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Sociology- family diversity

Essay Topic: ,

Using material from Item A and elsewhere assess sociological explanations of the nature and extent of family diversity today. Family diversity means that there are many different types of family in society today not Just nuclear, cereal packet families. There are several different types of family within I-JK society.

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These include; nuclear, single parent, gay or lesbian, extended and reconstituted.

Although nuclear remains the most common family type in the I-JK today with 20% of families falling into the category, other types are fast on the increase due to societies changing attitudes owards what is considered ‘acceptable’. Perspectives such as functionalist and the new right have been described as ‘modernist’. That is, they see modern society as having a fairly fixed, clear-cut and predictable structure. They see one ‘best’ family type- the nuclear family- as slotting into this structure and helping it by performing certain essential functions.

Modernists are firmly opposed to family diversity. They hold the view that there is only one correct or normal family type. They see the traditional patriarchal nuclear family consisting of a married couple and their ependent children, with a clear labour division between the breadwinner husband and the home maker wife as correct. They also see a clear distinction between who should carry out the ‘instrumental’ and ‘expressive’ role in the household. For example, according to Talcott Parsons there is a functional fit’ between the nuclear family and modern society.


He sees the nuclear family as uniquely suited to meeting the needs of modern society for a geographically and socially mobile workforce, and as performing two ‘irreducible functions’- the primary socialisation of children and he stabilisation of adult personalities. He claims these functions contribute to the overall stability and effectiveness of society. Hence, other family types can be considered as abnormal, or even deviant, since they are less able to perform the functions required of the family.

However, other sociologists reject the modernist idea that there is one ‘best’ family type or that he familys structure shapes its members behaviour. Feminist and postmodernist views would argue that modernist approaches ignore significant facts. They argue, as individual social actors, we make our own choices about family life and relationships, and we now have much greater choice about our personal relationships, and that has increased family diversity so much that we can no longer talk about a dominant type.

There are many things in modern society that have lead to an increase in family diversity today. One of the main reasons for diversity is the divorce act introduced in 1969-71 meaning women can get a divorce if they feel it is necessary. Judith Stacey argues that greater choice as benefitted women and enabled them to free themselves from patriarchal oppression and to shape their family arrangements to suit their needs. The act has lead to an increase in single parent families and singletons.

The modernists would see this as having a negative effect on society as single parent families are ill equipped to bring up a well rounded individual who can make a positive contribution to society. However, a postmodernist, Fiona Weir, argues “the vast majority of children growing up in single-parent families do so healthily and happily’. Another piece of egislation that is helped increase family diversity is the civil partnerships act (2004). It nas meant that same sex couples can legally get married and in many cases adopt a child.

Teenage pregnancy is on the increase and this has again increase family diversity and has meant there is an increase in single parent families and the three generational family all living under the same roof. This contradicts parsons claims that the extended family is not as important or needed as much as it was in preindustrial times and points out that in some cases it is needed as much as ever. The changing position of women in society has also had a large impact on family diversity. Many women now are going out to work, whereas in the past they would have stayed at home and looked after the children and her husband.

It has meant that many are now either not having children at all or waiting until they are older so they can focus on their careers. The new right and the functionalists would have a big problem with this as they see it as a women’s main Job is to bear children, take care of her children and the household. The feminists and postmodernists would however see the changing stature of women as something that is very positive as it empowers them and gives them a choice on what they want to do with their own lives.

Another key factor to point out when talking about family diversity would be the role of the media in the betrayal of modern families. In soap operas for example there may be a lot of teenage pregnancies and families such as reconstituted ones. This would have a major impact on what people think is acceptable in todays society, nd if people think it is acceptable they are more likely to do it. The media may have cause subjects such as divorce, which would have been a taboo subject in the past, to become socially acceptable which inevitably lead to an increase in the amount that take place.

One of the main issues when talking about family diversity would be the increase in the neo-conventional family. Chester defines the neo-conventional family as a dual earner family in which both spouses go out and work. This family type would be relevant to todays family because of the recession. The recession has eant that the woman can no longer afford to stay at home and care for her family as it is unaffordable. It is similar to the symmetrical family described by Young and Willmott.

For Chester, the extent and importance of family diversity described by the new right has been exaggerated. Like the functionalists, Chester sees the nuclear family as dominant. The only important difference between his view and that of functionalists is that Chester sees a change from a conventional to neo-conventional nuclear family where both play an ‘instrumental’ or breadwinner role. Ulrich Beck rgues that we now live in a ‘risk society where tradition has less influence and people have more choice. As a result we are more aware of risks.

Todays risk society contrasts with an earlier time when roles were more fixed and people had much less choice in how they lived their lives. The modernists would see this traditional view on society as correct and the way our lives should be lived out today as it is the only way a functioning society can survive. For example, people were expected to marry. Once married, men were expected to play the role of the breadwinner and disciplinarian nd to make important financial decisions, while women took responsibility for the housework and childcare.

However, the traditional, patriarchal family has been undermined by two trends; greater gender equality and greater individualism. These trends have lead to a new type of family; Ulrich Beck calls it the ‘negotiated family. Negotiated families do not conform to the traditional norms, but vary according to the wishes ot their members. These types ot tamilies are increasingly prevalent today mainly because of the recession and also many women want to work.

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