Is the Family in Decline
Is the Family in Decline
Is the family in decline?Family is a very vague concept, it is very difficult to define the term family, as the definition can vary from culture, society and religion. The smallest and probably the most common unit of family in Western society is known as “the nuclear family”. The nuclear family consists of a husband, wife and their children. It is often referred to as the ideal or proper family.  To generalize and state that the family is in decline, is a very powerful assumption. Decline means to slope downwards or to deteriorate. It is evident that the family still exists and is not in decline but is simply changing with time and society.  Postmodernists have argued that there has been a fundamental change in the modern family structure, denying any one family type can be seen as the norm. They believe modern society has held up and promoted one dominant family type, however the changing trends make it impossible to produce a theory of the family as traditionalists have always believed. Therefore different explanations are required for different types of families. (Haralambos and Holborn, 2004). Murdock, a functionalist, describes the family as a universal institution based on the nuclear family model. The functionalist view of the role of the family in society is that it maintains social order. They believe the nuclear family as being the ideal family form, a tool for socialisation and a key social institution in sustaining the value consensus. Murdock identified four main functions of the family: the sexual, reproductive, economic and educational. These four functions cover the role of the family in society. Therefore any perceived changes to the nuclear family tend to be viewed as having a negative impact on social order as other family forms are not viewed as being as effective in providing the necessary functions for society’s existence.   (Haralambos and Holborn, 2004)The New Right, a more contemporary and politically motivated ideology agrees with the functionalist’s view that the nuclear family best fits the needs of society. However Murray (1989) bemoans the decline of the nuclear family, claiming this has led to a moral decline and the emergence of an underclass. The increase of lone-parent families, according to Murray, provides no function for society, he advocates a return to the traditional family form, with clear and segregated gender roles. However Murray can be criticised for being ethnocentric, as he is a white middle class, American academic, who is judging social change and new family forms as unacceptable. This is value-laden and there is insufficient evidence to support the idea that loan-parent families are to blame for the moral decline of society. (Haralambos and Holborn, 2004)

Rapports (1982) believe there has been an important change in British family life. They argue that people are now choosing different types of family life, whereas before there was not much of a choice. Rapports state “families in Britain today are in a transition from coping in a society in which there was a single overriding norm of what family life should be like to a society in which plurality of norms are recognised as legitimate, and indeed desirable” cited by H, Holborn (1995) pg348. Most sociologists agree that the nuclear family first became popular in the United Kingdom in the 1950’s – 1960’s after World War 2, although it existed from approximately the 18th century. It originally occurred in upper-class families that could afford to live in this way and then eventually filtered down to the middle-classes and finally became popular amongst most classes in the twentieth century.  Parsons, a functionalist, would argue that the nuclear family started to become more popular due to the growth of Industrialisation. In a pre-industrial society, large, extended family networks were functional, providing not just social relationships and help – they were also economic structures, as many people worked with or in their family unit – the family was then a unit of production.  But an industrial society, Parsons argued, needed a different sort of family – a smaller, more geographically mobile unit – the nuclear family – and it became much more of a unit of consumption, rather than production. (Haralambos and Holborn, 2004)It must be said that the position of women has greatly changed over the years. In the early 19th century, women were usually expected to live their lives largely homebound, taking care of the cooking, cleaning, and child rearing. Largely due to these traditional expectations for women prior to the 19th century, very few women had the same opportunities for education as men. It was at this time that the average amount of children per woman was six, recent statistics show that is has dropped alarmingly to 1.7 (Office for National Statistics), with many women choosing not to have children at all. There are many reasons for this transformation such as the availability of contraception as well as abortions being legalized. The 2nd world war brought about changes to the lifestyle of women, they were propelled into the workforce, exposing them to previously male-dominated professional and political situations.   Women began enjoying their independence and wanted to continue to work after the war was over. It could be said that the decline of the traditional nuclear family was a sign of the lifestyle of the average women evolving.   In the UK the traditional role of a male was “the breadwinner and the provider”. (Haralambos and Holborn, 1995) (

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Nuclear Family And Fundamental Change. (July 20, 2021). Retrieved from