Diversity in Modern Family Life Essay Example
Diversity in Modern Family Life Essay Example

Diversity in Modern Family Life Essay Example

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  • Pages: 6 (1642 words)
  • Published: September 1, 2017
  • Type: Research Paper
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George Peter Murdock (1949) believed that the nuclear family should perform 'vital functions,' namely sexual, economic, reproductive and educational. He argues that 'No society has succeeded in finding an adequate substitute for the nuclear family, to which it might transfer there functions. It is highly doubtful whether any society will ever succeed in such an attempt. ' [1. ] Functionalists such as Murdock are inclined to ignore any diversity in family life in industrial society.

There are few mentions of lone-parent families, cohabiting families and reconstituted families, or a variety of family lifestyles based on class, ethnicity, religion and locality. Of course there are alternatives to these opinions. R. N. Rapoport and R. Rapoport (1982) are critical of the assumption that the nuclear family is the 'ideal' family type. They mention that in 1994 only 2


0% of nuclear families still named the father as the sole breadwinner and the mother as the home-maker.

The Rapoports argue that family life is now charactarised by diversity and that there is now a wide range of family types, other than the nuclear, in British society. The Rapoports believe there are five main elements of family diversity in Great Britain. Organizational, Cultural, Social Class, Life-Cycle of the family and Cohort. David Eversley and Lucy Bonnerjea add a sixth variable, Region. With organizational diversity, each family can choose their own way of living with and organizing their family.

According to 2002 statistics, 14% of British households are made up of cohabiting couples, with the 1986 statistics at 5%, it is clear that more men and woman are now opting out of a married life. British families headed by a single, never married, mothe

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rose from 1% in 1971 to 11% in 2000, with households headed by a lone mother rising by 16%. 2. 5 million children in the UK in 2002 lived with step-parents. [2. ] This number had risen by 2007, to the point where the UK had the second highest number of children living in single-parent families or with step-parents in the developed world.

Some of these family structures may have developed from an existing nuclear unit and so, even though only 39% of all British households are made up of a nuclear family, it's important not to dismiss the 'traditional' as irrelevant. Numbers of cohabiting couples with children and reconstituted families, and other families of organized diversity, are rising and the nuclear family are now in the minority. Senior Research Fellow in the Department of Social Policy and Social Work at the University of Oxford, Ceridwen Roberts argues that these people may have 'chosen' their own path, but that this may be because they have few other options.

She points out that the men involved may not have jobs to support these single mothers and because of this, and various other negative reasons, they could be a bad role-model for the children in question. She also reminds us to look at the 'economic underpinning of the situation of these very vulnerable families. ' [4. ] But there are many who believe organizational diversity to be a liberating and individual choice. Instead of feeling trapped in the family structure designed for each person through circumstance or assumption, we can now feel free to choose our own path and find ourselves socially accepted.

Boh (1989) writes: 'Whatever the existing patterns

are, they are charactarised by the acceptance of diversity that has given men and women the possibility to choose inside the boundaries of available options the life pattern that is best adapted to their own needs and aspirations. ' [5. ] The Rapoports also claim that families may be diversified by culture, and they ask the question: 'Do ethnic minority groups retain the family form associated with the society of origin or adopt family forms typical of Britain?

They argue that if children of an ethnic minority are socialized in the same way as white, British children, that they may rebel against traditions associated with their culture and this may in turn cause a conflict between the child and the parent. Suki Ali (2002) asks whether these children from 'mixed' families see themselves as 'wrong' and are seen by others as 'not good for social stability? ' If so, will they grow up to be confused and, possibly, unstable members of society? [6. ] Or is cultural diversity becoming more and more accepted in today's society?

