Nuclear Family Functionalist

Eve Arnold

Examine the functionalist view that the nuclear family is ideal for both the individual and society.

Functionalists see general society like a biological organism (called the organic analogy), which means all individuals work together to make a wholesome functioning social system that can work efficiently to keep the economy stable. Functionalism is also a consensus theory, meaning they believe a society should live in harmony.

Functionalists see the family as a unit, fulfilling a number of functions: reproduction, socialisation, emotional support, influence of status and regulation of sexual behaviour. The family ultimately creates well-immersed members of society by teaching this social culture to children from an early age.

In an ideal nuclear family, functionalists believe that it must include both an instrumental and expressive role. The instrumental role must be male, who is the 'breadwinner' (prime money-maker) of the family who will also enforce discipline on the children. However the expressive role of the family must be female, who will do housework and provide the main childcare. These defined parental roles within the family are something functionalists see as ideal for the maintenance of society and to keep the individual well-rounded as well as equipped for the working world.

The main functionalist theorists of the nuclear family are from stemmed from both Murdock and Talcott Parsons. Murdock argued that the nuclear family was a universal social institution and that it existed solely because it fulfilled these four basic functions for society: the sexual, reproductive, economic and education functions. This was on the basis of his studies of many families. However, other non-functionalist sociologists have argued, however, that the existence of the cultures such as the Nayar, as well as more and more gay and lesbian families emerging which suggest that the nuclear family is not in fact universal, and that they...