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A Report on the Role of the Family


Family is an essential social foundation in every society, making it culturally familiar. Family is a socially accepted group that creates an emotional linkage between its members and plays a role in the financial level of society {Argyle, (2013)}. This report discusses the sociological theories on the part of the family in society, changes that have taken place in these institutions over time, and the evidence of structures of family life.

A Critical Evaluation of the Marxist and Functionalist Perspective(s) of the Role of the Family in Society

Different sociologists have diverse opinions on the role of the family in society based on how they view it. Discussed below are two theories on the perspective they have on the family.

The Marxist perspective on family.

Marxism is a fundamental conflict perspective. Marxist point out that the nuclear family plays ethical roles for capitalism. The family performs as a unit of consumption and teaches submissive reception of hierarchy. Also, it is an avenue through which rich children inherit wealth from their parents, thus creating inequity between them and the less privileged {Gimenez, 2012)}. Nonetheless, this conflict of interest hardly gets to rebellion since organizations like the family play the role of ethical control or convince its members that the current inequity system is unavoidable, regular, and noble. Additionally, Marxists argue that family types usually change with society, especially the nuclear family arising due to industrialists’ needs and not industrialization.

Marxist view every organization in society as aiding the continuity of class inequity and capitalism. Therefore, according to Marxists, the roles of the family are executed entirely to the advantage of the industrialist system {Hakim, (2018)}. This argument contradicts the functionalist opinion that the family serves the family members individually and the general society. In light of this, Marxists came up with several family roles they viewed as achieving capitalism.

Inheritance of property– the Marxist claim that the foundation of the form of every social organization, family included, is the method of the invention. That is, who possesses and who steers society’s forces of production. In today’s society, the capitalist class owns and controls the means of production {Eyerman, (1981)}. The family evolves as the production methods. He referred to the ancient style as primeval communalism since there was no individualized ownership. Instead, the production methods were communally owned. On this level of social growth, there was nothing like family. Instead, there was a tribe or promiscuous group where no laws existed about sexual relations.

Furthermore, as the production methods matured, society’s wealth started to increase, resulting in more individuals owning a class of people who could confidently rule the production methods. Eventually, this led to an exclusive male-controlled nuclear family {Holborn et al., (2004)}. According to Engel, monogamy became necessary due to the heritage of private assets making men more interested in the paternity of their heirs. Also, the increase of the monogamous nuclear family signified the overruling of the female sex in the past. The men controlled the women and only saw them as instruments for producing children.

Ideological functions– Marxists claim that the present family also plays a romantic role in capitalism. Ideology means views and values that justify discrimination and support capitalist means by encouraging people to acknowledge it as usual, noble, and constant. Firstly, the family exposes the children to the opinion that hierarchy and inequity are unavoidable {Nash, 2015)}.

Unit of consumption– capitalists exploit the labor of their employees, earning income through selling the yields they worked for extra money than what they are paid for. Therefore, the family performs a role in generating revenue for capitalists because it is a significant trade for the sale of consumer products.

Strengths of the Marxism perspective.

  • Philosophers who succeeded Marxist have tried to complete and resolve this theory’s weaknesses, resulting in the approach’s progression.
  • The approach can be used as a foundation for accepting the universe.

Weaknesses of the Marxist perspective

  • Marxist assume that the nuclear family is dominant in the capitalist society disregarding the considerable difference in family types in the current community.
  • Activists maintain that the Marxist emphasis on capitalism and class underrates the value of gender imbalance in the family. In their opinion, these are more important than class inequity, and family aids men’s interests, not capitalists.

The functionalist perspective on family.

Functionalists reveal that society is founded on the value of consensus, that is, customary beliefs and norms to which the society exposes its members. This allows them to cooperate peacefully to meet the needs of society and attain shared objectives. Functionalists view society as a system comprising several parts or sub-systems that rely on one another, like family. They associate society with the human body, that is, the same way the organs in the body function as a whole, so the family socializes its children to meet society’s needs {Barrett, (1998)}. Additionally, functionalists view the family as a specific essential sub-system, a foundation of society. For instance, according to George peter Murdock (1949), the family has functions that meet the needs of its member and society’s needs. They include constant gratification of sexual drive, reproduction, socialization of the children, and meeting the financial needs of its members.

Nonetheless, Murdock’s perspective has been criticized in his peaceful agreement view that the family caters to the interest of the entire society and its members. They explain that functionalism disregards manipulation and conflicts. Besides the roles defined by Murdock, the family can also meet other needs.

According to Talcott Parsons (1955), the family’s role depends on the type it is found. Moreover, the roles played by the family affect its structure and form. He suggests that a particular family’s functions and the system will meet society’s needs. There are two fundamental types of organization: traditional pre-industrial and current-industrial associations {Barrett, (1998)}. He explains that the nuclear family caters to the needs of the industrial community, which is also dominant in society.

In contrast, the extended family caters to the needs of the pre-industrial society. According to Parson, during the colonization by the British, the extended family started to accept the nuclear family due to the upcoming needs of the developed society from the pre-industrial society to meet them. He explains two essential requirements for the industrial community;

A geographically movable workforce-in the society before colonization, people lived together in the same community and worked in the same fields {Holborn et al., (2004)}. Contrary to this, in the present society, companies start and end in various areas of the country, increasing the need for people to relocate to where their jobs are. Parsons claims that it is easier for two generations of a nuclear family to relocate than three generations of an extended family.

