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The Relationship of the Family to Social Structure


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Family and Social Structure: The Changing Functions of the Family


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[This article is part of a longer article. Download the whole article in its original format.] According to Talcott Parsons the family is losing many of its traditional functions. "It [the family] does not itself, except here and there, engage in much economic production; it is not a significant unit in the political power system; it is not a major direct agency of integration of the larger society." However, Parsons maintains that the family is still very important. Its role is becoming more specialized. Its main contemporary function is the structuring of the personalities of young people and their stabilization as adults: "the family is more specialized than before, but not in any general sense less important, because society is dependent more exclusively on it for the performance of certain of its vital functions." According to Dennis families are also essential to people's inner needs: "marriage has become the only institution in which the individual can expect esteem and love. Adults have no-one on whom they have the right to lean for this sort of support at all comparable with their right to lean on their spouse." Young and Willmott have a similar conclusion: "as the disadvantages of the new industrial and impersonal society have become more pronounced, so the family has become more prized for its power to counteract them." This constitutes the thesis that the family is losing most of its functions and specializing in those it retains. However, not everyone agrees. Fletcher in The Family and Marriage in Britain argues that the functions of the family have 'increased in detail and importance'. (a) He agrees that the family's role in socializing the young has been retained. State education has increased the importance of this role rather than diminished it. (b) Likewise, the existence of state health services has increased rather than decreased the role of the family in providing care for its members. (c) Although the family does not function as a unit of production, it does function as a unit of consumption, so its economic role is not diminished overall. Most purchases are made for and on behalf of the family. Young and Willmott concur when they comment that workers are motivated to work by their desire for consumption goods.
Contents of
The Relationship of the Family to Social Structure

1 The family as a universal social institution
2 Family and Social Structure: Functionalist perspectives
3 Family and Social Structure: Critical Views
4 Family and Social Structure: Marxist perspectives
5 Family and Social Structure: Feminist perspectives
6 Family and Social Structure: The Changing Functions of the Family

Related articles: (1) Introduction to Patriarchy and Gender Roles, (2) The Relationship of the Family to Social Structure