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Sociological views on the family

(click to show/hide)Marxist view on the family was developed by Engles, who was one of Marx's many writing companions. The family as we know it was invented because it justified the power of the ruling class.

Private Property and Monogamy
Before capitalism the family unit was either a small clan which owned all property in common or an extended family. Sexual relations were promiscuous and parental identity was unimportant.

After industrialisation
When large amounts of property existed, men needed to be sure who was their legitimate heir

Male domination
Monogamy was invented to control women, women were not allowed any property rights and the patriarchy emerged. Patriarchy is the notion that men control women in the family and in society.

The family serves as an essential support mechanism for the capitalists. It acts as a safety valve, it allows for comfort and security. It also makes up for being exploited.

Eli Zaretsky (1976)
Men are powerless to change society as they have to consider the well being of their wives and children
They must return each day to work so that they can provide for their dependants

Louis Althusser (1971)
Argues that there are two forms of control in society:

Repression - controlling people physically or with the threat of force

Ideology - controlling people by affecting their thought processes and beliefs.

Within the family, ideologists are socialized into each new generation, making them accept how society is.
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Murdoch says that the nuclear family is "Universal and natural", however, by taking a cross cultural look at families this has been proved to be false.

Talcott Parsons' Fit Thesis states that the modern nuclear family evolved to meet the needs of an industrial society. However, Parsons' theory has been widely criticised by historical evidence, notably studies by Laslett and Anderson.

Disproved Parsons' idea that the majority lived in extended families before the industrial revolution by using parish records in England from 1564 - 1821, which showed that only 10% of household were extended families.
This evidence seems to suggest the reverse of parsons' idea of the trend from extended to nuclear family is true, however it should be noted that this research is from limited sources.

Wilmott and Young
Suggests that Parsons was correct in identifying a general trend, however, the timescale in which he placed his Fit Thesis was incorrect

Feminist criticism
Feminists argue that the functionalists view of the expressive and instrumental roles as natural are in fact socially constructed. Feminists also disagree with Murdoch's idea that the nuclear family is natural, believing that there is no preferable family structure and encourage family diversity. Feminists would argue that the functionalist view of the family encourage oppression of women.

Marxist criticism
Marxists argue that the functionalist view of the family views those family structures which support and benefit Capitalism and the nuclear family is part of the super structure with the sole purpose of perpetuating a capitalist system.

They also believe that the family socializes its members to accept the false consciousness that capitalism is good for all and that the government helps the people through healthcare ect.

Marxism also rejects the functionalist idea that society is based on consensus, they would say that current society is based upon a conflict between the small powerful ruling class and the working majority.

Both Marxists and Feminists disagree with the functionalist idea that each organ of society exists for the benefit of society itself and for its individual members, they believe that they exist for the benefit of the ruling class of either capitalists or men respectively.

General Criticisms
One criticism of the functionalists view of the family comes from radical psychiatry, who argue that the nuclear family is too isolated and thus results in internal friction and frustration.

Laing (1964) Argues that the family can lead to depression and other mental illnesses as its members spend too much time together. Laing uses the specific example of a girl named Jane who suffered from schizophrenia and she believed she was tennis ball as she bounced from one parent to another.

Cooper (1972) Takes a more Marxist approach, claiming that the family teaches children to be obedient and parents behave like capitalists and bosses. This ties in with the general criticism that functionalists is too optimistic and ignores the levels of violence within the family.

It ignores the positive experiences that many have within diverse family structures. Critics would say that functionalism encourages negative labeling of the family diverse which can be said to lead to many social problems
(click to show/hide)Like functionalist, they see the family as the cornerstone of society. The nuclear family is the 'normal' structure and the ideal. Other arrangements are seen as inferior. They see that in the past there was a golden age of the family, mostly characterized by the Victorian era. However during this time: Lone parenthood, cohabitation and sexual relations outside marriage were all very common.

There is concern over the family as it is in decline or fragmenting.

Evidence for this is:
Lone parent families
Fatherless families
Divorce rates
Gay and lesbian couples

As a result the two parent nuclear family headed by a married couple is steadily decreasing as a proportion of all families.

