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AS Unit 1 - The Family

7) The emergence of the symmetrical family

Most sociologists think that Britain has moved from segregated conjugal roles to more integrated conjugal roles, the jobs within the family are more fairly spread between genders

Reasons for these changes:

  • Improved living standards at home have encouraged partners to become more home-centred, improving the relationship at home
  • Due to decrease in extended families there is less pressure on partners to retain traditional roles
  • Improved rights and status of women gains more respect
  • More women are in full employment. This means they have more power and are less dependant on men
  • There are weaker gender identities, so couples are not restrained by what society “says” they should be

Criticism of the view that relationships are really more equal

  • Inequalities in the division of labour – Research shows that women still perform many more housework chores than men, even when they are in a full-time job.
  • Perception of “equality” – As Ann Oakley points out, one of Young and Willmott’s evidence for equality of housework was that the 72% of men helped the women with at least one piece of housework a week, however this is a very small amount compared the women’s workload
  • Public belief in sexual division of labour – A 2005 report showed that most of the general public still believe that the women should take the expressive role and there should be sexual division of labour
  • The unequal distribution of power and decision-making – Many of the “important” decision are still made by the men alone. Also the men are often the major earners in a household, leading to more authority. Both of these factors lead to an unequal distribution of power and authority.
  • The effects of housework and childcare on women’s careers – These duties within the family still hold the women back from progressing in her career. This could be because she has constraints on the hours and work she can do because of these responsibilities. Also employers could see her as “unreliable” because she will put the family first. Also having children could lead to missing a lot of time out, this is time when most men will be advancing their career, meaning the women are held back. All of this leads to women not earning as much as men, and thus not having as much power.
  • The emotional side of the family – Duncombe and Marsden found that the many long-term relationships were held together by women, similarly it is normally the women who cares for the emotional side of the family with the children. This shows the family is not being more symmetrical because otherwise the men would deal with the emotional side equally 

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A blog set up to help A Level students revise Sociology


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