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Changes in the Family and Household Structure over Time


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The effect of industrialization on the family, Talcott Parsons, the isolated nuclear family


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[This article is part of a longer article. Download the whole article in its original format.] The pre-industrial society is pictured as one where people are divided into kinship groups called lineages each of which is held to be descended from a common ancestor. Another form of family in pre-industrial society is found in traditional peasant societies such as the Irish farming community studied by C.M. Arensberg and S.T. Kimball in their work Family and Community in Ireland. This traditional Irish family is a patriarchal extended family. It is also patrilineal since property is passed from father to son. According to Talcott Parsons the isolated nuclear family is the typical form in modern industrial society. It is isolated from the extended family, and there is a breakdown of kinship. The development of the isolated nuclear family is, in his opinion, the product of a process of structural differentiation - the process by which social institutions become more and more specialized in the functions they perform. The isolated nuclear family is functionally necessary and contributes to the integration and harmony of the social and economic system as a whole. The family needs to be isolated because of its functional role in ascribing status. Status in industrial society as a whole is achieved and not ascribed. However, within the nuclear family status is ascribed rather than achieved, thus reversing the pattern that exists outside the family. What this means is that within the family the father has status as the father, whilst outside the family his status might be very different. His achieved status economically does not affect his status as a father. However, if the family was extended then a conflict could arise. Another way of putting this is that the family ascribes particularistic values whilst society ascribes universalistic values. The conflict between the two sets of values is minimized by the isolation of the nuclear family. William Goode in World Revolution and the Family also argues that industrialization undermines the existence of the extended family. He claims this is because (a) movements of individuals between different regions; (b) higher levels of social mobility; (c) the erosion of the functions of the family, these being taken over by external organizations such as schools, businesses and the state; (d) the greater significance of achieved status undermining the value of status within the family and in kinship groups. According to Goode members of a family engage in role bargaining. What this means is that they will maintain kinship relationships if such relationships bring them rewards commensurate to their efforts to maintain them. In fact, developments in communication and transport make it feasible to maintain kinship relationships, but in practice modern industrial society means that individuals gain more by rejecting kinship relationships than by maintaining them. He supports this point by noting how extended family patterns are more frequent among members of the upper classes since for individuals in the family maintaining family connections can bring economic benefits.
Contents of
Changes in the Family and Household Structure over Time

1 The effect of industrialization on the family, Talcott Parsons, the isolated nuclear family
2 Peter Laszett and the concept of the extended family; industrialisation
3 Michael Yong and Peter Willmott, The Symmetrical Family
4 Household types
5 The Family, Marriage and parenthood
6 Dual-worker families
7 Family Diversity
8 Increasing one-parent families
9 Ethnic diversity and the Family
10 Diversity in Family Types - Counter-arguments

Related articles: (1) The Relationship of the Family to Social Structure, (2)