For many years society’s conception of a normal family consisted of a man and women living together, who are married and having sexual relations. Having produced children together, or having adopted children, this being known as a nuclear family and was claimed as a vital unit in British society. The father would take on the role as the breadwinner; going out to work and providing for his family and the mother’s role would be to look after the home, childcare and the domestic chores. The family has often been observed as the cornerstone of society.

In the past, present and in all society, it has been seen as the basic unit of social organisation that carries out important roles, such as primary socialisation. The process being that children learn the social norm of their society. This took place in their younger years making the family an important factor of the child’s personality. Then there is the personality stabilization which refers to the role that the family play in the process of being able to assist adult family members of emotional support including the sexual assertion, connected to marriage.

It was argued by Talbot Parsons (1949) that there are two primary functions within a family, these being irreducible and basic this being the primary socialisation and stabilisation of the mature personality as an adult. Over the last several decades Britain has observed alterations to family kinship and the way it has dramatically changed that would have been unheard of in earlier generations. From feminists to Marxists, everyone has some form of opinion, criticism and argument about what the role of the family has to play in society and what the family consists of.

In today’s society, there are many different forms of families, as mentioned above, there is the nuclear family that was seen as a positive conform to the requirement of the modern society. The extended family, reconstituted family, lone parent family and the gay couple family. The extended family which consists of additional family members extending vertically include grandparents; to include at least three generations and horizontally to include cousins and aunties etc. These two families would be classed as normal in society but this type of relationship has also been debated.

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Studies by Michael Young and Peter Willmott (1957) and Michael Anderson (1971) established that the extended family achieved vital functions in industrial societies. One issue that arises is the confusion of the family within the household. Households in Britain basically have the general form of a nuclear family rather than extended families. From the sixteenth to the nineteenth century the average household accommodated less than five people (Laslett and Wall 1972). This though didn’t mean that the extended family didn’t exist or were not important.

Rosemary O’Day (1994) indicated that there was plenty of proof that in pre-industrial Britain that broader family connections were just as important to people and were carefully preserved. They provided vital support to enable families to continue to function in distressing situations which can happen often. There have been considerable changes through to the twentieth century family, this being the size; the number of children brought up in families to their connection to society. This being because of the increase in birth control and also due to the decline in fertility within women and the family itself as a unit being much smaller.

It has become increasingly common since the Victorian era that there being a family unit of four; two children and two parents that has become exemplary of working and middle class society. The reduction in a family unit has had affect to family life and the family structure. Although kin’s are less likely to live within a closer vicinity to one another there is still frequent contact. The reconstituted family is made up of men and women, who remarry, also know as serial monogamy, where children from the previous marriage are brought into the equation; also known as stepfamilies.

There is happiness and benefits connected to the reconstituted family and the expansion of nuclear families. But there are also many negative issues that arise. Such as the fact that another biological parent is living elsewhere who will have a continued influence over the child / children’s upbringing, being a certain power, that there can be negative strains in past relationships thus causing problems and negativity in new relationships. Reconstituted families are a developing type of kinship in being able to connect emotionally; this being fairly new to modern society.

We then have the lone parent family which is fairly obvious in its conclusion. There has been an incredible increase in single parent families since the 1970’s. There are two grounds of single parenthood; those being from separation, divorce or death and those having childbirth outside wedlock. The quantity of children born outside wedlock, as stated, has risen at an increasing rate, from about 10% in the 1940’s to about 42% now, according to the Office for National Statistics. Also according to national statistics within England and Wales illegitimacy rates have multiplied by nearly 10% in the last decade.

From 1993 to now; it was recorded that 32. 2 per cent with an increase to 41. 4 per cent. Less than 10 babies were born outside wedlock within the last decade. 90 per cent of illegitimate births are to teenage mothers compared to 63 per cent of women aged between 20-24 and 36 per cent of women aged between 25-29. Single-parent families are continuously being ridiculed and debated about the affect it has on society. The New Right-wing commentators claim that they are an inadequate form of the family that cannot operate effectively.

It was identified that this resembled lack of moral responsibility that is continuously blamed on the permissiveness procreation of the 1960’s. Those on the political left refer the issues of single parent families to suffering from poverty and see these families as needing encouragement rather than discrimination. A question is continuously asked if single parent families are a source of social problems. Single parents are largely headed by mothers and society believes that the absence of a father can eventuate insufficient socialisation, especially for boys, if there is no adequate male role model.

