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Sociologists and Views on Family Structure.

  • Date Submitted: 10/08/2011 08:52 AM
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Sociologists and views on family structure.

For many years the majority of Sociologists accepted the following view about family structure before and after the industrial revolution. Parsons [1955] and Fletcher (1966) viewed the extended family as the dominant family form, which evolved through industrialisation into a modern, isolated, nuclear family. Essentially they were claiming that the industrialisation process created and increased the numbers of nuclear families and led to the decline in the numbers of the extended family. These are ideas are known as both the march of progress or theory of transition.

March of progress / theory of transition explanations of why the extended family developed into isolated nuclear families are as follows. The nuclear family is small, therefore more geographically mobile and could more easily move around to pursue the new opportunities available because of industrialisation. The need for extended families has been removed by the increased provision of state / government services to support the family e.g. education and health care. The status of individual family members was no longer dependent on the ascribed status of the overall family. Industrialisation increased the number and variety of job opportunities which meant that individuals could develop achieved status based on their own personal efforts. The nuclear family was a streamlined unit, which still performed essential functions such as procreation and care of children.

Another functionalist, Goode (1963), argues that all over the world the traditional extended family form has been or is in the process of being replaced by the universal nuclear family.

However, subsequent research has produced a much more complex picture, contradicting the march of progress / theory of transition. In 1995 the historian David Starkey described this traditional picture as ‘nonsense, sentimentalism and not founded in historical fact’. He was referring specifically to the...


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