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CHANGES IN THE FAMILY LIFE British society has undergone transformations that raise the debate of the family,

its definition, changing structure and functions within society. Marxists, functionalists, feminists and the New Right sociological perspectives raise different interpretations of the family. There is a myriad of social units identified as families in British society, single parented, reconstituted, foster and single sex parented families which contradict some views of each perspective. This contrast poses a question whether the different sociological perspectives account for the realities of families in the British society and how that impacts social policies. The aim is to consider the pros and cons of each perspective against the empirical realities of families in British society and make an objective assessment on whether they are representative of the family structures in the British society. Functionalist perspective on the family stems from Murdocks (1949) definition reference by Giddens (2006)). Murdock defines the family as a married adult heterosexual couple with biological or adopted children, all living in a common residence. This definition according to Haralambos and a Holborn (2008) also stipulates economic cooperation and gender division of labour, with males having the instrumental role as breadwinners while females have the expressive role of child rearing, housework and emotional support. The functions of the family are viewed as provision of shelter, reproduction and socialisation of children into collective societal norms and values. Taylor (1999), states that functionalists view the family as the only mechanism by which individuals are integrated into the wider community and society. Browne (2011) explains that the Marxist perspective also assumes the family to be a nuclear unit with distinct gender roles for its members as well as the unit of reproduction, child socialisation and provision for emotional support for workers. However Marxists do not view the family as functional but as instrumental in class stratification. Family from a Marxist view is a tool devised by capitalism to insure transference of wealth through inheritance (Marsh and Keating 2006). Presented against substantial data of the realities of family life such as a high number of single parent families , the functionalist and Marxist views are not representative of families in British society as they define family within the context of marriage. Weddle et al (2012) argue that in the past 30yrs of British society there

has been marked decrease in the importance attached to marriage witnessed through high divorce rates, cohabitation and single parented families. Marxist feminists are an extension of the Marxist perspective on the family. They argue that domestic labour performed by women is essential to capitalism. Radical feminists believe that the family is a patriarchal institution rather than a capitalist one and it serves the interest of men at womens expense. They believe that the roles within the family are not natural but patriarchal social constructs. Delphy (1997), Walby (1987) argue that the domestic division of labour precede capitalism and that it resulted from domination of women by men. Ultimately Feminists view the family as an institution that exploits women through unfulfilling domestic labour and financial dependency. Marxists, functionalist and feminist do not account for role reversal of within the family which is evident in British society. According to Taylor (1999) Over 70% of women of working age in Britain were economically active in 1996 and half of them had children of preschool age. Due to economic climate of widespread unemployment some men took over expressive roles whilst women went to work. This also stands as a critic to the Feminist perspective as men in these circumstances appear to now assume the exploited role. Furthermore due to high divorce rates modern families are predominantly female headed single parent families. Women increasingly have a choice not to marry, get divorced, not to have children thus women are not universally exploited victims within the family. In some cases women chose the domestic roles and find fulfilment within those roles contrary to the feminist belief. Marxists also disregard that in British society people mainly marry for love rather than as a means to transfer wealth through inheritance. New Right perspective is insistent on the nuclear family being the only type of family that is functional in society. Haralambos and Langley (2008) states that the New Right perspective blames the breakdown of traditional family values for the diversity of family forms, such as single parents, cohabitation, gay and lesbian families. They argue that the family structure is disintegrating losing its functions and that is the reason for social problems. The development of the welfare state, education, social services and health system in Britain is testament to loss of some functions of the family. The state has taken

over some of the function that the functionalist perspective views considered to be exclusive to the family. Macionis and Plummer (2005) stated that in a welfare state, Individuals can depend on the state instead of their family for sustained income and education. There is a rise of foster families, (Browne 2009), which shows that biological ties and marriage are not definitive to the family. Functionalists, Parsons and Bale (1956) as cited by Haralambos and Langley (2008) acknowledge that the family has lost some of its functions in an industrial society however they believe that family functions have become more specialized. They believe that the family now focuses on primary socialisation and stabilization of adult personalities and maintain that these functions are basic and indispensible for a functional society. Macionis and Plummer (2005) in support argue that government institutions cannot provide children with a sense of love and security that they would receive from parents as family offers a sense of intimacy through forging of emotional bonds. It seems that regardless of the family structure the function of primary socialisation is predominantly undertaken by the family in British society. Parsons suggestion of specialised functions of the family dismisses by default extended families and deems them redundant. On the contrary Branners (2003) research into bean pole family cited by Giddens (2006) indicates that the extended family is not redundant as presumed nor are they uncommon in British society. The research showed that intergenerational ties in families are getting stronger due to higher life expectances and that grandparents are taking more responsibilities in taking care of grandchildren. Browne (2008) states that Parsons functionalist view is based on a 1950s research sample of American middle class family therefore it is not be generalised across all social classes. Another criticism of the functionalist perspective is that it is idealistic in its approach and presentation of the family. According to Taylor (1999) the family is presented as internally differentiated which conceals inequalities within it thereby minimizing family problems that include violence and abuse which serves no functional contribution to individuals involved and the society as a whole. Whilst Functionalist disregard conflict within the family the Marxists and Feminist do not acknowledge any positive aspects on the family such as the nurturing and emotional support .Feminist also ignore the egalitarian trends within family life that have resulted from female financial contribution and change of attitudes in society.

Weddle et al (2012) noted that there is evidence that men are becoming more involved in caring for children. However it has to be noted that although women are now engaging in formal employment they still have the main responsibility for childcare and domestic roles. The New Right theorists such as Charles Murray blame the welfare state for diverse family forms in Britain. According to Fulcher and Scott (2008) the new right argue that welfare system undermines family values and encourage divorce and dependency. They believe that same sex parented families are unnatural and any other family structure aside from the nuclear family cannot effectively perform the function s of the family. They believe female single parented families are responsible for the rise in antisocial behaviour as children no longer have male role models. Hence new right policies. Newman (2006) argues that the Golden Age of the family by the New Right is a family stereotype that has never been accurate and that family structures have always been diverse. Critics of current society cite high divorce rates, changing gender roles, same sex marriages as problematic characteristics however Sennett (1984) believes that the rate of hidden matrimonial separation a hundred years ago was probably not much less than the visible separation today and that fragmented nature of family relationship in current British society was not absent in the 1970s indicating that the diversity of family types in Britain is caused by wider social issues such as poverty and ethnicity. Collective and individual analysis and evaluation of the sociological perspectives on the family conclusively indicated that they are incognisant all types of families in British society. Contrasted against the idealised family structure it may seem like the family as a social institution is disintegrating however it can be argued that it forms a template that serves as a guide rather than a directive on family functions and structures. It is also evident that diverse family types in British society are indicators of the extensive influence of wider social issues and that the family has always been a dynamic and will continue to transform in accordance to a wide spectrum of factors.

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