Socially movable personnel– today’s industrial society is driven by ever-changing science and technology and needs competent personnel with technical know-how. Therefore, skilled personnel must get essential jobs and be promoted regardless of background. In today’s society, Parsons claims that the nuclear family is more prepared to cater to the needs of the industrial community.

The pre-industrial society could perform many functions at once, making it more self-sufficient than the present nuclear family {Barrett, (1998)}. Nevertheless, changes in society not only lose the family’s structure from extended to nuclear but also the majority of its roles. Therefore, the present community is only interested in fulfilling two crucial functions: the children’s socialization and the maintenance of adult characters.

Strengths of functionalism perspective

 Functionalists show how two social organizations can work at diverse levels and cater to the needs of society and individual needs.

– Functionalists demonstrate how organs in society are related and how each contributes to the good of humanity.

Weaknesses of functionalism perspective

-Functionalists assume the conflict and manipulation discussed by Marxists.

– In emphasizing the view that the nuclear family is typical, Functionalists assume other forms of families and their adequacy.

Changes in Structure, Size, and Composition of Household

Change is an inevitable law of nature, with the family not being an exception. With time, several changes are uncovered in the roles and structure of the family. Although this change is not limited to non-essential positions, the primary roles also change tremendously. The following are some of the changes in the functions of the family.

Changes in the structure

There are many reasons for the change in the structure of a family, including economic changes and social approach changes to particular views and beliefs. Over time the design of the family has changed, with significant changes in the reduction in childbearing {Nash, 2015)}. Also, there has been an increase in single parenting in the United Kingdom, echoed by the functionalist approach, which points to the family as harmonious and noble. Additionally, women’s involvement in advanced education and work, advancements in acceptance of birth control and legal abortion, and the right to choice in the family are some factors that have influenced change in the family structure.

Changes in the size

The size of the households is increasing statistically due to the development of several families resulting in population increase. Recent data show that the number of people living in units has increased by 6% since 2010, while the households have increased at a lower rate of 4% in 2018. This increase in the size of the family unit is essential because it affects financial growth nationally. However, the American family unit’s decrease is associated with two demographic drifts. The nuclear family sizes have refused with time as women tend to have fewer children {Holborn et al., (2004)}.

Evaluated data on the change in size.

The overall fertility rate of women in 1790 was 7.0 births but dropped from 4.6 births in 1870 to 2.2 births in 1940 for white women. According to the functionalist approach, the nuclear family is more prepared to cater to the needs of the industrial community. On the other hand, black women’s fertility rates were 7.7 births in 1870 and dropped to 2.8 in 1940. Further, the increase in the nuclear family led to a decline in the number of extended families. About 70% of people aged 65 and above lived with adult children in the 1850s. However, the number reduced to less than 15% by 2000.

Change in composition

Significant changes in household composition have occurred in many developed countries since the 19th century. Generally, the household has reduced in size and become less structured.

Evaluated data on the change in the composition of households.

In England, between 1891 and 1981, the percentage of extended family units reduced from 15%to less than 5% while that of single parenthood rose from 7% to 22%. The outcomes of these changes have led to the continued decline in the size of households from about five members per household to two or three members by the end of the 20th century, as illustrated by the Marxist approach {Nash, 2015)}. In his argument, Marx points out that there is a need for extended family to ensure fair labor in production.


Sociologists describe family and marriage as a society’s organization that aids in creating a fundamental unit of social structure. A sociological opinion on families means valuing the function of widespread social drivers and using scientific study to collect data (Hakim, (2018)}. Functionalism explains the psychological state, values, and desires that make up behavioral patterns, physical patterns, and other psychological circumstances. It views culture as a way of institutionalizing the public into common beliefs and norms. Conversely, Marx explains the financial and social philosophy that evaluates the influence of capitalism on efficiency, workforce, and economic progression. It views culture as an instrument of social control of the dominant class. Although functionalism argues that society can only function and work efficiently through peace and stability, Marxism places the community on conflicts between classes. Despite the differences portrayed by both theories, they emphasize the need for peace and stability in society and see the organization as complete.


Argyle, M., 2013. The social psychology of everyday life. Routledge.

Bala, N., 1994. The evolving Canadian definition of the family: Towards a pluralistic and functional approach. International Journal of Law, Policy and the Family8(3), pp.293- 318.

Barrett, K.C., 1998. A functionalist perspective on the development of emotions. In what develops in emotional development? (pp. 109-133). Springer, Boston, MA.

Gimenez, M.E., 2012. Marxist and non-Marxist elements in Engels’ views on the oppression of women. In Engels Revisited (pp. 37-56). Routledge

Nash, K., 2015. Introduction to sociology. In Introducing the Social Sciences for Midwifery Practice (pp. 1-19). Routledge.

Holborn, M., Langley, P. and Haralambos, M., 2004. Haralambos and Holborn Sociology: Themes and Perspectives. AS-and A-level Student Handbook Accompanies the Sixth Edition. Collins Educational

Hakim, C., 2018. Models of the family in modern societies: Ideals and realities. Routledge.


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