The cause
There is a breakdown of traditional family values, and overgenerous welfare benefits to single mothers which allow fathers to opt out of their responsibilities for raising and providing for their families.

Influences of feminism have also caused a devaluation of marriage, reduced pregnancies and have encouraged women to seek fulfillment outside the house, which is considered a bad thing in terms of the sanctity of the family. Also this has lead to an increase in sexual permissiveness and a greater tolerance of gay and lesbian relationships as alternatives to hetrosexual marriage.

The consequences
The fragmented family is no longer preforming its function effectively as it is failing to provide adequate socialization. Children are underachieving at school and children behave in anti-social ways. Also overgenerous welfare benefits result in welfare dependency.

The solutions
A return to traditional family values such as lifelong marriage and recognition of the duties and responsibilities of parenthood. A change in government policy such as redirecting welfare benefits to two parent families and penalties for other structures.

Sociology and the New Right
New Right'ers tend to be journalists and politicans rather than sociologists. Examples include:
Charles Murray
Abbott and Wallace
Dennis and Halsey
and Dennis and Erdos

Criticisms of the New Right
They constantly blame the victims when the problems of society are the result of low wages, inadequate state benefits, lack of jobs and other factors that are beyond the control of the parents.
(click to show/hide)Introduced the study of housework and domestic violence and challenged the established views about male dominance in families. They highlighted the economic contribution of women's domestic labor and focused on the power relations within the family.

Marxist Feminist
They argue that the family and its exploitation of women serve the needs of capitalism. (3 studies)

M. Benston - The fact that men must support his family weakens his bargaining power at work. He cannot go on strike because he has a family to support

Ansley - Argues that the emotional support provided by wives acts as a safety valve for the husbands frustration at working within the capitalist system.

Feely - Sees the family as an authoritarian unit dominated by the husband. It teaches children to submit to parental authority and accept their place in the hierarchy of capitalist society.

M. Benston 'Reserve army of labour'
Used by capitalists to supress workers demands for higher wages. At times of economic boom there is a high demand for labour and capitalists recruit from this army of the unemployed and wages are kept low.
When the economy becomes depressed again, then extra workers can be sacked and returned to the rescue army in waiting, the profits made are protected through boom and bust.

Rescue army and the family
Married women are often regarded as 'secondary' workers as their main responsibility is to stay home with the children. They find little support from male trade unionists in redundancy disputes.

Criticisms of Marxist-Feminist
Variations of class and ethnicity are ignored and it assumes the existence of very traditional families. It exaggerates the harm done to women and is unable to concede that the family has positive elements, they portray women as passive victims of exploitation.

Radical Feminist

Delphy and Leonard See the oppression of women as the most significant aspect of society. Society is a patriarchy and male dominated and the family is a hierarchical institution. Women may resist domination but cannot escape from it.

Purdy Argues that women's disadvantages result from childcare responsibilities, motherhood is an expensive and long-term commitment of time and energy. Purdy advocates a 'baby strike' and only then would men take women's demands seriously.

S. Walby Argues that there has been a move from private patriarchy to a public patriarchy.

The 6 structures of patriarchy

1. Paid employment
Some reduction in inequality and more access to employment. Gap in wages between the sexes has only narrowed slightly.

2. Household production
The husband is a main authority figure, men benefit from women's unpaid labour. Recent changes in divorce, have made it easier to escape from exploitation marriage.

3. Culture
Sexual attractiveness has replaced domesticity as the key feature of femininity. Increased women's freedom in some ways, but also subjected women to degrading pornography and sexual violence.

4. Hetrosexuality
A patriarchal structure and sexual double standards. Men applauded for promiscuous behaviour while women are regarded as slags.

5. Violence against women
Not clear whether increased or decreased. More crimes are reported and police take reports seriously, however few men are actually convicted.

6. The state
Has become less discriminatory but remains patriarchal, racist and capitalist.

Walby's later work
Nature of patriarchy varies by social group, for example muslim women are more constrained by family patriarchy than other groups.

Generational differences
Younger women experience gains in sexual freedom, educational opportunities and paid employment. Poorly qualified women and single parents suffer considerable disadvantages. Elite positions continue to be male dominated.

