Family is one of the oldest and most common human institutions. Since prehistoric times, the family has been an important organisation in society. Most people grow up in a family and as adults, establish a family of their own. One main type of family is known as a nuclear family. A nuclear family is made up when a couple have children, the parents and their children make up a nuclear family, in another words. There are many different definitions of what a family is. For example, Giddens defines a family as, ?A small group of closely related people who share a distinct identify and responsibility for each other that outweighs commitments to others. This group is commonly, but no necessarily, based on marriage, biological descent or adoption.? Many sociologists have accepted to regard Giddens definition as accurate but too basic for a modern society. For example, he does not mention facts as homosexual marriage and common residence. Murdock takes Giddens definitions further and defines the family as, ?A social group characterised by common residence, economic co-operation and reproduction. It includes adults of both sexes, at least two of whom maintain a socially approved sexual relationship, and one or more children, own or adopted, of sexually cohabiting adults.? With respect to functionalism, Marxism, rich and poor, the changes that have taken place since the 19th century will be analysed. The growing importance of women in modern society will also be discussed.
Friedrich Engels, a Marxist, has influenced the way we look at a family. He believed that thousands of years ago the means of production were communally owned and the family as such did not exist. The nuclear family developed with the emergence of private property, which was all owned by males. In return, men needed to have legitimate heirs. So, men needed control of the women to produce these ?real? offspring (whom usually hoped were sons to carry on the family name). Eli Zaretsky has also analysed the family from a Marxist perspective. He argues that the family was very much connected with the economy before the industrial revolution when work was mainly done in the home. With the start of the industrial revolution in the late 18th century and early 19th century, work grew out of the home and into the factories. As Western nations became increasingly industrialized, many rural people moved to the cities to seek factory work. Family life in the city differed from that in rural areas because people had to leave home each day to work. Commonly, the mother and children also held a job to help support the family. Family members had little time together, and the home became less central to family life. Hospitals, schools (lots of children were taught at home previously), and other social institutions took over many family functions. In addition, families could look to police and fire departments to help protect their lives and property. In a sense, the industrial revolution destroyed the family because most of the time was spent at work.
Women?s status in the family has changed dramatically since the 19th century. Women have usually had fewer rights and a lower social status than men, throughout history. For example, women did not have the right to institute divorce proceedings and own property. The traditional role of the married woman was being a housewife, and most women’s lives centered around their households. Women’s movements first developed during the 1800’s in the United States and Europe and then spread to other parts of the world. The first women’s movements arose largely in response to the coming of modern urban and industrial society.
The industrial age brought about great economic and political changes, creating chaos in women’s traditional roles and causing women to question their status and situation. This first wave of women’s movements concentrated primarily on gaining voting rights for women . In modern times, since women have more rights than last century, feminists have managed to bring out the ?dark side? of the family such as domestic violence. Unlike last century, men can now get charged for abusing women. Many people believe that domestic abuse is on the rise but many believe it is not the case. The fact is that it is just now more ?out in the open,? and not hidden behind closed doors like before. Women are now playing a very large role in the labour force, unlike in the past. Currently there are 11.4 million women working in Britain. The role of the woman as a housewife has seemed to be slowly disappearing, as well as the role of the male of the family being the sole breadwinner. Women nowadays tend to leave their offspring more often in daycares and babysitters than before. In many cases it is very common for children to come home from school and spend many hours alone, until their parents come home from work. Family values may break down, as children do not get the care they need from their parents. Fortunately, fathers are taking a bigger role in taking care of children, than before, although it is very rare to see fathers to take primary responsibility for childcare. Mary Boulton studied 50 young married mothers in London, who did not have full-time jobs. Only 18% of husbands gave extensive help with childcare, while 36% gave moderate help and 46% minimal help.
One major rise of family breakdown is divorces, which have steadily risen since the 1970s. Divorce is the legal termination of a marriage. In the 19th century, divorce, for the most part was unheard of. In 1911 there were 859 petitions for divorce in England and Wales. In 1971, there was new divorce legislation, making it easier to get a divorce. In 1996, there were 351,514 marriages but 157,588 divorces, constituting as more than half as many divorces as marriages . There has also been a rise in the number of people marrying again after a divorce. For example, in 1961, 15% of all marriages in the UK were remarriages. By 1996, the figure stood at 41%. Also, more than before, there are more single mothers. This may be blamed in part for unwanted pregnancies and sex before marriage (the man may leave the woman if she is pregnant). One aspect of modern society that was unheard of in the 19th century is gay marriages.
Until 1967, homosexuality was illegal. Nowadays, it has arguably become ?normal? and homosexuality part of society. During the 19th century, homosexuality was kept ?behind closed doors? as it was not as accepted as it is today. Some countries grant long-term gay partnerships the same legal rights as marriage but it is not the case in the UK. By the late 1980s between 6 and 14 million children were being brought up in gay and lesbian families . Research indicates that gay and lesbian relationships are at least as suitable for raising children as heterosexual marriages.
All in all, there have been many changes since the 19th century on how the family is structured. Most people would argue that changes that have taken place are positive, on the most part. For example, women have gained more rights including the easier right to divorce. Also, homosexual marriages, although illegal, are starting to become part of society and are more accepted. Hopefully in the future more positive changes will take place, including less divorce rates which tend to break up families.