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Study notes

Families: New Right

  • Levels: AS, A Level
  • Exam boards: AQA, Edexcel, OCR, Eduqas, WJEC

Sociologists from the New Right argue that the nuclear family is the bedrock of society.

What is the nuclear family? Two (married, heterosexual) parents with a small number of children. Sometimes described as the cereal packet family because of the way it is presented as ideal and the norm in various areas of society (including advertising).

The New Right argue that this family form is essential for the functioning of a good society, but that various government policies and social attitudes have combined to undermine the family.

Charles Murray (1998)

Murray argues that welfare policies have undermined the nuclear family and given perverse incentives for people to start single-parent families or to end their marriages and form single-parent families.

He argues that the welfare state has led to a dependency culture where an underclass of people live off benefits and have no aspiration to work for a living. He argues that teenage girls see pregnancy and single parenthood as a route to financial support and housing.

He further argues that, while Murdock suggested that the family had an economic function, for underclass families this function is now carried out by the state. This means that individuals conclude that they can have children without there being a working parent (because the state will provide) so there is no incentive to work at a relationship and keep a family together (and indeed less sense of responsibility for fathers to stick around and provide for their children). Furthermore, the benefits system means that more children will bring more money, so it pays to have a large single-parent family rather than a small one.

Evaluating New Right views on the functions of families and households

A lot of sociologists strongly disagree with the New Right view. They are accused of “blaming the victim”. It is a theory that tends to blame the poor for their own poverty, rather than seeking other explanations for why people find themselves in need of welfare payments, etc.

Some argue that the New Right is not really a sociological perspective but a political position. Marxists would argue that the New Right is merely an ideological justification for capitalist and bourgeois politics. It is a convenient case for cutting public spending on welfare (and therefore either reducing taxes on the wealthy or channeling money into preferred projects).

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