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Explain what sociologists mean by the key term ‘family.’


The term ‘family’ can be defined as a married couple or cohabiting couple, with or without dependent children or a single parent with their child or children. Families in the past were more likely to be traditional nuclear i.e. parents with segregated roles and children. Today family life is more diverse, one reason for this is rising divorce rates.


What family types are more common than in the past? Here are the clues: CC, LPF, SSF, RF, BF


COHABITING COUPLES - living together without being married.
LONE PARENT families - one parent, usually the mother, with children.
SAME SEX families - family in which a homosexual couple (married or cohabiting) live together with their child or children
RECONSTITUTED families - otherwise known as blended/step in which one or both partners have a child or children from a previous relationship with them
BOOMERANG families - where a child returns to the family home following a gap away e.g. for university often for financial reasons.


What is meant by a ‘household’?

  1. Family household: A household containing a family group such as a nuclear or a single parent family.
  2. Non-family household: A household containing either one person living alone or a group of unrelated people such as students who live together and share facilities or one meal every day.

What is an extended family? What are the different types?


A group of relatives extending beyond the nuclear family. In the classic extended family, three generations live together or nearby. In the modified extended family, members live apart geographically but have regular contact and provide support.


What is meant by the ‘beanpole’ family?


A MULTIGENERATIONAL family in which each generation has one or very few members


How can family differ by ethnicity? 2 ways.


Bangladeshi and Pakistani are more likely to live in EXTENDED families, on average, contained more people than other households.
Black afro-Caribbean households are more likely to be lone parent, headed by mothers.


How can family differ by class?


More nuclear families among middle and upper classes.

More lone parent families in the working and underclass.


Explain what sociologists mean by ‘life course diversity’.


The different family and non-family households that a particular individual experiences over their life course. For example, a baby born into a single parent family could later become part of a reconstituted family. As a young adult, they could live with friends in a shared house before living on their own in a single-person (non-family) household. After this, they could live with their partner before having children and forming a nuclear family and so on.


What is thee functionalist view of the family? Include 4 specific functions/roles.


Nuclear family a necessary and important part of society - performing essential functions for individuals and for society including:

  1. REPRODUCTION: The nuclear family produces the next generation of society’s members
  2. PRIMARY SOCIALIAZATION: The nuclear family is the agency of socialization through which young children learn the basic behaviour patterns (norms), language and skills needed in later life.
  3. EMOTIONAL SUPPORT: The nuclear family provides for its members’ emotional well-being.
  4. ECONOMIC SUPPORT: The nuclear family provides its members with financial support.

What is the New Right view of the family?


1980’s/90’s reworking of the Functionalist approach. Both approaches agree that the nuclear family is the family type that works best in meeting the needs of both society and its children. The New Right approach suggests that women should have the caring role within nuclear families while their husbands should have breadwinner roles. Non-nuclear families are damaging to society.


What is the Marxist view of the family?


Critical of nuclear family and the role it plays in maintaining the capitalist system. This approach believes that the nuclear family:

  1. Supports the capitalist system by supplying future generations of workers
  2. Socializes working-class children to accept their lower position in an unequal society
  3. Recreates inequalities between the social classes over times (For example: Bourgeoisie, Nouveau Riche parents can afford to buy their children a privileged education and pass on their wealth to the next generation of their family)

What is the Feminist view of the family?


Feminists see society as based on PATRIARCHY and living in nuclear families as benefiting men more than women. Feminists see primary socialization in families as a gendered process (repeating the segregated roles of housewife/mother and breadwinner).


Who is Ann Oakley and what did her research into family life show?


How families socialise boys/girls into traditional masculinity and femininity through MANIPULATION (language used to encourage gender roles e.g. ‘don’t be a cry baby’ to boys and ‘little princess’ to girls) and CANALISATION (buying gender specific goods e.g. dolls for girls, trucks for boys).


What evidence/reasons is there for changing domestic roles (families are becoming more symmetrical)?

