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AS Unit 1 - The Family

6) The decline of the classic extended family and the emergence of the privatized nuclear family

A large change in the family in Britain is the movement from extended families to privatized nuclear families as the common type. This means the family is much more isolated from the rest of society, leading to less need for community. For example, instead of helping in the community families are more likely to do jobs around the house.

Reasons of this change:

  •  The need for geographical mobility – Modern society needs people who specialize in certain skills, so people with these skills need to be able move to where they are needed, this is known as geographical mobility. Due to smaller numbers the nuclear family has greater geographical mobility than extended family, so this makes the nuclear family more practical.
  • Higher rate of social mobility – Social Mobility is whether people can move up or down social classes compared to the class they were born into. The increase in social mobility means that different generation within an extended may find themselves in different social classes, this can cause conflict resulting in a break up of the family.
  • Increase in wealth – One of the main reasons for being an extended family is economic security it brings, however with an increase in average wealth there is less need for the extended family
  • The growth in meritocracy – With less emphasis on “who” you know and more “what” you know extended family members become less important as you do not need them to provide you with job opportunities
  • The need to protect family stability by strengthening bonds between partners – by becoming a smaller unit the nuclear family relies on each member more, Parsons argues this increases the bond between members making the family stronger than the extended family.


  • The typical family before industrialization wasnt extended family – Laslett found no evidence to say that the extended family was the most popular in the UK before industrialization.
  • There is no “typical” family in industrial society – whilst there may now be more nuclear families and less extended families there are still a great number of both, so it is impossible to say one is the “typical” post-industrialization British family.

About Sam Cook

A blog set up to help A Level students revise Sociology


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