Functionalist sociologists believe that people have a range of basic needs that must be met if society runs smoothly. Different groups and individuals in society are important because they perform certain functions which meet society’s needs. Functionalism supports the family in nearly every way, to the support it offers to the next generation and how it teaches them the four functions they need to survive. In analyzing the family, functionalists concern themselves with two main areas. The functions that the family provides and the relationship between the family and other institutions. They suggest the family provides four main functions that help society and its individual members. Firstly they say the family provides the sexual function; this means married adults enjoy a healthy sex life preventing social distributions such as rape. Society can run much more smoothly from this as this means less rape crime.
Secondly, they say the family provides the reproductive function, producing the next generation for society. Society can benefit from this as they can take the next generation and fit them into the jobs that need filling, without any children society couldn’t survive at all. Everyone in society has a role in fulfilling. Doing these makes society work effectively, meaning are – function. Next, Functionalists explain the family also provides the function of economic provision. The family provides shelter, food, financial support and comfort for the sick. Without the family providing this function, I don’t believe society would survive as who else would provide the support they already do. Society will benefit from this as people are happy and get the help they need to work hard, and poverty can be stopped. Finally, the last function they do provide is the function of education.
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The family offers primary socialisations where children are taught the norms and values of today’s society. They teach them how to behave in a suitable way to fit into society’s functions. Everyone learns the same norms and values, meaning society won’t go into a state of chaos. Functionalists believe the family can stop the next generation from performing any defiant acts as they are teaching them the norms to which they should try to conform so they can fit into today’s society. Talcott Parsons, a functionalist, says the family provides two basic functions which no other institution can. Primary socialization and emotional gratification or the stabilization of adult personalities. The family provides stability and emotional support to the next generation and all members of the family. It helps its members of society get away from their stresses in life.
This theory is known as the warm bath theory, where the family can help with its member’s stresses such as hard work, deadlines and money. The family comforts its members and helps them with everything they need. If the family did not fulfil this need, it could lead to suicide and unexplained deaths as everything would get on top of the person needing help. In the family, functionalists say there are specific male and female roles. The female role is that of the homemaker or, as Parsons suggests, the expressive leader. The male role is that of the breadwinner, also known as the instrumental leader. Another name for the functionalist view of the family is the consensus approach.
Yes, the family may supply all these functions, but they do not always do it correctly. What about the dark side of the family, which functionalists don’t include in their theory. A high proportion of violent offences and even murder occurs within the family, and a breakdown of family values causes abuse. Child abuse is another reason for the family not doing its functions correctly. Functionalism says that the family provides emotional gratification to its members, but child abuse does not fit into this. No love or comfort is shown when a child is actually being abused, so is this function actually being done properly? Next, Functionalists say the family provides the sexual function to the best of its ability. But this is not always right as there can be rape in marriages.
These are not usually reported as a couple may be married, and the husband and wife may think it’s their fault it happened to them. Parsons can too be criticized for being sexist as he says that men are the instrumental role of the family and women the expressive role. This is not always true as some men are househusbands, and the wife is the breadwinner. Furthermore, a man may be a lone parent, meaning he does the entire expressive role and looks after his children. Times have changed over the years, meaning men’s and women’s roles have become more mixed. Also, the function of reproduction cannot always be done. What if the family cannot reproduce children or they can’t afford a child then the reproduction function can’t really be done.
Furthermore, the family doesn’t always provide the function of education to the next generation. What about Genie, who was a feral child. She was kept in virtual isolation for most of her life and treated cruelly by her parents. Genie wasn’t taught any norms and values her family should have taught, and her parents didn’t seem to show any emotional gratification towards her. She had been strapped to a potty chair in an isolated room, with no contact with anyone. This is one extreme case that goes against the functionalist view of how the family provides the four functions to the best of its ability. None of the functions, in this case, were done to any ability of which it should have been.
Karl Marx, who created the Marxist theory, also criticizes the functionalist view of the role of the family in a different way. They disagree with the consensus approach like the functionalist. They believe society operates solely for the benefit of the bourgeoisie. The family is an important institution for the ruling classes as it forms part of the superstructure and passing on ruling class norms and values. This view presents the family as the instrument of the ruling class and raising the future workforce with the right set of values that will ensure social reproduction. Marxists believe that the family has many roles, which are beneficial to Capitalist society. Marxists believe that the family aids Capitalism by being a big consumer of goods they have to pay for. As long as the family is around, people will keep buying the product, and the bourgeoisie will continue to make money.
Marxists also believe that housewives are producing the next generation of the proletariat. This means that more people will be created to fill the jobs of the retiring proletariat. Marxists believe that the family cushions the main provider. This is similar to the functionalist “warm bath theory.” Family in modern society actually creates an illusion that it is private from the economy, but the ruling class really benefits from the family’s existence. The family may provide the four functions, but this is just to fit into a capitalist society. For example, the function of socialization is to benefit society to teach children to be obedient, willing workers and reared into false consciousness. Marxists finally believe in the conflict approach, meaning we live in an unequal society, resulting in different classes’ conflict.
Functionalism is the big supporter of the nuclear family is the ideal family type. However, this is not always true. The nuclear family reinforces the inequality between classes in society. Through the nuclear family, richer families can pass on wealth and advantage to their family members, while poorer families will not provide the same opportunities. Such as paying for the same opportunities like paying for the child to go to college or university or may not be able to go abroad because it costs too much. This type of family keeps the work of the bourgeoisie and capitalism going. This family is not universal as nowadays we begin to see more lone-parent families.
The functionalist view of the family is that the family provides all the functions which the next generation needs to be able to know, such as norms and values of today’s society. We may not be able to work in society without the family’s existence as they help towards the capitalist society. Although this may be beneficial, the Marxists criticize this as the ruling class benefit most from the family while they make money; the family earns a less well-off income especially working-class families. All sociologists have different views, and they will never agree on what is right or wrong with the family. But one thing they can agree on is without the family; society would not survive.