  1. Young and Willmott (1973) argued that the ‘symmetrical family’ was now typical in Britain and CONJUGAL roles were more shared and also found that financial decisions were shared more equally.
  2. Gatrell (2008) found that many fathers in dual-earning couples today play a bigger role in their children’s’ lives compared with those of the past.
    Reasons for this include: Rise of feminism, availability of effective contraception, women’s increased participation in full-time paid employment.

What evidence/reasons suggests that there has not been as much change in roles as is suggested by Young and Willmott?


Feminists reject the idea of symmetry:
1. Oakley (1974) found little evidence of symmetry. Women in paid employment still had the responsibility for housework.
2. Some argue that family life is still patriarchal – authority still lies with the breadwinner (still more likely to be male) and domestic violence rates against women show this.
3. Crompton and Lyonette (2008) also argue that attitudes to gender roles have changed a lot but men’s participation in household tasks haven’t. Women still usually do the laundry and ironing.
Key reason: The role of mass media advertising in reinforcing gender stereotypes.


What are 3 changes in child/parent relationships?

  1. LESS AUTHORITARIAN – there is less emphasis on parental authority/discipline and more on children’s rights and individual freedom. BUT Pryor and Trindor (2004) found that m/class families are more likely than w/class families to involve their children in decision-making.
  2. MORE CHILD-CENTRED – more focus on children’s interests and needs. The average family size is smaller today and so children receive individual attention from parents.
  3. YOUNG PEOPLE MORE FINANCIALLY DEPENDENT ON FAMILY AND FOR LONGER - remaining until 18 from 2015. BUT Scott (2004) argues that some children may contribute by helping out in a family business or with childcare and housework.

3 reasons to explain why women born in the UK are having fewer children than 30 years ago and are having them at a later age.

  1. Changing attitudes to family size - financial incentive to have a large family no longer exists as it is now true that children are expensive.
  2. Later marriage - In the 1970s people generally married younger than is usual today. Nowadays, women marry later and delay having children until they are older.
  3. Women’s increased participation in education/paid employment - This means that they now have more options open to them in addition to/instead of motherhood.
  4. The availability of effective birth control methods - Contraception gives women more control over their fertility

Why has life expectancy increased?

  1. Advances in medicine and surgery during the 20th century
  2. Healthier lifestyles and improvements to diet and nutrition over the last 30 years
  3. Welfare state provisions such as free healthcare through NHS
  4. Decrease in infant mortality rates since the early 20th century
  5. Improvements in public health/sanitation during the 19th and 20th century such as clean water supplies and sewerage systems
  6. Improvements in preventive measures such as national screening programmes for breast cancer and vaccinations to prevent diseases like diphtheria and tetanus

What impact has longer life expectancy and lower fertility rates had on the shape of the population?


It now has a smaller proportion of young people and children and an increasing proportion of older people. In other words, it has an AGEING population with more lone person households and beanpole families with increased burden on the PIVOT generation (between grandparents and children).


Why have divorce rates increased in last 50 years? 3 reasons.

  1. CHANGING ATTITUDES mean that divorce is now more socially acceptable
  2. LEGAL CHANGES have made divorce easier, quicker and cheaper to obtain. The Divorce Reform Act (1969) introduced ‘irretrievable breakdown of marriage’ as the ground for divorce. In 1984, new legislation allowed couples to petition for divorce after one rather than three years of marriage
  3. IMPACT OF FEMINISM on women’s status has meant that a women in an unhappy marriage is less tied to her husband through economic dependence
  4. SECULARIZATION process has weakened the religious barrier to divorce
  5. MEDIA’S emphasis on mutual attraction and romance in relationships encourages couples to have high expectations of marriage. If these expectations do not match the reality of married life, this may result in an increase in divorce.

What are the consequences of divorce on family members?

  1. CHILDREN LOSE CONTACT with fathers following their parents’ divorce
  2. Divorced people may experience LOSS OF EMOTIONAL SUPPORT
  3. Divorce can lead to a LOSS OF INCOME for the former partners. After divorce, single parent families with dependent children may face financial hardship
  4. CONFLICT between the former husband and wife may continue after they divorce because of disputes regarding parenting/property issues
  5. Living in a RECONSTITUTED family may cause problems for individual family members who have to adjust to different expectations of behaviour. On the other hand, more people may be available to provide attention and support.