Exam Technique Advice
Example Answer for Questions 4, 5 and 6 Paper 2: A Level Sociology, June 2017 (AQA)
- A Level
Last updated 22 Jun 2017
Topic A2: Families and Households
Q4 (10 marks)
Q5 (10 marks)
Q6 (20 marks)
One way in which changing gender roles within the family may have affected children’s experience of childhood could be the changing roles of women within the family. Women are now protected by equal opportunities laws such as the Sex Discrimination Act of 1975 which gives them equal rights within the workplace and more recent changes to social policy such as shared maternity/paternity leave and an increase in childcare available to 3 year olds has resulted in a greater number of women going out to work and taking on the instrumental role (Parsons). This may have affected children’s experience of childhood because on the one hand they could find themselves in a more child-centred family (Aries) as children are now seen as more of an economic liability and women are delaying childbearing until a later stage because they want to focus on their careers and have the fall-back option of fertility treatments if they have left it too late to conceive naturally. Children may therefore have a more positive experience of childhood because they are closer to their parents as there are fewer siblings to compete with, and parents recognise the importance of investing in their children because they are so expensive to raise. However critics such as the New Right might argue that women being active participants in the labour market reduces their effectiveness as mothers in performing their expressive role.
Another way in which changing gender roles within the family may have affected children’s experience of childhood is because of the changing roles of men. There has been a growth in new forms of masculinity such as the meterosexual or the new man which allow men to be more in touch with their feminine side and take a greater responsibility for raising their children. This has been supported by changes in the law such as increased rights for fathers and the option for men to take a more active role within the household as they have greater rights to paternity leave. Feminists would welcome this because it frees women up from their traditional gender roles and also allows for a stronger relationship between fathers and their children. This is particularly important for boys who often lack strong male role models and therefore they may have a more stable childhood experience if fathers take a more active role in their early development (Functionalists would also welcome this trend). Similarly for girls their experiences of childhood may also be more stable as recent research has also shown that those girls who have a strong male role model in childhood also engage in less risk-taking behaviour than those who do not.
One development in the typical structure of households in the UK is the growth in single-parent families which are headed by women. This, according to Item C, is in relation to the number of people who have come to the UK from Jamaica, where women are generally regarded as independent and act as the breadwinners for their family. This opposes the traditional gender role expectations outlined by Functionalist theorists such as Parsons (who saw the role of the woman as being more expressive and the role of the male as being more instrumental). There is also less of an expectation for black Caribbeans to be married before they have children which means there are a greater number of single-parent families. Feminist sociologists would welcome these trends as it offers an alternative family type where women are empowered and are not subjected to patriarchal controls. Similarly, the growth in Asian families from India has led to a growth in the number of extended families (both vertical and extended) as Asian culture is based on a strong sense of tradition which values marriage but also emphasises responsibility to honour and care for extended kin. However, with ethnic minorities making up only around 15% of the UK population, the impact of these migration patterns on household structure must be minimal.
Another way in which migration patterns have influenced household structures in the UK, according to Item C is in relation to the many young immigrants who have come to the country from European countries such as Poland. This has had an influence on family structures as there has been an increase in the number of single person households amongst young people as many of them have come to the country in search of work (as economic migrants). This means they do not tend to follow a typical family structure as either they remain single in order to focus on work, or they sometimes send money home to their families who remain in Poland or other European countries. This shows a deviation from traditional family and household structures as often kinship is more important to those European migrants (as they live with workmates instead of relatives in shared accommodation) or because they live separately from their own nuclear family in order to meet their instrumental needs. However, this impact may be shortlived and it’s extent therefore hard to measure, as many Poles have returned home since the global financial crisis.
Functionalism is a consensus theory which according to Item B sees the family as an essential social institution. One of the key functions of the family is to ensure its members are adequately socialised into the norms and values of society (Parsons/Murdock). This means that at an early age during primary socialisation family members are taught the expected patterns of behaviour for social situations that allow them to make effective contributions to society. They are also taught about expected gender behaviours which are seen as appropriate and this can be a major aspect of their social identity.
However critics of the Functionalist approach would argue that the family has many dysfunctional aspects which Functionalists fail to consider (Item D). For example they argue it socialises us into the dominant ideologies of capitalism (Marxism) or patriarchy (Feminism) which effectively allows power inequalities to continue as women in the family remain oppressed by the subordinate gender expectations they are socialised into. Similarly, the working classes fail to rebel against the exploitation of capitalism as they are too caught up in the ideologies that have been instilled in them since birth and as such are unable to actively question the economic system they live in. This suggests that despite bringing about a clear social order and maintaining the status quo – this is not done in the interests of wider society but rather in the interests of the powerful groups in society.
Another key function of the family which has been identified by Murdock is the “reproductive” functions. The family regulate sexual behaviour to ensure those who are close genetic relatives do not procreate, which can be beneficial for the individual as well as societies as it could otherwise result in a growth in disabilities or genetic disorders which could place a strain on public health services. Marxists however would criticise this idea and would argue instead that the real reason why families perform a sexual/reproductive function is simply as a means of maintaining a family’s private property. Engels states that by marrying a woman, a man is legally protecting his wealth as it is then inherited by his children and so the power and privilege remains within the kinship group. This suggests that although there are some positive aspects of family life identified by Functionalism, these too could be seen as a negative aspect.
A further function performed by the family is economic support as the family is required to be self-sufficient and to meet the needs of its members. There is also the argument put forward by Parsons that the family has to fit with the economic needs of its society (Item D) and therefore the nuclear family became the norm in society as it was best placed to relocate to where the work was following the industrial revolution and there was no longer such a need for extended families as society moved away from an agricultural lifestyle. Parsons referred to this as a functional fit.
The New Right agree with the Functionalist view that the economic function of the family is an important and positive function, however their rationale is based upon the view that it is important to ensure the family does not become a drain on the welfare state and so they encourage families to support themselves and discourage lone parent families. This suggests that there are benefits to the Functionalist view that the family should provide economic support and both its members and society benefit economically.
However it could be argued that one of the key functions of the family which Functionalists portray as a positive (emotional support or the stabilisation of adult personalities) is in fact detrimental to society. Functionalists argue it is important for an individual’s personal well-being that their emotional needs are met and they receive support from loved ones. Feminists however would be critical of this view as they argue it results in women becoming emotional punch bags for family members and subjected to violence or abuse which should be directed at external exploitation. Similarly Marxists such as Zaretsky argue that the “warm bath theory” is simply a way of maintaining capitalist power and privilege as it results in a denial of the exploitation faced in the workplace as it is soothed by family members and this means the revolution is unable to happen. This shows that Functionalists fail to account for some of the significant and detrimental functions of the family according to conflict theories.
However Functionalism and all of the structural theories can be criticised by the Postmodern approach to family life and the functions of the family, as they would argue there is no consensus about “families” or “family life” as we now live in a hugely individualistic, globalised society which is characterised by freedom and choice. As such it is difficult to pinpoint the “functions” of the family and indeed to speculate on whether they are beneficial to the individual or society.
Based on the evidence it can be concluded that although Functionalist theories offer a clear and positive account of the family they are but one meta-narrative and they fail to account for the many negative functions performed by the family that are identified by conflict theories such as Marxism and Feminism.
Please Note: These answers have been produced without the knowledge of the mark scheme and merely reflect my attempt at producing a model answer on the day of the exam.
You might also like
AQA A-Level Sociology Grade Booster 2022
Student Revision Workshops
Join our experienced presenters for a day of fast-paced revision & essential exam technique advice on the big cinema screen – supported by online help all the way though to your final exam paper.