Liberal Feminists

Associated with equal rights campaigners, they want reforms rather than revolutions. Attribute inequality to sexism discrimination and sex role stereotyping and socialization.

Success of Liberal campaigns
Legislation has been passed issues such as equal pay, sex discrimination and right to home maternity leave. Gender inequalities persist such as in cultural stereotyping and occupational segregation. Huge strides have been made in education but this is not followed up in occupational success.

Barron and Norris' Dual Labour market theory

Distinguishes between
1. The primary labour market of well paid, fairly secure jobs with prospects.
2. The secondary labour market with poorly paid, insecure jobs with few prospects.

Employers try to attract and retain primary workers, secondary workers seen as easily replaceable. Women are concentrated in the secondary sector due to sexism and lack unionization.

C.Hakim's Rational Choice Theory

Extremely critical of all the feminist positions and the theory of patriarchy is inaccurate and misleading. Women are not victims of unfair unemployment parties. Women with children make rational choices about their future.
Women regard childcare as just as important as employment, the lack of women in top jobs and the domination of part-time work does not reflect the lack of free childcare, employer discrimination and weak laws.

Women make rational choices to put children and the family first. However, Ginn and Arher - point out that all too often it is employer attitudes rather than women's attitudes that confine them to the secondary labour market.

Difference Feminism
They acknowledge the variety of domestic arrangements and the range of effects family life can have. Black feminists stress the particularly deprived positions of black women, and Brewer argues that race, gender and class combine to give women 'multiple source deprivation'.

Difference continued
Nicholson believed that there is a powerful ideology supporting traditional families and devaluing alternatives. All types of family should be accepted because they suit different women in different circumstances. Calhoun focuses on lesbian families, they epitomize the ultimate in 'choice'.

Criticisms of Difference Feminism
Lose sight of the inequalities between men and women in stressing the range of choices open to the people. They tend to neglect the common experiences shared by most women in families.

Sociology on social inequality

(click to show/hide)Dual Labour Market Theory - Barron and Norris

Primary Sector                                        Secondary sector
Secure                                                    Insecure
Well paid                                                Low Paid
Long term prospects                              Unskilled
Dominated by men                                 Dominated by women

Women are less likely to obtain primary sector jobs because employers have stereotypical views of women believe their careers will be interrupted by child rearing. Another reason is that the husbands career and cultural pressures may mean that women have to be geographically mobile to follow the husband.
Equal opportunities laws are weak and fail to protect women, patriarchal views of men in business makes discrimination appear 'natural'.

Bradley points out that this theory does not explain discrimination in the primary sector. An example would be in the field of teaching, women are less likely than men to gain high status jobs. This theory undermines the popular assumption that better qualifications and increased ambition will get rid of discrimination.

Rational Choice Theory - Catherine Hakin

Suggests that patriarchy is a 'Female Myth' and that women are not victims of unfair employment practices. Women with children make rational choices about their futures, they believe that childcare is as important a career as employment. The lack of women in well paid top jobs and their domination in part time work does not reflect the lack of free childcare, employer discrimination or weak laws but reflects the rational choice to put children and family first.


Ginn and Arbour point out that all too often it is employer attitudes, that confine women to the secondary labour market.
Hakin does reflect individual motivation and attitudes. Women are quite strongly in control of their lives and largely free to make their own decisions.
(click to show/hide)Men are more likely to be self-employed as 16% of the workforce are self-employed men, whereas 7% of the workforce are self-employed women. Women are more likely to work part-time as 81% of part-timers are women, 40% of female employees are part-time and 8% of male employees are part-time.

Horizontal Segregation is the tendency for men and women to be located in different sorts of industries and occupations. Recent changes indicate more women are moving into men's fields.

Vertical Segregation is the tendency for men and women to be concentrated at different levels of power, status and pay -within any industry or occupational group. Women are concentrated at the lower levels.

The Glass Ceiling is the barrier to women's advancement in employment. It is called the glass ceiling because women can see where they would like to go but the ceiling impedes their progress. Descai (1999) found that women are starting to break through.

