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AS Unit 1 Acquiring Culture; Family and Culture Week 3: Functions of the Family: 

AS Unit 1 Acquiring Culture; Family and Culture Week 3: Functions of the Family


Objectives Having viewed this slide show you should be aware of: The ‘loss of functions’ thesis. The functions of the family. That in late modernity or postmodern society the family is taking on new functions. There is a growth in people seeking alternatives to the family or choosing alternative styles of family life.


Introduction Ronald Fletcher (1966) talked of the 'multifunctional family', but he was equally aware of the family being stripped of its secondary functions. The modern nuclear family, he felt, was left with ‘residual’ functions.

George Murdock’s Universal Residual Functions: 

George Murdock’s Universal Residual Functions George Murdock (1949) conducted a survey of 250 societies and claimed there are four universal residual functions of the family: sexual education economic reproductive (by education he really meant socialisation)

Talcott Parsons: Family Stripped of its Functions: 

Talcott Parsons: Family Stripped of its Functions Talcott Parsons sees the modern family as “stripped” to just two ‘basic and irreducible’ functions: Socialisation of children Stabilisation of adult personalities

Critique of Functionalist View: 

Critique of Functionalist View The family functions in an over-romantic and idealised way. This referred to as the ‘warm bath theory’ of family. Both Murdock and Parsons reflect the functionalist perspective on family functions

Family Adaptation in Postmodern Society : 

Family Adaptation in Postmodern Society In Post-modern society the family is modifying itself to meet the changed circumstances of contemporary society. The family has become more child-centred, but with fewer children However, many couples are choosing to stay childless

Source of Emotional Support: 

Source of Emotional Support Families are seen as functioning to provide warmth and security, emotional support. All family members benefit from the loving relationships that they share with each other.

Family as Source of Identity: 

Family as Source of Identity The family provides a sense of identity. This is clearly important to family members as evidenced by recent interest both by individuals and the media in family histories.

Family as Leisure: 

Family as Leisure Families also provide shared leisure, family holidays, special occasions e.g. weddings, birthdays, outings, cultural and educational visits (cinema, theatre, museums, etc.).

Alternatives to the Traditional Family: 

Alternatives to the Traditional Family An increasing number of people are rejecting the traditional family: singlehood, gay families, childless couples.


Singlehood There has been a dramatic increase in the proportion of one-person households in the past 40 years. 12% of people in Great Britain now live alone. Singlehood is much more popular in the white population than ethnic minorities Many of these are elderly widowed, but not all!

Singlehood (continued): 

Singlehood (continued) Single people now account for just under a third of households (29 per cent) in Britain. They include professional young men and women. And divorced people

Factors Behind Singlehood: 

Factors Behind Singlehood Growth of 'FITT women' with careers and education success Delay or rejection of marriage/cohabitation Women no longer need to be financially dependent upon a man Creative singlehood reflects the growth of the affluent young. More fashionable 'singles' accommodation is available. Increased divorce rate and separations from cohabitation.

Childless Couples: 

Childless Couples Childless couples reflect the fact that there is less pressure on people to have children. Couples may put lifestyle choice above starting a family. Some couples may be put off by the cost of bringing up a child (over £50,000 from birth to age of 18)

Gay and Lesbian Relationships: 

Gay and Lesbian Relationships But this non-traditional family form is also slowly becoming less of a rarity Gay and lesbian couples are often childless In 2002 the Government announced plans to make it easier for same-sex couples to adopt children. Medical technology (e.g. surrogacy) allows people to conceive children in non-traditional ways.


Conclusions There is general support for the loss of functions thesis that argues the family has been stripped of many of its functions. George Murdock sees the family performing 4 universal residual functions: sexual, reproductive, economic and education (socialisation). Talcott Parsons sees the family performing two ‘basic and irreducible functions’ socialisation of children, stabilisation of adult personalities.

Conclusions (continued): 

Conclusions (continued) There has been a growth in people rejecting traditional family. 12% of people in Britain now live on their own (almost a third of households). Couples account for almost a third of households too. In a less homophobic society there has been a growth of gay and lesbian relationships.

End of Presentation: 

End of Presentation

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