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July 11, 2013 / C H Thompson

Changing functions of the family

Parsons argues that contemporary society has removed many of the functions of the family which it needed to do in the pre-industrial period. Structural differentiation has meant the National Health Service, education and welfare services has removed many of the functions of the family as evident in the image below.

changing functions of the family

However Ronald Fletcher (1966) (also comes from a functionalist perspective) argues the functions of the family Parsons talks about never really occurred in the first place as many children were neglected, indeed peasant families often cared more for their livestock than children. Instead Fletcher points out, with the growth of welfare services the function of the family in contemporary society has changed by adding more responsibility onto the family. For example:

  • parents’ supplement learning in schools by providing advice and help more effectively than in the past;
  • an increased knowledge of diet and exercise means that the family plays a greater role in health;
  • with the limitations of the Welfare State, the family, and especially women within the family play a significant role in the care of elderly relatives instead of allowing them into old peoples homes
  • the family has to make certain their children are at school and if there’s any sign of families neglecting children then social services intervene
  • in addition to this Fletcher points out how the family have moved from a unit of production to another important function – as a unit of consumption.

By helping to improve the its standard of living, the family aids economic growth. The family is constantly purchasing consumer goods such as computers, washing machines, holidays etc as a means of enhancing the quality of family life. (Marxists point out this level of consumption isn’t an intended function but merely an outcome of family members trying to overcome the monotony of everyday life).




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