Using material from Item A and elsewhere assess sociological explanations of the nature and extent of family diversity today. Family diversity is the idea that there are a range of different family types, rather than a single dominant one like the nuclear family. It is associated with the post-modernists idea that in today’s society increasing choice about relationships is creating greater family diversity. Item A makes clear that different sociologists ‘are divided over both the extent of family diversity and its importance’.
The Functionalists and the New Rights view increased family diversity as ‘a serious threat’; whilst Robert Chester argues in recent years there has been a ‘shift from the conventional to the neo-conventional family’. In today’s society there are many different family types the nuclear family which makes up the largest percentage of family types in the UK, single parent families, co-habiting families, gay families, inter-racial families, reconstituted families, joint families and transsexual families.
This is interesting because in previous societies, this variety of family types would not have been accepted however in today’s society family diversity is much more easily accepted. However functionalists and the New Rights tend to have very traditional opinions on family diversity, they believe that anything that deviates from the nuclear family is negative and unnatural and individuals raised in different family types will not have the stability necessary to make them valuable members of society.
Charles Murray of the New Right perspective, associated children born out of wedlock or ‘illegitimates’ with the ‘underclass’. He suggested the fathers of theses ‘illegitimates’ were ‘unskilled young men, who were unwilling to take up uninspiring work’. He believed the mothers of these ‘illegitimates’ ‘would be better off on benefits’ than marrying these ‘unskilled young men’. These illegitimate children with unemployed, uninvolved fathers were the ones out on the street during the London Riots. This suggests that in oday’s society the children who are not brought up in the traditional ‘stable’ nuclear family type, but in the ‘underclass’ of today’s society end up as unstable youths who cause anarchy on the streets and riddle today’s society with problems. Parsons argued through his ‘Functional Fit’ theory that the industrialisation of Britain forced nuclear families upon us. He argued that when families moved from the country farms to the industrial cities the link with their extended families wore away. Parsons believed that as they were no longer reliant on them the extent of their relationship decreased.
However, Laslett opposed Parsons view and using parish records proved that the nuclear family was in fact the norm for 90% of preindustrial Britain due to the shorter life expectancies and infant mortality. In today’s society, the recession has hit everybody hard. However some more than others have had to rely on the help of their extended family to get through this tough economical crisis, for example young parents have had to rely on their own parents so that they can go out to work this proves that the extent of peoples reliance on their extended family is great in today’s society.
In today’s society not only do we have the traditional, three-generational family but due to advancements in medical care and increased life expectancies we are now beginning to have four-generational families known as ‘beanpole families’. Sociologists like Julia Brannen argue that the ‘detraditionalism’ of today’s society has allowed people to create their own family types and structures and has given rise to ‘intergenerational’ families. However, with the high divorce rates and smaller family sizes in today’s society, Brannen argues that the bonds between extended family members are as strong now as they ever have been.
People rely on their family for support and when asked Wilmott found that two thirds of people in today’s society are helped by relatives when their child gets sick. Feminists view the family diversity in today’s society as very positive, in contrast with the views of Modernists like Parsons, Feminists like Madeline Leonard believe this family diversity is breaking the chains of oppression that have bound women for so long. Ann Oakley believes that the New Right’s view of family diversity is a ‘negative reaction against the Feminists campaign for women’s equality’.
Feminists believe that any type of family type can provide a child with a loving, stable environment in which it can grow. The changing position of women in today’s society is in part responsible for the increase in family diversity. Women are now mens equals and can become very senior in their chosen professions through hard work and dedication. Because of this, women are less likely to want to have children early on in their careers and prevent themselves from getting pregnant until they have established themselves with a distinguished career.
This trend is giving rise to smaller families of dual earners and thus increasing the family diversity in today’s society. Also, some of these women focus so heavily on their careers they never actually find a partner. And so, when they feel ready to have children they either go through the IVF process or adopt a child, again widening the diverse family types in Britain’s society today. Changes in legislation have also given rise to family diversity when the Divorce Reform Act was passed in 1969 thousands of women freed themselves from the possession of their patriarchal husbands.
Not only did this increase the percentage of single parent, reconstituted and joint families in the UK, it lessened the social stigma of diverse family types and paved the way for the incredibly diverse family types of today’s society. The extent of this is clear to be seen when the marriage rates pre the Divorce Act are compared with the marriage rates post it. The influx of immigrants into the UK has also had a profound effect on family diversity in today’s society.
For example, a large number of afro-Caribbean people have made Britain their home. They are often stigmatised because of their disproportionately high level of single mother families with a large brood of children. This contrasts greatly with Ballard’s study of Asian immigrants who have strong nuclear family ideals with a patriarchal fathers and submissive mothers. This has a more profound effect on Britain’s society when you consider inter-ethnic families and the inter-racial marriages that are bound to happen in today’s society.
Suki Ali studied this in her article ‘interethnic families’ and found that in today’s society these inter-racial relationships will profoundly affect the way in our children are taught about their culture. The role the media plays in the family diversity of today’s society is profound. Its effect is most apparent with the younger generations. They view the different family structures (usually single parent and reconstituted) on the television and take them to be the normal, proper way a family should be.
However, most products on the market are promoted with the use of a nuclear family which can leave many children very confused. People are constantly bombarded with these images of family diversity over the internet, television and the radio and thus become accustomed to the range of family types in Britain’s society today. In Item A it is stated that Rapoport and Rapoport have highlighted ‘five different types of family diversity among Britain’s families’. These are: organisational diversity, cultural diversity, social class diversity, life stage diversity and generational diversity.
This essentially means the type of family structure a person has can be highly dependent on one or all of the above. For example the family type of a person can be highly dependent on their class. A family structure can differ due to a couples income, it can be a dual earner family if both parents are on low paid jobs struggling to earn a living or likewise it can be a nuclear family if the father has a highly paid job that not only supports him but his family too. This is highly apparent in today’s society when the gap between the richer and poorer, the upper and lower classes seems to be forever increasing.
Eversley and Bonnerjea have identified six types of family diversity related to the region in which you live. These are: the affluent South or ‘the sun belt’, the ‘geriatric wards’, other industrial areas, recently declining industrial areas, rural areas and inner cities. Eversley and Bonnerjea believe that where a person lives can tell you alot about their family structure for example; if you live in the affluent South or ‘the sun belt’ you are of a higher social class and are part of a nuclear family.
Whereas, if you live in the rural areas you are more likely to be of a lower class, working in agriculture and belonging to a large, traditional extended family. The extent of this in today’s society is apparent as the upper crust of the population flock to the more luxurious South. To conclude, I believe that Robert Chester has made the most valuable input in understanding the nature and extent of family diversity in today’s society.
He does believe that the family diversity of modern day Britain has increased but unlike the Functionalist and the New Rights does not view this negatively. He does however; view the shift from the conventional nuclear family to the ‘neo-conventional’ family as profound. He defines the ‘neo-conventional’ family as ‘a dual earner family where both parents work’. In my opinion this is the extent to which Britain’s family diversity has increased in today’s society. I believe this to be incredibly positive as makes for a more equal society.