, sexual behaviour (both persuasion and activity) and to deliver shelter. But this differs slightly in the case of Parson (1968) who alongside the core perspectives thinks that the family also is there to help with the "stabilisation of adult personalities" (www.sociology.org.uk)
The second perspective is the Marxist which does differ from the functionalist perspective. The core perspectives of Marxism are that the families key roles are: To breed, therefore producing the next generation of workers. To socialise their offspring, so they become a productive member of society. To oppress women, as they are a means of unpaid labour, and to keep the capitalist structure a float, basically allowing the rich to get richer and the poor to get poor. Within Marxism there are less differences between each of the different theorist's and they all seem to follow these basic perspectives. There are even some newer schools of thought that are challenging both of the older perspectives such as postmodernism, Feminist theory, queer theory, poststrucralism, system theory and symbolic interactionism. It may even come a time where more than one of these theories is merged into a completely new perspective, taking certain of parts of one or two and the core beliefs behind another.
In conclusion even though the family as changed in many way and can be said to have an adverse effect on society, in some way it can be said that both of the perspectives outlined within have some similarities. Both the perspectives suggest that it is the 'family' should be the ones to pass on what the social norms and trends of that current time as well as making sure that children are socialised in a way the is expectable to the rest of society. Also both say that it is the role of the family to reproduce to maintain the population of workers, but there are major differences between the two, mainly the fact that so Marxist think that a woman's place is within the home doing unpaid labour and a man's is too be the sole earner. Even in the 21th century both of these theories are still relevant for the main reason of they both lean towards the conclusion that family no matter what the type is still an important part of society and making sure that some of the norms and trends that need to be knowledge, such as laws, are still pasted on to the next generation. Some of the trends that are currently a large part of society may in the years to come have an adverse effect on the welfare system and change what are the norms of society, these may not all be bad. One example of this, some could say, may be people becoming more divevse in their options of women wanting a career before marriage or children leading to a stronger econame. It could also be said that a complete turnaround may happen and the theory of a 'nuclear family' becomes a society norm and not just an era gone by.