Career Patterns

25 Years Ago                                                                                From 1998

Women worked full time                                                     A 'near flat employment rate'.
before children were born.                                                 70% women in work at any time.
Withdrew from the workforce.                                            Swift return to work after maternity leave.
Returned to work.                                                               Continuous employment.
Called the 'double hump pattern'.

Difficult to make comparisons due to wide range of earnings and levels of occupation. Comparisons or earnings across similar jobs and control for length of service. Important also to allow for number of hours worked. Studies show an earnings 'gap' does exist. £2-3 per hour.

Women are less likely to register for unemployment. Comparisons are difficult.
2002/03 the unemployment rate (ICO) was 5.1% overall. 5.6% for men and 4.5% for women.

Female Progress - Feminisation of the work force
The number of women in employment has increased from 8.8 million (1971) to 12.9 million (2003). Number of male workers remained relatively consistent at 15.2 million.

1973-27% of women were economically active. 2003-53%

Female Progress - Reduction in inequality

Horizontal Segregation has decreased, with a decline in male occupations and the traditional male industry (ship building, mining, steel works) we might expect to see further decline in gendered occupation.
Vertical Segregation has decreased. Women are increasingly entering the professional and managerial occupations.

The pay gap has been closing - 1 in 5 women earn more than husbands compared to 1 in 14 in the 1970s.

Reasons for the improvement - Pilcher 1999

Economic Change shift from heavy industry to servers.
Political processes have outlawed the blatant forms of discrimination.

Equal pay act 1970
Sex discrimination act 1975
Provision of tax credits and benefits for love parents.

Changes in women's attitudes
More career minded - Sue Sharpe
More effective contraception allows women to combine career and child rearing.
Growing instability of the family creates incentive to become financially independent.

Redundant men

Traditional occupational jobs are declining. Discarded men appear to be poorly placed to be employed in new service sector. Took a pride in masculine identity b new jobs required sensitive feminine skills.
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Functionalism - Eisenstadt proposed that age is a differentiating factor in societies where status is achieved not ascribed, and where principles are universalistic. Therefore age has become more important than since industrialism.

Age groups contribute towards integration and stability. Youth is an important transitional stage which allows people to try out different roles outside the family. Bradley - points out that the elderly are ignored by this theory and it is wrong to consider the poverty suffered by many elderly people an integrative force.

Cumming and Henry founded the 'disengagement theory'. This is the idea that the elderly retire in order to make room for the younger members of society. Therefore, retirement aids the integration of society.

Weberian Age Stratification - Riley developed the term cohort, therefore our experience of age and aging is very different according the cohort that we were born into.
For example, being old today is very different to what it was like 50 years ago and it is likely to be different in 50 years time. This theory provides no explanation of why age stratification develops in a certain way.

Capitalism and Ageism - Phillipson and Walker developed the term 'structured dependency', which means a group whose living standards are based decisions made by others. They suggest that capitalism distinguishes between two main groups in society; those who are productive and useful to the economy and those who are not. The latter group make up a reserve army of labour.
Age ideology in capitalists society persuades us that retirement is the loss of identity and self-worth.

Vincent suggests that the dominant ideology views in capitalism is that the cost of the elderly caused by the demographic time bomb should be reduced. This view is popularized in society by the ideological stereotypes that are produced on a frequent basis.

Age and the Family
Our understanding of childhood has changed overtime, it is also very different between cultures. Therefore our idea of childhood is society constructed.
Functionalists see that the move towards a child centered society is a positive step.
Feminists such as Firestone argue that the care and protection offered in this society is actually oppression and control. For example, protection from paid work is not seen as liberating, but as restrictive and as creating inequalities between children and adults.

Generational/Cohort diversity older and younger generations have different familial arrangements and values which determine how they live as families.

Religion and Age
Paul Heelas sought to explain differences in religious participation between different age groups. He found that 73% of those active in the holistic million of Kendal are aged 45 and over.
25% of adults aged 30-39 have downshifted over the last 10 years. People in their forties and fifties do this to spend time with their children, 25% of over fifties stated that they do this because they are seeking a healthier lifestyle.
They want to stay younger for longer but they are more likely to be affected by health problems and they have an awareness that their "time is running out".
(click to show/hide)Racism is a combination of the following : Discriminatory practices, unequal relations and power, negative beliefs and attitudes.
Prejudice is a style of thinking that relies heavily on stereotypes that are factually incorrect, exaggerated distorted.
Discrimination is prejudice put into practice. This can be enacted through employment, housing, racial attacks and policing.

