In this piece, it will be argued the family is in decline to a certain extent. Family according to Parsons (1955,p7) is a ‘residential unit in society’. Parsons highlights the importance of the nuclear family specifically in America. The nuclear family is commonly depicted as the ‘cereal packet family’ – a stereotype coined in the 1950s, consisting of the husband, wife and two children. Evidently, the family structures over time have drastically changed, e.g., there is a rise in single parent households. According to the Office of National Statistics (ONS), ‘the third largest family in the UK is lone parent families at 2.8 million’ (2017). Yet, married or civil partner couple families is the most common family type as the ONS (2017) conducted that ‘there are 12.9 million married couples or civil partnerships in the UK’. This emphasizes the notion that marriage is still valuable to today’s society, despite partners separating and finding a new partner. Therefore, the family is changing but is significant to society meaning that it is not necessarily in decline.
Parsons takes a functional approach of the family as he states that the nuclear family is suited for the modern society. Parsons and Bales (1995,pp16-17) further state that the family performs two ‘basic and irreducible functions’ which are ‘the primary socialization of children and the stabilization of the adult personalities of the population of the society’. Thus,his view is that the nuclear family are more likely to perform these functions better in comparison to other family structures. It may be argued that the nuclear family is being threatened by other family types. The New Right who uphold conservative ideals support Parsons in the family where the nuclear family is ideal. Murray describes the single parent family as a ‘underclass'(1996,p24). He further labels them as the ‘feckless poor'(p.25). This draws parallels to society today and their perspectives of single parent households. Within mass media,single parents are depicted negatively,for instance headlines state ‘Children in single parents families ‘worse behaved’, Blaming single parents for terrorism’ etc. It draws connotations of parents not maintaining the parental duties or they aren’t responsible for their actions.This interlinks with a recent report from the BBC News that ‘a third of children with a working single parent are in poverty’ (2017).This article conveys the dominant ideology that single parents are not suitable to take care of their offspring. This supports the view that the family is in decline but in this context,it refers to the nuclear family declining.
A critique of the functional approach is that it fails to state how other family structures operate successfully in society and neglects diversity. Furthermore, Marxism and Feminism dispute Functionalists for having a one dimensional view of the family – that it is seemingly harmonious. This is not the case.It may be argued that it remains an underlying statistic that males suffer from domestic violence. Mankind Institute (2018) reported that ‘male victims are over three times likely as women not to tell anyone about the partner abuse they are suffering from’. Feminists e.g, Delphy and Leonard explored marriage within the context of the family and concluded that ‘men are exploiting women’s’ practical,emotional,sexual and reproductive labour’ (1992,p92). This reflects that society is patriarchal and women are constrained in the biological and normalised ideals. Delphy et al. puts into light the exploitation women face which interlinks with Marx and Engels (1848,p25) who debate that ‘the bourgeois sees his wife a mere instrument of production’.The women are seen as subservient to the man and lack any self – identity. Functionalists such as Parsons would criticise Feminists because they believe that the’ isolated nuclear family has a ‘functional fit’ within society as over time,the family have become geographically mobile due to industrialisation.(1955,p17).
However,women now are empowered due to the rise in feminism.Commonly,women are having children later in life. This causes a shift in family structures as they are involved in ‘voluntary childlessness’, leading to low birth rates. Previously, it was deemed a necessary rite of passage for women to be married and have children earlier in life. In Western countries,more women are participating in voluntary childlessness. (Veevers,1980; Allen,1989,p59) concluded that the ‘never married and voluntarily childless lifestyles have come to be recognised as viable forms of social life’.Liberal feminism would support this because women who were interviewed had ‘their consciousness raised raised about the inequalities occurring at specific locations in their marriage'(Benjamin and Sullivan,p107). Thus, women are individualistic,have freedom and are independent financially. Whereas, in Southern Asian households, the family is a collective force. Ballard (1982,p5) states that ‘households were still usually made up of several marriage couples’. This meant that in ‘the longer term cooperative domestic arrangements were sustained’ according to Ballard by ‘those who were connected to prior ties of familial kinship'(p5). Thus, the family is not in decline but in the context of Southern Asian households,it is vital and they have stronger familial ties than their White counterparts.
Family diversity is prevalent in today’s society. Functionalism would argue that family diversity is negative. Parsons (p7) states that ‘family diversity is the disorganisation of the family’ which is a sign of instability.There is evidence to oppose this. Golombok et al. (1983,p40) studied 27 UK based lesbian mother families to compare with 27 single heterosexual mothers to examine familial bonds.The study concluded that ‘there was no difference identified between children in lesbian and single heterosexual families’, psychologically. This can be counteracted as child psychologists would proclaim that children growing up in lesbian households would result in a ‘damaging effect on children’s psychological well being'(p34). Golombok (2015,p34) suggests that custody is given to hereteosexual fathers as they offer a ‘traditional family’.This is in agreement with Murray’s assumption of single mothers who lack stability and security. Thus,this is a example of the family changing,not being in decline. This can be disputed by the fact that single parent households are female led,commonly in African – Caribbean families which provide a positive role model for young girls.
Separation has negative implications for young children especially. According to the ONS (2015), ‘64% of children whose families divorced in 2013 are under 11’. This interlinks with a report from the Telegraph (2014) which discusses the work of childcare expert,Penelope Leach who stated that ‘shuttling children backwards and forwards between two homes and allowing them to ‘sleepover’ with the parent they don’t normally live with’ can affect their neurological development. However, marriage is still important as there is a rise of reconstituted families. Whereas,functionalists would argue that high divorce rates displays instability and the institution of family failing. Burgess (1973,p74) notes that ‘the disorganization of the family is followed by reorganisation’. It may suggest that separation is not necessarily bad or is a ‘moral panic’ created by the mass media. This reorganisation is evident from reconstituted families who do offer the stability and care children need as previously stated from Golombok (2015) as the family would consist of a ‘hetreosexual father’ in comparison to lesbian households as lesbian mothers are not seen as ‘adequate’ to raise children (p34).
Furthermore,Cheal (1988,p.64) draws upon the fact that there is ‘no universal form of the family and that the term ‘family’ is used by lay actors to label those those ties which they believe to involve enduring intimate relations’. Cheal critiques the functional perspective as they believe that the nuclear family is ideal for modern society,thus it is a myth.Therefore,the family is not in decline because people have their own interpretations of the ‘family’. Postmodernists would argue that ‘fictive kin’ – those who are not blood related or bound by marriage would be part of a family. According to Fletcher (1964,p13), ‘the family has not declined’. Fletcher further argues that if families had difficulties, ‘they were due above all to socio- economic disadvantage’.This conveys that the situations families are in can be circumstantial. This correlates with the BBC News article written recently about working class single parents not being able to afford food for their families.
In conclusion,the family specifically the nuclear family is not in decline,rather it is the family structures composed change over time. An example of this is the rise of single parent families who are largely composed of African – Caribbean groups to Southern Asian families who still uphold ideals of the family as a collective unit. The functionalist perspective creates a ‘moral panic’ in terms of the family declining as the nuclear family viewed as stable in comparison to single parent and non heterosexual families.Cheal concluded that the ‘family is not universal’ (1988,p64),which supports the myth of the nuclear family. Functionalism is criticised because they neglect diversity in families and see the nuclear family as harmonious. Evidently, the family can be dysfunctional due to domestic violence, oppression and exploitation of women.Family has remained an integral part of society,despite the rise of divorce as it provides a network of support. Yet, fictive kin can provide that level of support needed,thus family is a choice and is not fixed.