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July 2, 2013 / C H Thompson

Some key studies on the family – family perspectives

How do women sustain capitalism? Benston, 1972.

Margaret Benston’s Marxist feminist study ‘The political economy of women’s liberation’ emphasises the value of the unpaid labour women perform within the family. This labour, which sustains the current labour force and nurtures the next generation, comes at no cost to the owners of the means of production. Additionally, the responsibility of the male breadwinner to support his wife and children fetters his ability to withdraw his labour power in defence of his class interests. In so doing it helps reinforce the inequitable capitalist economic system.

Is the family an anti-social force? Barrett & McIntosh, 1982.

Barrett and McIntosh acknowledge that the family satisfies ‘real needs’. On the other hand they argue, in The Anti-social Family, that the institution is ‘deeply unequal’ (to the disadvantage of women) and is an ‘antisocial’ force that promotes selfishness and private interest at the expense of wider community values and equality. In their view, the family monopolises ‘caring, sharing and loving’ and prevents these qualities finding an outlet in the wider social world.

How is family breakdown linked to social disorder? Murray, 1992.

Charles Murray in ‘The emerging British underclass’ argues that recent trends in family life, especially the growth in ‘illegitimacy’ (i.e. the number of single parent families), play a key role in the emergence of a large and growing ‘underclass’. He uses the term to refer to those sections of the population distinguished by their ‘undesirable’ behaviour – such as drug-taking, crime, illegitimacy, truancy, and an inability to hold down a job.

Is marriage a patriarchal institution? Delphy & Leonard, 1992.

Delphy and Leonard view the family as a patriarchal institution serving the interests of men. Drawing on different studies of manual workers conducted over the course of three decades, they conclude that men benefit disproportionately from the family. The male is typically the ‘head’ of the household and takes the major decisions on spending and consumption, while the woman’s prime responsibility for housework and other tasks and services fails to be reflected in equal status or benefits.

Are single parent families a breeding ground for delinquents? McLanahan & Sandefur, 1994.

In Growing Up with a Single Parent McLanahan and Sandefur focus on the negative impact on children of living in a single parent family. They cite a range of ‘poor outcomes’, including higher rates of school dropout and delinquency, lower educational levels and unemployment. Parental break-up, they conclude, leads to a significant reduction in the child’s access to important economic, cultural and community resources.

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