Functionalists understand the family to be a group that consists of two parents and their biological children living together as a unit. They believe that society mainly consists of ‘nuclear families’ and see them has having the most benefits to society because of how they benefit the social reproduction of society, education and the economy.
Talcott Parsons believes that the family performs 2 roles: instrumental and Expressive. He believes that in the nuclear family the husband and wife have segregated roles, the father performing the instrumental role, being the breadwinner- the one that provides for his family and the mother performs the expressive role. The mother’s main roles within her expressive role is the primary socialisation of the children and emotional support for not only her children but also her husband. The mother performing this role is essential for society to run smoothly because the children she is bring up are the future, their upbringing decides how successful they are going to be in the future in turn affecting societies economy.
Parsons also argues the division of labour is based on biological differences, women are naturally suited to nurturing children compared to men being the providers. However this is challenged by Wilmott and Young, they share the view that men have adapted to share the division of labour within the home, for example by becoming stay at home dads where as women are now becoming breadwinners as well as parents. The breaking of the traditional roles of men and women has benefitted society because it has instilled a sense of equality amongst men and women, which in turn has allowed women to take more control over their choices in life and opened doors to what they can do. However, Feminists argue even though there is a changing of roles within the family, there is still a number of inequalities that women are faced with. One example of this is within the media, women are still being advertised as housewives for cleaning products or used to look good in sports adverts. These two inequalities show that women are still thought of as having to be the perfect housewife even though they have been given more choices and freedom within society.