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June 26, 2013 / C H Thompson

Summerising Parsons, Young and Willmott

To summarise:

  • we have Parsons’ isolated nuclear family
  • and Young and Willmott’s Stage 3 symmetrical family or privatised nuclear family
  • both of these sociologists take a functional view of the family
  • functional views see the family as harmonious
  • they see the family’s development from pre-industrial structures to modern nuclear structures as evidence of the family’s functionality


  • both Parsons, Young and Willmott ignore negative aspects of the family
  • both Parsons, Young and Willmott have an image of the nuclear family at its core which ignores family diversity.

Around the time Young and Willmott published their work on the Symmetrical Family the BBC pioneered a ‘fly on the wall’ family documentary about. Simply titled The Family the 1974 BBC television series produced by Paul Watson examined life in a typical working-class UK family.

The documentary’s ground-breaking format paved the way familiar programmes like Big Brother, particularly its making of ‘celebrities’ out of ordinary people. More importantly it provides a valuable anthropological record of UK family life, especially family diversity which challenged many of Young and Willmott’s findings about kinship networks and the extended family.

Return to competing perspectives of the family


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