It would be expected that these families would adapt to British society and change slightly in order to do so. But if they become increasingly more comparable to white British culture, and perhaps more so than their own, can it really be said that this group contributes to the diversification of the British family? Studies such as Geoffrey Driver (1982), Mary Chamberlain (1999) and Berthoud and Beishon (1997) [7], generate a picture that suggests that families of ethnic minorities in Britain have indeed adapted. But they have not fundamentally altered their traditions to those they are now familiar with in the


When this point is made, it is clear that ethnic minority groups have most certainly contributed to the diversity of family life in Britain, while retaining their cultural heritage at the same time. However, it has been pointed out that changes are taking place within the ethnic societies in Britain, namely the younger generations, who are becoming increasingly familiar with British culture that surrounds them, and less familiar with their parents'. Errol Lawrence (1982) agrees that different cultural and ethnic histories produce new and different family 'norms' [6. ]

Young and Willmott (1973) argue that working-class families are more likely to be extended and while urban renewal policies have led to many being split up, this type of family will generally try to remain as close as possible to each other. They also state that middle-class families are less likely to live close by, but they do keep in regular contact. The Rapoports claim that there may be more significant differences between middle-class and working-class families, that stem a little deeper. They claim that the relationship between husband and wife will differ, as well as the way the children are socialized and disciplined.

Chester (1985) believes that at some part of our lives, most of us in Britain will be part of a nuclear family, describing the household containing a married couple with dependant children as 'one which is normal and is still experienced by the vast majority. '[9. ] He argues that the life cycle of the family makes it inevitable that even if we have not considered ourselves as part of this traditional structure in the past, we will do in the future. The argument

that most organizationally diverse families developed from the nuclear family would back this claim up, but it is still untrue of all families in Britain.

A 'life cycle of the family' graph is shown in Stephen Moore's Sociology for AS-Level. [10. ] The graph shows how a person could be born into a nuclear family, and transcend through different types of family units, such as reconstituted family, multi-person household or cohabiting couple, and end up back in a nuclear family. It demonstrates that even if we weren't to live within a nuclear unit at some point in our lives, we are likely to move from one family structure to another.

Children in the 1980s and 1990s, who are now reaching adulthood, may find increased dependency on their parents because of high levels of employment. This is the cohort variable. Families are often restricted to the cohort of which they belong and this could easily affect the modern family structure in Britain, moreso than it would have done in previous years. The statistics from the 1970s may portray a different family 'norm' but extenuating social circumstances could be a major reason in the change of family structure.

House prices have risen dramatically and so fewer young people are able to afford homes of their own and have to live with family members or friends forcing a new type of family in a multi-person household. It is more socially acceptable now to divorce than it would have been in older generations and so this factor contributes towards single-parent and reconstituted families. It is also more socially acceptable now to live with a future spouse or partner before, or instead of,

marriage and so more and more people are choosing to live as a cohabiting couple.

Some are quick to deny any major change in family life. Jennifer Somerville (2000) argues that the decline of the traditional family is exaggerated. She notes that the time-frames used for comparison are misleading. [11. ] However, Janet Foster's 'Villains' study (1991) showed that this is not always the case for those born in the 1980s or 1990s. Her study showed that young members of an East End London community were still dominated by the values and traditions of older members of the family.

This proves that another variable comes into play when it comes to analyzing the diversity of the modern family; region. Eversley and Bonnerjea argued that the area people live in may also influence their family type. For example, inner city areas have more one-parent and ethnically mixed families, and rural areas have the strongest kinship networks. Some sociologists, such as Chester and Somerville, have a different opinion on the matter. Robert Chester disagrees with the Rapoports and claimed the basic features of family life had not changed for the majority of British people since the Second World War.

Others, such as, Graham Allan and Graham Crow (2001) believe that not only were the Rapoports right about diversity contributing to change, but that it is a change that has only continued to grow. In fact, they believe the diversity to have become so great that they claim, 'in an important sense there is no such thing as "the family. "' [13. ] 'Families in Britain today are in a transition from coping in a society in which there was a

single overriding norm of what family life should be like, to a society in which a plurality of norms are recognized as legitimate, indeed, desirable. '

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