Examining Family Diversity and the Life Course Many years ago, Parsons studied families from different type and decided that through structural differentiation, the multifunctional extended family became the nuclear family, and made a point of focusing on this type of family. Marxism also made this mistake, as well as feminism. What these approaches didn’t take into account was that there are many other types of family out there, which is even truer in contempary society. This essay will attempt to asses the extent of this diversity, and the explanations of it.
The first approach I will talk about is the new right. They are a very controversial collective with very right wing ideas. Charles Murray believes that family diversity is a bad thing, and that lone parent families are detrimental to society. 90% of families are patriarchal. He argues that this causes delinquency in young boys, as they have no male role model to aspire to, so they look to the streets to find one instead. This process creates and underclass who are dependant on the welfare state. However, there are people that would disagree.
Feminists argue that there is very little evidence that matriarchal lone-parent families cause delinquency, and that actually they are a positive thing because they encourage and portray the growing independence of woman. Another issue the new right have with diversity is that family diversity encourages a dependency culture. They are ague that any type of family that is unstable such as reconstituted families, lone-parent families and cohabiting families present a risk of dependency on the welfare state.
This is extremely detrimental to society as the welfare state is a ‘perverse incentive’; it takes money from those who work hard, gives money to those who do nothing, and allows fathers to avoid their duty as breadwinners. The neo-conventional family, a term coined by Chester, takes a slightly different look at diversity. Whereas he agrees that there has certainly been an increase in diversity, he does see this increase as large, or as a bad thing. The nuclear family is still the dominant family type, considering is still account for 56% of families. Most marriages continue till death, ohabitation is just a step before marriage, and births outside marriage have indeed increased, but most of them are jointly registered. He also points out that we can’t presume that all families considered diverse are permanent, and rather we go through a life cycle of families. We live in a nuclear family whilst young, cohabit before marriage, live in a nuclear family after marriage, then live alone after divorce, with many other steps in-between. Another point he makes, and defines the term neo-conventional with is that many families now have dual earners, where both spouses work.
There are some issues with this though. The new right would argue that whereas the nuclear family still accounts for the majority of families, that number is declining and may slip into a minority in coming years. Feminists would say that whereas many families are indeed dual earners now, Chester ignores the emotional and domestic labour that women do. The rapports also have their view on diversity. They disagree with Chester in that diversity is actually very widespread, and also very important unlike the New Right’s perspective.
They attempt to define diversity by splitting it into 5 different groups: Organisation diversity which focus on how roles are distributed among the family; some families have joint conjugal roles, whereas some have one wage earner and one domestic labourer. Cultural diversity takes into account ethnic, religious and cultural differences. For example, some the majority of white British households are nuclear, whereas most afro-Caribbean families are single parent. Social class diversity implies that income can affect your family.
Middle class families are more likely to interact with their children than working class families. Life-stage diversity. Where we are at in our life course will affect diversity. University students are likely to live in a family at all, whereas those who are in their 30s are more likely to be in a nuclear family. The final factor is generational diversity, which means that generations will affect diversity. Younger generations are more likely to cohabit than older ones. All of the above approaches are modernist perspective. They look at diversity through one lens and attempt to apply a structure to it.
An argument against all of the above approaches is post-modernism. This approach believes that we make our own choices about family life and relationships, and that it is wrong to assume that that there is a best family type for society. It tried to look at the family from the perspective of the individual, and relies more on meaning that statistics. Post-modernists would argue that the new right ignore the benefits of diversity, and say that the nuclear family is the best for society, when we need to look at the needs of the individual instead.
They would say that Chester ignores the extant of diversity and focus too much on trying to reinforce the nuclear family’s presence. Finally, they would agree with the rappoports that diversity is a good thing, but reprimand them for trying to structure diversity, when it needs to be looked at from each individual’s perspective. Giddens, a post-modernist, argues that contraception had allowed marriage to be more about meaning and love rather that purely about reproduction, and that feminism has led to better job opportunities and education.
He says that both of these points have led to greater choice and equality in society. The new right would agree that contraception is a good thing as it has potentially lowered that number of lone-parent families, but would argue that the freedom it brings has undermined the stability of family. Giddens would agree with this, but that this risk is worthwhile if it meets the individuals need, and leads to a purer family. Beck, another post-modernist, builds on the idea of risk in the family. The greater choice we now have has moved us away from tradition in two ways.
We now have greater gender equality due to feminism, and a greater individuality because of an increased self interest. The new right would disagree with beck as well, and argue that this increased self interest means that we may put out interests ahead of those who need them more such as children, which can undermine their future. Stacey complied some case studied she carried out on a number of Californian women, and found that there may be another type of family that other sociologists hadn’t noticed yet. Many of these women rejected tradition family values, divorced their husband, and then remarried.
This new family is based on the connection between the woman, and the wife of the woman’s ex-husband. They had formed a financial and domestic partnership. Stacey calls this the divorce-extended family. Chester may argue that whereas this may well be going on, than this isn’t a type of family at all and that it’s rather just two nuclear families that have some contact, which would support his view of the nuclear family’s stability. Points from both modernist arguments and post-modernists can be taken into account. It is becoming increasingly apparent that diversity is growing.
Whereas the new right believe this is a bad thing, they fail to realise that diversity is actually better in some cases where empty-shell marriages where children are used as scapegoats for their parent’s anger. On the other hand they may have a point, because divorce rate in decreasing, and people are getting married for love more than anything now so the nuclear family seems to be an increasingly stable environment. This occurrence of this stable environment is decreasing though, meaning that Chester’s point may not be as valid as he thinks, and this decrease means that family diversity is increasing which supports the postmodernist view.
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