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AS Unit 1 - The Family

2) Functionalist Perspectives

Functionalists see the Family as a functional prerequisite of society.

Murdoch said the family has 4 key functions:

  • sexual – expressing sexuality in a way which is socially acceptable
  • Reproduction – needed to provide a suitable way to raise children
  • Socialization –  “primary socialization” helps teach children socially acceptable behaviour and values of the society (value consensus)
  • Economic – provides food and shelter for family members

Parsons argues that there are 2 main functions of the family, Primary socialization of children and stabilization of human personalities.

  • Primary socialization of children – Parsons said society would not function if the family did not socialize future generation into the value consensus, culture, language, history and morals of today society.
  • stabilization of human personalities – The pressures of modern society can “destabilize personalities”. Parsons said that through the “sexual division of labour” the family can stabilize personalities. Whilst the male plays the instrumental role, the women plays the expressive role, looking after the family and (importantly to this stabilization) looking after the husband. This is the warm bath theory, the women cares for the man, helps stabilize his personality and therefore he is a better worker. 

Criticisms of the functionalist perspective

  • Ignoring the “dark side of the family” – Functionalist fail to show the conflict within a family that prevents it from fulfilling the function Murdock and Parsons spoke about, for example child abuse or violence against the mother
  • Out of date – A very old-fashioned view. Women nowadays are often the main breadwinners or eat least have paid jobs.
  • Ignoring the exploitation of women – Functionalist fail to take into account the way the women feels about her expressive role. Many women don’t want to do this, and when they do this job can cause a lot of boredom and stress.
  • Ignoring the harmful effects of the family – Leach said that nuclear families have become so close-knit and isolated from everything else that a lot of emotional stress is caused. This is because family members expect too much from each other.



About Sam Cook

A blog set up to help A Level students revise Sociology


One thought on “2) Functionalist Perspectives

  1. This is so helpful! Thank you!

    Posted by Amanda | April 15, 2017, 9:36 am

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