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Classic Texts: Rapoport & Rapoport "British Families in Transition" 1982


Last updated 10 Apr 2019

The Rapoports carried out groundbreaking research into family life. They identified a number of ways in which family life was diverse, in contrast to the idea that the nuclear family was the clear norm. They identified 5 clear types of family diversity.

The 5 types of family diversity they identified were:

1) Organisational. This refers to the way a family might organise itself in terms of the roles people perform (e.g. traditional male-dominated families and more symmetrical ones).

2) Cultural. Families differ in terms of their beliefs and values. One example of this is between different ethnic groups, with some ethnicities placing a greater emphasis on family than others, some preferring different gender roles, etc.

3) Class. Much writing about the family assumes that family life as experienced in a middle-class family is the same for other social classes, but this is not the case. Availability of resources, quality of housing, leisure opportunities, etc. all impact the nature of families and family life.

4) Life course. Rapoport and Rapoport point out that we do not live in the same family structure, family set-up or type of household for the whole of our lives. We might be born into a traditional nuclear family. This might change later in our childhood (for example it might become a lone parent family and then a reconstituted family). When we leave home it might be to live on our own, or with flatmates. It might be to live with a partner as a couple without children. A couple with or without children might live with their parents in an extended family, or move away and form their own nuclear family.

5) Cohort. There is also change over time and what is the norm, in terms of family life, for one generation, is not for the next. As such, great grandparents and grandparents may have had several siblings, and later generations have far fewer; more recent generations are more likely than their parents and grandparents to divorce or to be single parents.

Since Rapoport and Rapoport were writing family has arguably become more diverse, e.g. same-sex parents.

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