Different Approaches to Families

Different Approaches to Families

Sociological approaches to the family

As in education, functionalist sociologists emphasize the positive role families play in society. The functionalist favoured the nuclear family, especially during the 1940s and 1950s when attitudes towards family life were more conservative. They saw nuclear families as playing a role in:

Reproduction: The nuclear family ensures the continuation of society.

Primary socialisation: The parents produce an environment in which the child can learn how to behave, speak and become a functioning member of society.

Economic and emotional support: Parents provide the child with food, shelter, protection, love and encouragement.


The New Right approach

This developed in the 1980s and 1990s and takes the view that the nuclear family is the most beneficial family type for society. It approves of the fact that women often take the caring role and that men take the breadwinner role.

It disapproves of the break-up of the traditional nuclear family and believes that one-parent families are more likely to produce dysfunctional, anti-social members of society.


The Marxist approach

Marxists see the nuclear family as upholding the interests of the ruling class.

Maintains inequality – The upper classes can afford to give their children the education needed to keep their children at the top of the social hierarchy. Children inherit the wealth of their parents.

Socializes the proletariat – Children of the proletariat (working classes) acquire an acceptance of their lower position in society.

Props up the capitalist system by producing future generations of workers.


The feminist approach

Feminists see nuclear families as responsible for maintaining the unequal distribution of power between men and women. Feminists understand society as patriarchal. In other words, men have most of the power and use it to control the way women lead their lives.

Although feminists will agree that the gender balance has become more equal in recent decades, they still see the nuclear set up as biased towards the man. Research shows, for example, that women still do most of the housework and take on most of the responsibility for looking after the child.