Institutional racism - Racist assumptions are built in to the rules and routines of Britain's social institutions. Specific needs of racial minorities are neglected, taken for granted and habitial. Home office and London metropolitan police have admitted to this.

Statistics - unemployment

Unemployment rates
White men 8%
Pakistani/Bangladeshi 18%
Afro-Caribbean 21%

Particularly severe for the young 16-24 year old
White 17%
Pakistani/Bangladeshi 33%
Afro-Carribean 36%

Statistics - Discrimination in the job market

In the 1995-96 the equal proportions of all groups in manufacturing. There were larger proportions of ethnic groups in retail, health and social work.
Generally earn lower incomes then white population - 1995 average hourly incomes of full time employees 92% of white population.

Functionalist view - All inequality is necessary in society. If something exists in society it needs to exist - it has a function.
Patterson (1967)
Banton (1983)
Society needs to have some disadvantaged groups.

1. They can take the jobs the dominant groups do not want - low pay and bad conditions.
2. They can be scapegoated - blamed for social problems.
3. They enable the dominant groups to feel superior.
4. Eventually they will absorb the dominant norms and values of the host society and become assimilated.

New Right - Meritocracy

Peter Saunders (1996) - There s equality of opportunity and individual ability is rewarded. Your strengths and weaknesses rather than your ethnicity lead to your social position.

The Underclass
Disproportionately made up of ethnic minority groups - they are to blame rather than society or racism. Some groups fail to assimilate and develop a culture of poverty. Welfare dependency is a problem rather racism.

Weber - Labour market position

Class - Ethnic minorities are generally working class with over representation in the low paid, and the unemployed.

Status - the prestige and respect you get from others in society. Racism and discrimination cause the ethnic minorities to have low status.

Power - Ethnic minorities are under represented in the trade unions and in politics.


Murray and Mewsland blame the culture of some ethnic minorities for their poverty and unemployment. Claim they are work shy and welfare dependent. Surveys indicate their norms and values with regard to work are no different from mainstream society.

Rex and Tomlinson - Dual Labour Market Theory

Primary Labour Market                                                       Secondary Labour Market

Secure jobs for skilled workers.                                          Less secure jobs for unskilled workers.
Good wages, opportunities for                                           Poor wages, few opportunities for training or promotion.
promotion and training.                                                      Poor working conditions.
Good working conditions.                                                   Not highly valued by employer and have low status.
Workers are highly valued and
have status.

The existence of a black underclass has not been proved - there is considerable overlap between whites and blacks in terms of poverty and unemployment. The concept of status inequality may help to explain divisions in the work force.

Marxist explanations - most people in ethnic minorities are members of the working class. It is class not ethnicity that is responsible for their exploitation.

Westergaard and Resler (1976) The unitary working class
Ethnic minority workers are no more exploited than white workers. Capitalism is the main problem rather than race.

Castles and Kosack (1973) The divided working class
Division of the working class helps capitalism to oppress the workers. Employers can treat the black workers as a reserve army of labour, to be hired when the economy expands and laid off when recession sets in. White workers are encouraged to perceive black workers as a threat - 'divide and rule'
Ethnic minorities are used to distract the workers and are scapegoated for employment and the decline of neighbourhood.

Robert Miles (1980) Racialised class fractions

This model looks at the sub groups within the working class - there are fractions based on skill level, gender and ethnicity. Cultural differences divide each of these groups and do not provide consensus or unity.

Miles - Ethnic middle class

Some ethnic minorities associate far more with capitalism rather than the working class. Asian entrepreneurs.
Evidence that increasing numbers or african-asians are entering the professional middle classes although it may be at the lower levels where status and pay are not high.


It is difficult to prove that racism is part of capitalist ideology. Marxists tend to talk aout racism as if the capitalists had created it on purpose.
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Social mobility
Goldthorpe - Certain amount of movement between social classes. Working class people have been absorbed into the new expanding middle class.