Dennis (1993) has publicly distinguished between families committed and uncommitted fathers and provided proof that children of the uncommitted fathers suffer more loss and behavioural problems (Dennis and Erdos 1992; Dennis 1993). Behavioural problems really manifest from an absent father though? Rodger (1996) looked at many various options. The key not being that of an absent father but if they have an active role in a child’s upbringing. This also applies to single and nuclear family. Children in single parent families may be disturbed and cause behavioural problems because of the emotional disruption caused by separation and divorce.

Finally, we have the gay couple family which is a relationship formed between two same sex persons, with a biological child / children. In 2004 the UK’s Civil Partnership Act came into force now allowing civil partnerships between and lesbian and gay couples. The gay couple has also been known as “families of choice” to represent the positive forms of every day life that homosexual couples are able to conduct together that wasn’t available in earlier years. The many traditional attributes applied to the nuclear family are now being resumed by gay couples.

For many people, the family unit provides comfort, love, security, emotion and companionship. Yet it can also be regarded as loneliness, exploitation and inequality. If the current incline over the last half a century remain, then parents of the future will no longer marry and have less children. The number of children in non-married families has trebled in the last 50 years to around 40%, according to figures from the Office for National Statistics, while the average number of children has decreased from 2. 2 to 1. 8 per family – which are continuing increasingly rapidly in societies’ future.

There are many other conventions that are now taking place in modern society that are affecting the traditional values of marriage and society today. More people are now cohabiting meaning exactly the same as marriage but just not getting married living together and possibly having children together. This is a trend that has been increasing extensively across British society. Previously, it was known that marriage was the binding of a union between two people; this can no longer be equivalent. In today’s modern society it’s more referred to as coupling and uncoupling.

A large number of couples in long-term relationships decide to live together and even have and raise children together but not to take the further step of marriage. It was until quite recently that cohabiting was known as being scandalous. It wasn’t until 1979 that the Household Survey, the main source of data for British households, that actually gave an option of cohabiting. It has been recorded that the number of unmarried men and women living together has increased indefinitely and has risen around 400% in the past 40 years. Such a dramatic difference from 4% of women born in the 1920’s and 19% of women born in the 1940’s.

It has been forecasted that four out of five couple’s cohabitate before marriage by the year 2000 and obviously this has increased (Wilkinson and Mulgan 1995). Although cohabitation is a regular matter now research has still shown that marriage is still more stable. According to research couples cohabiting are three to four times more likely to separate than those that are married. It is believed that people today cohabiting is an experimenting period before marriage, although people are cohabitating for longer periods of time before marriage and a high number of people are preferring to cohabit rather than get married.

A study carried out by the University of Nottingham in 1999, a sample of married and unmarried couples with children aged eleven and under, as well as their parents that were still married, were assessed by sociologists. Their interest was the area of commitment between older and younger couples. Researchers found that the younger, married cohabiting couple had more in common with their partners than the older couple. The elder generations saw marriage as obligation and duties whereas the younger couple saw marriage as a commitment.

The large difference that was shown was that some of the younger couple saw marriage as emphasising their commitment to each other publicly (Dyer 1999). Another trend within modern society today is the fact that women are deciding not to have children and focusing their time and energy on their careers. The family also as a whole is changing in modern society; women are working as well as bringing up children which is known as a second shift. This is also the fact that families can not afford to live on one income alone.

Also women are becoming more independent and not just relying on their husband being the sole breadwinner. There are concerns within society and continuous debates are taking place about families and personal relationships. The current concern at present about the low fertility and population decline which are leading individuals to contemplate that people are less concerned about the family and turning their back on the idea of family. Some people believe this is because of the selfish individualism emphasised on the life style of having no responsibility.

The decades of recent trends are interpreted in this way, as such by the media, not just the fact that women are having less children and at a later stage in their lives and the fact that women are not having children at all. The existence of solo living, cohabitation, serial monogamy and gay couples are a serious factor in all of this. There have been many changes within society on what a family actually is or how it is interpreted. With modern society as it is today people have their own beliefs and opinions and are much more relaxed about the family.


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