Last Updated 17 Aug 2022

Examine the View That the Nuclear Family Is Universal

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Examine the view that the nuclear family is universal /25 Sociologists are fascinated by how society is changing, they believe to some extent the family enables them to see how order has come about. Murdock suggested that the nuclear family is universal. He defined the nuclear family as ‘a social group characterised by common residence, economic, cooperation and reproduction. It includes adults of both sexes, at least two of whom maintain a socially approved sexual relationship, and one or more children, own or adopted, of the sexually cohabiting adults. This is because it fulfils four basic functions that help society and its individual members these functions being sexual, reproductive, economic and educational functions within the family. Murdock’s view on the family being universal has been challenged by various sociologists as they argue Murdock’s definition of the nuclear family cannot be applied to families around the world due to it being restrictive.

In 1949, Murdock took a sample of 250 societies in his study Social Structure. Murdock was writing in the 1940’s and therefore the view of the family being universal was most acceptable as it had fit to the norm of society at that time. Two people of opposite sexes who lived together to support their family and provide the emotional and financial needs was the nuclear family seen to be a universal socially accepted view.

The sexual function within the family provides stability for the adults, husband and wife have the right of sexual access with each other, allowing the family to strengthen and provide sexual gratification for spouses. The reproductive function of the family is the family being able to produce the next generation of individual’s s for society. The economic function means the mother and father are able to provide the essential needs for the family which include of food and shelter.

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Lastly, the educational function within the nuclear family, this is when the family socialise the young into accepting the shared norms and values within society. Kathleen Gough disagreed with Murdock’s theory of the nuclear family and defined marriage as a relationship between a woman and one or more persons in which a child born to the woman ‘is given full birth-status rights’ common to normal member of society. In 1959, Gough researched into the Nayar society. Nayar girls were ritually married to a suitable Nayar man according to the Tali rite.

According to this rite husbands did not live or take responsibility for the wife and children, the woman’s only responsibly to the man however was to mourn for his death. Men were allowed to have an unlimited number of sandbanham wives whilst the woman was limited to no more than twelve. Gough’s study can be seen as reliable to an extent that nuclear families are not in fact universal, the sandbanham husbands have no duty to their wives and children and therefore do not play the ‘fatherly’ role and therefore do not help socialise the child.

This would mean Murdock’s educational and economical functions of the family are not universal functions. Therefore Gough concluded from her study that the Nayar society was a matrilineal family meaning that the name of the family follows your mother’s family tree rather than the fathers. However, it still challenges Murdock’s view of the nuclear family being universal due to there being many different family groups around the world with different cultural views.

Matrifocal (female-headed) and one-parent families are becoming more common in Britain today. Yanina Sheeran said that the female-carer core is the most basic family unit “the female-carer unit is the foundation of the single-mother family, the two parent family, and the extended family in it many forms. ” Tiger and Shepher (1975) say that the active life of the family household is controlled by the women. Father-child interaction is often ‘managed’ by the mother.

This is because the mother plays a bigger role essentially in the family household because women have the biological ability to have children, and also due to there being ideologies about motherhood such as the mother nurtures for the child and does everything she can to provide for her child. Gonzales in 1970 argued that the female headed families were a well organised social group which represented a positive adaption to the circumstances of poverty.

Some households may not contain adults of both sexes; this is known as the gay or lesbian families. Lesbian families are more common as opposed to gay families this is due to the difficulties that gay men will have to adopt or be granted custody of the children whereas for the lesbian household, the woman is able to conceive a child and will have the mother’s right to look after her child. Callaban (1997) argues that gay or lesbian household should be seen as families regardless of not being a male and female based parental family.

The child either way will be educated and therefore socialised into the norms of values of society. However, the gay and lesbian household do represent a minority of families. Though there are many different cultural norms and values, the nuclear family can be said to be universal. Essentially the majority of countries within the world there are people of opposite sexes who live together and support each other and their family by providing the emotional and financial needs.

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