The Under-Class

There has been a growth in the underclass, people rely on benefits to survive. Dependent on welfare handouts. Distinct and separate group from the traditional working class.


People are increasingly better off. Even the poorest people can have a quality of life far higher than they would have expected 30 years ago.

Theories to explain changes in the class structure

Proletarianisation of the middle class
Embourgeoisement of the working class
Convergence of the class

Proletarianisation of the middle class
H.Braverman - Non-manual workers have become  more like the working class in terms of their status as employees. An example are office orkers, automation and loss of skills. Process known as 'de-skilling'

The middle class have lost the social and economic advantages they had over manual work. Superior pay and working conditions no longer enjoyed.
Developments accompanied by 'Feminising' the routine white collar workers. Cheaper to employ and seen as more adaptable and amenable to routine work.

Criticisms of Proletarianisation
Devine - still distinct cultural differences in terms of values, life styles and political attitudes. Work advantages of flextime  , fringe benefits, longer holidays and safer working conditions.
The NS-SEC recognises that thee may be some overlap and does not play up the white/blue collar workers distinction.

Popular theory in the 60's Zweig. The working class were changing into the middle class, the proletarian traditionalist would have been:
Mutually supportive
Keen sense of class solidarity
conflict sense of 'Us' and 'Them'
A solidaristic orientation to work

Evidence to support embougeoisement

Economic advantages, wages were significantly higher in some of the new industries such as car manufacturing. Working class workers could therefore afford some of the luxuries which had been considered middle class, such as house purchase and consumer durables. Working class were becoming middle class.

Evidence to refute the embougeoisement thesis

Goldthorpe and Lockwood study 'The Affluent Worker' (1969)
Little evident to support Zweig's assertion, economic advantages did not take account of:
Overtime bonus
Poorer holidays
Sick Pay
Length of service

The social aspects are that affluent workers draw friends from the working class. Followed working class norms and values. Did not value or seek middle class status.
The political views are the strong support for the labour party. Same 'Us' and 'Them' conflict view. Strong Trade Union affiliation.


Evidence refutes embourgeisement thesis, however there were some changes to the working class. Old working classs had solidaristic orientation to work, new working class was not being assimilated into the working class. There were two points of normative convergence:
Privatization and Instrumental collectivism

Home central lifestyle focus on the home, DIY, TV and nuclear family. No evidence of the communal sociability of the traditional working class based in pub and club.
Many had migrated from northern towns to Luton for lifestyle improvement so cut off from wider kin.

Instrumental collectivist

A new attitude towards work develops, only wages count and no real sense of loyalty or solidarity exists.
Vote Labour in an instrumental way - the party that will best improve their life.
Join Union in the same way, for their own personal benefit. Typical of the working class.

R.Dahrendorf We are no longer have single monolithic groups such as industrial workers. Multinational companions now own the real wealth and power, the result is individualistism. Personal issues are now more important than class issues. Ideas relate to post-modernism.

Is class still important in Britain?
Class is very important
Class is no important

Class is very important
S.Chapman says there is a strong case for the existence of an upper class identity. Closed system of socialisation through the public schools. Marriage within their own circle. 'Old boy network' family support for business.

Adonis and Pollard said they identified a new 'elite' super class of professionals and managers. Work in financial services and high salaries. Share ownership in the business that employs them.

McIntosh and Mooney say that class is still a main source of social identity, we measure ourselves against other people thus gaining identity.

Class is NOT important
Traditional class patterns of voting are breaking down. I.Crave claimed that voting no longer takes place along the lines of traditional class loyalties.

Meritocracy - people all have an equal chance of success or failure. Politicians make this claim:
"The class war is over, but the struggle for true equality has begun" - Tony Blair

Postmodernism - The consumption of goods is more significant as a source of personal identity than class. Though purchase of goods, we create meaning in our lives.

Sir Shota:
Thank you for beginning this thread.

Being an ISFJ, I had to actually struggle with the cons of my relationships with friends and family, as well as myself. I remember figuring this out years ago, and I found myself becoming really obsessed with finding out who I really am. I still am, to be honest. I'll spare the details, so I'll lay it out here:

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