The family is the basic unit of any community, with women playing an indispensable role. Over time, different sociology scholars and researchers have attempted to develop sociological explanations to describe the family in terms of its structure, significance, roles, and evolution in terms of individual roles since World War II. The role of women has evolved due to drastic shifts in the position of a woman in society alongside her empowerment.
Sociological explanations on the role of the family and its role in the social structure.
Various sociologists have come up with different theories to explain the role of the family in society and its position in the social structure. Sociologists such as Durkheimian and Radcliffe-Brown have established several approaches based on their research and interactions to understand these simple societal units yet with underlying complexities. Some established theories include the Structural functionalist theory, the conflict perspective, the sociology of motherhood, the feminist approach, and symbolic interactionism (Candela 2022). This essay will analyze the Structural Functionalist and the conflict perspective theories.
The structural functionalism theory portrays the family as a societal unit that plays a vital role in ensuring any society’s smooth and functional running. The roles of the family cut across various dimensions, including educational, economic, reproductive, and sexual functions. Functionalists claim that the family produces holistic members of society and inculcates the community’s traditions and customs in new members (Candela 2022). It designates vital attributed distinctions to new members, such as race and socioeconomic class. It is in charge of societal substitution by reproducing new members to restitute the deceased.
In addition, the family grants its members property entitlement and the ability to ascribe and preserve family relations. Lastly, families offer financial and emotional security and care as well as assistance for those who are in need. Functionalists also depict that families have an indispensable place in the social structure. Functionalism describes society as an organism, with the components, including institutions and social constructions, acting as organs that function together to keep the entire community running smoothly. This viewpoint examines society’s fundamental aspects, such as conventions, practices, traditions, and institutions, in terms of their function. Structural functionalism also takes up the idea that the nuclear family is most basic unit of society and that the clan is a subsidiary, not the other way around. Durkheim suggested that sophisticated societies are held together by organic cohesion, based on the analogy of an organism in which numerous constituents function together to nourish the whole.
The conflict perspective is contradictory to the theory of structural functionalism. The theory argues that structural functionalism presents the family as a rosy concept that is unrealistic and non-existent. It does not account for the negative experiences that cause stress on its members. According to supporters of the conflict theory, by upholding and strengthening the status quo, the family perpetuates socioeconomic inequality within a community (Candela 2022). Since education, inheritance, and social capital are transmitted through the family in form of inheritance, wealthy families can uphold their esteemed social status for their members. In contrast, humble families are not granted the same advantage. Sociologists who uphold the conflict theory have also painted the family as a social system that favors men more than women, allowing men to retain domination. In most countries, the orthodox family structure is male dominated, contributing to gender disparities. These claims can be attributed to the value attached to roles each family member has to play. Women’s traditional functions, such as housekeeping and raising children, are deemed obsolete. Even in situations where women are engaged in a paid workforce that brings as much to the man’s table, the woman is still obligated to take up house chores and child-rearing duties.
Although these two theories are opposing in thought, they are complementary to some extent as ordinary families may bear the supportive functionalist concept even in the presence of conflict and selfish motives.
Structural changes in the family since World War II
In the early twentieth century, families had dominant family dynamics, which contributed to a standard family structure. The nuclear family was characterized by two parents who were ordinarily of different sexes with an overall high number of children. However, after World War II (as from the 1950s), the family structure has changed drastically.
In the early days, children were born within a marriage, with anyone having a child out of wedlock being viewed as an outcast. Nowadays, individuals having children before marriage, or even without the intentions of marriage, is a usual occurrence. Research states that 2 out of every ten children are born out of marital family setups without any matrimonial links; This can be attached to the normalization of divorce and non-marital sexual practices, which are part of the family dynamics revolution that has taken place over the years (White 2022). Women who grew up in highly patriarchal family setups may opt for single-parent families to avoid a replica of the negative experiences that they were exposed to. The desire for freedom and independence drives them.
There is also a surge in the number of members per family. Before World War II, families were characterized by a high number of children; This was the case as children were viewed as a source of workforce and pride in the society. However, in the latter days, children are more of a responsibility due to the entitlements a child possesses. Today a child is entitled to proper shelter, clothing, education, healthcare exclusive of the countless superficial needs attached to technological advancements. As such, most families prefer to sire fewer children to increase the possibility of giving them a quality life. There has also been an increase in exposure to family planning methods.
Other changes in the family structure include increased pet ownership and a tremendous increase of women entering the workforce alongside the diversification of the areas women can engage in professionally. These changes can be attributed to the desire for affection and the changes in the economy, respectively.
Changes in roles within the family since World War II
Family roles have been subjected to change over time. The contributions of a woman were deemed minute and obsolete while those of men were amplified. In the early twentieth century, the role of women was mainly linked to housekeeping and child-rearing, with few women entering the workforce in limited fields such as dress-making. Immediately after World War II, women entering the workforce increased from barely 25% to nearly 47% (Yellen 2022). This tremendous increase can be accounted to the advent of mass high school education, which led to a drastic increase in graduates. At the same time, the revolution in technology increased the demand for clerks and secretaries. Women predominantly occupied these jobs because they were seemingly cleaner and required less muscular energy. To date, transformations in the occupational role of women are still taking place. In the late twentieth century, women began to enter fields that were earlier on deemed inappropriate. These fields include Engineering and Information technology. Such transformations can be attributed to the increased campaigns for gender equality and women empowerment forums that depict women as individuals with equal capacity compared to men. The role of men has also been affected. Men are no longer “dictators” in the family setup. They are partners with their female counterparts in decision-making, financial responsibility, and their mandate to the family.
Women being emboldened to take an equal share in the family in terms of independence, freedom, and bread-weaning has adversely affected the family structure and the roles each family member plays. There has been a reversal in gender inequality issues that have affected assertive mating patterns in terms of family formation, divorce, and fertility (Oláh, Kotowska & Richter 2018). Contrary to popular belief, women with higher education are less likely to remain unmarried. Instead, they appear to prefer to associate with males who are less educated than they are, leading to a decrease in educational and financial hypergamy and an increase in hypogamy. A decline in fertility rates has occurred due to the transformation of a woman’s role. The woman is no longer entitled to childbearing and rearing alongside housekeeping; she now bears occupational roles and professional mandates, which she has to live up to. The divorce rate is also on the rise as most women have gained financial stability and social independence. They do not have to stick to patriarchal partners for financial support or societal approval.
Candela, L., 2022. Sociological Perspectives on Family | Boundless Sociology. [online] Courses.lumenlearning.com. https://courses.lumenlearning.com/boundless-sociology/chapter/sociological-perspectives-on-family/
Oláh, L.S., Kotowska, I.E. and Richter, R., 2018. The new roles of men and women and implications for families and societies. In A Demographic perspective on gender, family and health in Europe (pp. 41-64). Springer, Cham. https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-3-319-72356-3_4
White, A., 2022. How Has Family Structure Changed Over Time? –. [online] Jatonyc.org. https://jatonyc.org/how-has-family-structure-changed-over-time
Yellen, J., 2022. The history of women’s work and wages and how it has created success for us all. [online] Brookings. https://www.brookings.edu/essay/the-history-of-womens-work-and-wages-and-how-it-has-created-success-for-us-all/