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The Nuclear Family Is Considered The ‘Ideal’ Why And For Whom?

In 1949, Functionalist George Murdock defined the family as “a social group characterized by common residence, economic cooperation, and reproduction. It includes adults of both sexes, at least two of whom maintain a socially approved sexual relationship and one or more children”. In this description, Murdock is describing a family structure called the nuclear family. The nuclear family is the most common definition of a family, which consists of two parents and their children. It was once considered ideal by society but is now facing a decline due to the rapid change of trends in society today. These trends in issues such as divorce and religion are some of many linked to the decline of the nuclear family in society. I will be taking a closer look at these issues, considering Functionalist and Marxist views, and also taking into account other family structures whilst tackling the question of why and for whom the nuclear family is ideal.

Functionalists believe that each part of society has a function, very much like a human body. Using the example of a human body, functionalists believe that the nuclear family is ideal as it is at the heart of society. This is because they view the nuclear family as a positive institution that is extremely beneficial to society by performing core functions such as reproduction, the socialization of children and economic support by providing food and shelter for its members – without these essential functions, functionalists believe society would be faced with many problems and would not be able to function correctly. In contrast to functionalism, Marxists have a less positive view of the family institution. Marxists believe that the family serves in maintaining class differences and sees society as a conflict between the ruling class and working class where the bourgeoisie exploit the proletariat in order to keep a capitalist society that the bourgeoisie can profit from.

The nuclear family is an ideal family structure for Marxists as it maintains class by assuming children born within the proletariat stay within that class and children from rich families, the bourgeoisie; usually stay within that class also. A further essential role the nuclear family plays within Marxism is that it allows the inheritance of private property through heirs. The nuclear family also provides a distraction for the working class from the reality of their exploitation and gives them a sense of power and authority within their own ‘castle’. This is crucial as it avoids the proletariat from overthrowing the capitalist society through revolution. Family structures are becoming more diverse in modern society, in addition to the Nuclear family I will also be looking at the reconstituted family and the single-parent family. The reconstituted family is also known as a ‘step family’, where two adults in a family have divorced and re-married new partners who may also have children.

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In my opinion, this type of family has become more common due to the number of acts introduced to society, which make divorce easier, quicker and cheaper. The result of making divorce more obtainable makes it acceptable to society and provides a backup plan to couples that spontaneously marry. The evolution of society has made single-parent families an acceptable and normal family structure in society. This is evident in statistics that show that where the nuclear family has decreased, the single-parent family has steadily risen by 6% since 1971 (National Statistics 2010). Another possibility of this rise is likely due to the decline of traditional values and conjugal roles such as sex before marriage becoming socially acceptable, and women now having equal rights, enabling them the ability to become independent and look after themselves and their children alone quite successfully.

In 1971, 38% of the population’s households contained a nuclear family structure, whereas in 2009 only 21% contained a couple with one or more dependant children in a household. These statistics suggest that modern society is evolving and no longer requires the nuclear family. On the other hand, despite the decline of the nuclear family, it is still what the majority of society strives for; evident in what the media tells us from a young age. An example of this is the generic cereal advert where there is a middle-class housewife, child and a businessman husband always seemingly rushing off to work – this is a typical example of the media suggesting the idea of the nuclear family, and also an example of how old fashioned conjugal roles are still being presented to us. Although, the statistics suggest that despite the media’s subtle hints that tell us how to behave and live our lives, perhaps as a society we have become more intelligent and aware, and this is why we chose to live more liberally – the rising awareness of our place in society could pose as quite a threat to the Capitalist society in the future.

According to Parsons, the family’s two main functions are “primary socialization and personality stabilization of adults” (Parsons and Bales 1956), this makes the nuclear family extremely important for functionalists because without it individuals would not know how to conform in society, and adults would not have the emotional support necessary to cope with everyday life, this would result in the system losing its organization and order. Marxists value family as a means of keeping society within their own class tiers, protecting private property and fuelling the economy. With a Marxist view in mind, a nuclear family, re-constituted or single-parent family, are all very much doing the same job in those terms; they are both mass consuming which supports the economy and socializing children within their class. This may suggest that the nuclear family is not so ideal to Marxists but instead family as a whole, not matter what structure is ideal for their system to work.

In terms of the individual, where Marxism ignores any detail of family life but instead looks at it from an economic angle, functionalism views family life as positive to society, and yet completely ignores issues such as domestic abuse, gender inequality and rising divorce rates which are all common issues found especially within the conventional nuclear family. This potentially makes family life for the individual stressful and difficult and can affect the way they integrate into society and how they then socialize with their own children. On the other hand, a nuclear family offers the stability and security of two parents in a society where single-parent families are on the rise; this offers the child love, nurture and the confidence to blossom into their own individual. These points highlight how family life is important and should not be overlooked, but seen objectively by both theories.

Many issues affect and alter what the family was and has now become. I feel that the rise in the divorce rate, which corresponds to the changes in laws that make it a considerable deal more obtainable, is substantial evidence to suggest this is one of the issues that has contributed to the decline of the nuclear family. With divorce rates on the rise, this also means more single-parent families and reconstituted families will emerge into society. The rise in diversity creates new norms and values for society; I believe this will keep happening until the nuclear family becomes a minority – or at least considered less of an ideology. Religion is another issue that I believe has affected the nuclear family. Modern society not only ignores many traditional values but also neglects religion. The decline of faith eradicates the need for a conventional nuclear family and to conform to the rules of sex before marriage and monogamy. If these rules no longer need to apply, then many reconstituted families and single-parent families will rise as a result of this.

To take a popular religion such as Islam, many families of this faith commonly have extended families, where uncles, aunts, cousins and grandparents are also extremely close to the parents and children or even living within the same household. It is a possibility that the popularity of Islam not only in England but the world has contributed to a decline in a conventional nuclear family and the rise in extended families. I personally think that socializing children in an extended family environment offer a much richer experience of socialization and upbringing in terms of education, nurture, security and finance. Reflecting on the research present in this essay, it seems clear that Functionalists consider the nuclear family as ideal because it provides an environment that is essential to creating a working society through socialization provided by two parents and holding together traditional and moral values of the responsibility of marriage and family life.

Marxists neglect many aspects of the family as a social institution in contrast to functionalists, but see it as support for capitalist society and a means for passing down property and keeping class differences and wealth within the bourgeoisie. I disagree with functionalists and think if evolution within species is a way of improving and bettering, then the evolution of society which has shown diversity in family structure is also an improvement and is what society needs in order to progress and better itself. In conclusion, the nuclear family is considered the ideal due to old fashioned traditional values and what the demands of society needed in the early 1900s, modern society statistics show that society can survive without the nuclear family being the prominent structure, and so it is no longer vital to the family institution or needed for a functioning society.

Bibliography\Books

  • Murdock, George P. (1949). Social Structure. New York: Free Press
  • Parsons, T. Bales, Robert F. (1956). Family, Socialization and Interaction Process. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul Ltd

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Websites

  • UK National Statistics (2010) Social Trends. Available at: http://www.statistics.gov.uk/downloads/theme_social/Social-Trends40/ST40_2010_FINAL.pdf [Accessed on: 8 January 2011]

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The Nuclear Family Is Considered The 'Ideal' Why And For Whom?. (2021, Jun 05). Retrieved September 25, 2021, from https://essayscollector.com/essays/the-nuclear-family-is-considered-the-ideal-why-and-for-whom/