Access to sociology: Access to sociology Family Diversity 1
February 2009 The ‘fit’ thesis: The ‘fit’ thesis The idea that there is some sort of "fit" between the way in which the family performs certain functions (both for society and its individual members) and the demands made upon it by various forms of economic organization
The basic argument here is that as our society has changed economically over the past 2-300 years, so too has the family in terms of its structure.
In particular, the family has adapted, in terms of the functions it performs and the relationships it supports, to meet the requirements of an industrial - as opposed to an agricultural - society.
Families and social structure: Families and social structure For Functionalists, this fit tends to be expressed in terms of the way in which the institutions of work and family harmonize to fulfil certain mutual needs and purposes, both in terms of sub-system needs and social system needs.
For Marxists, this fit tends to be expressed in terms of the way in which the economic system dominates all other institutions in society.
In Capitalist economic systems, for example, the family group is considered in terms of the way it helps to reproduce the social conditions under which both capitalism and a capitalist class can flourish. Key ideas: Key ideas The "fit thesis" involves the following ideas:
1. The nuclear family structure has developed into the dominant family structure in industrialized societies .
2. The extended family that was seen as the basic family structure in preindustrial society, is no-longer socially significant in industrialized societies.
3. The basic relationship between the family and industrialization is one in which the family has progressively lost many of its functions as they have been taken over by other institutions in society. Industrialization and the evolving nuclear family: Industrialization and the evolving nuclear family Industrialization created certain pressures for social change that resulted in the basic family structure becoming predominantly nuclear in form.
The transition from agriculture to factory, from rural to urban gradually broke the extended kinship ties, by:-
Demanding geographic mobility from the workforce - people had to be mobile in order to find and keep work in the new industrial processes.
Creating social mobility - new opportunities arose for social mobility (after the emergence of a capitalist form of economic production) because of the new division of labour that within industrial forms of production.
Weakening nepotism through technical rationality, bureaucratization and meritocratic approaches to administration Problems with the ‘fit’ thesis: Problems with the ‘fit’ thesis It is evident that the validity of the "fit thesis" is highly-dependent on the extent to which the historical evidence demonstrates that the structure of the pre-industrial family was predominantly extended.
Peter Laslett (1965, 1972) has extensively criticised this basic conception of the pre-industrial family structure (and by extension this version of the "fit thesis")
Laslett argued that the basic structure of the pre-industrial family was predominantly nuclear Laslett’s argument: Laslett’s argument Laslett argued that it was a methodological error to view the family as a simple social institution that took the same form across the class structure.
He argued that there were significant class differences in relation to family structures in pre-industrial Britain.
From the middle of the 16th century to the middle of the 19th century the tendency to marry late coupled with high death rates amongst adults meant that the three generation extended family was comparatively rare in Britain. Laslett’s data: Laslett’s data Approximately 1 household in 20 contained more than two generations of kin. Only about 10% of households contained kin beyond the nuclear family
Extended households (as opposed to extended families) were much more common
Upper class households, for example, frequently included both wider kin and servants (mainly because there was sufficient room to include such people within the household and because people of this class had a reasonable life expectancy).
Lower class households were frequently nuclear because of very high mortality rates amongst the elderly.
Laslett's conclusion: Laslett's conclusion
Lower class households changed from predominantly nuclear in form in pre-industrial Britain to predominantly extended in form during the process of industrialization and urbanization
They then gradually reverted to their original nuclear form in the following 100 or so years
This reverses the basic functionalist theory of ‘fit’ Andersons Preston study: Andersons Preston study Anderson's produced a detailed analysis of census data for Preston, Lancashire in 1851
On the basis of this data he argued that
The extended family networks and households were more significant in the pre-industrial period than in the industrial period.
Changes in this network were not caused by the process of industrialization, as such, but rather that both were the result of changes in society created by the transition from one mode of production (feudalism) to another (capitalism).
In essence, Anderson claims that the relationship between family structure and economic structure is one in which different classes are differentially placed in relation to their market position Family, class and coping: Family, class and coping Upper, middle and working class families, because of their different positions in the class structure, developed different "strategies for coping" with the social and economic changes that occurred as capitalism developed.
The relationship between family structure and industrialization is one that is necessarily complex and changing
It is not an “either extended or nuclear”equation, but rather one in which changing market situations and experiences give rise to changing family structures.