Using material from Item A and elsewhere, assess the contribution of functionalism to an understanding of families and households. (24 marks) Essay

Submitted By Rachel-Huntbach
Words: 748
Pages: 3

Functionalists believe that society is based on a shared value consensus, this is a set of shared norms and values into which society agrees on as a while. This enables society to work peacefully, to an extent, and meet society’s needs.
Functionalists believe that the family is considered to be the basic building block of society. George Murdoch (1949) argues that the family performs only 4 basic functions to meet the needs of society and people. These functions are; economic function, reproductive function, socialisation function and sexual funtion. He believes that all 4 functions can only be successfully carried out within a nuclear family. However, many other sociologists would say that these needs can be carried out in other ways and by other types of families. For example, other family types such as an extended family can be used to primarily socialise and used to give economic security. Other needs such as reproduction and sex can also be met in other ways.

Marxist and Feminist sociologists have found fault in Murdoch’s theory. They say that Functionalism ignores conflict within society. Feminists see the family as being patriarchal, meaning men rule over woman in almost everything, and only serving the needs of those men, where as Marxists see the family as meeting the needs of capitalism and not the needs of the society and the familial needs.

According to Parsons, there are two types of society; pre and post industrial. Parsons argues that when industrialisation began in Britain from the 18th century onwards, then the extended family became quite rare and the nuclear family was the family seen most. Parsons believed that this change happened because the needs of the society changed. He identified that post-industrial societies have two basic needs. First, people had to be geographically mobile, which meant moving around from place to place, as in a modern society. Industries are moving from one area to another. Therefore, people had to be able to move to where the work was available. This mobility would be easier for the nuclear family than the extended family. Secondly there was a real need for a social mobility. The pre-industrial family had many functions but due to the industrial revolution, these functions have now changed into just two. The first is the primary socialisation of children, which teaches them the norms and values of society and the second function is the stabilisation of adult personalities, which provides a place for family members to relax and ‘de-stress’ away from the workplace.

However, not everyone accepts the functionalist view of the family. According to Young and Willmott (1973), the extended family was the opposite of a dominant family type before the industrial revolution. The short life expectancy was quite low, resulting in few extended families before the industrialisation. Other sociologists go against Parsons and claim that working class