Functions and Diversity of Family Structure
There are various debates and views on the term ‘family’ in today’s
Although we can say that a family consists of a unit of people that
are related, either legally through marriage or biologically.
In both premodern and modern societies families have been seen as the
most basic unit of a social organisation that carries out vital tasks,
such as socialising children.
Whereas a ‘household’ consists of a group of people who cohabit at the
same address. Therefore this is known as ‘a physical entity’. This
could contain various social arrangements some may be considered
within society as a ‘family’, whilst others may not. For example, a
male and female cohabiting but not married may not be seen in today’s
society as ‘a family unit’.
The classic family structure is the ‘nuclear family’, this particular
structure is known as traditional from a functionalist’s point of
It consists of a family that is made up of a mother, children and a
farther who provides economically for both his wife and children.
This type of family structure is considered to be the most stable way
for people to live within society.
Therefore the ‘nuclear family’ is both universal and functional.
Murdock 1989 was a functionalist. His work shows that some form of a
family structure was the basis of all societies.
This leads to the idea that the family was universal, which means it
was found everywhere.
He argued that the family performed three main functions, and if they
were not apparent society would collapse. These were:
1. The family stabilises sexual behaviour and reproduction
2. The family provides basic economic requirements such as food and
3. The family serves the function of socialisation of the next
generation into the norms, values and other aspects of culture in
There are various functionalist’s that don’t agree with Murdock, such
as Parsons (1959). He argued that in modern societies there are only
two basic functions, which are:
1. Stabilisation of the adult personality
2. Primary socialisation of children
Parsons and Murdock both agree that the family structure is essential
for the maintenance of society, and that the family is universal
because any other institution cannot perform its functions.
The Marxist views on the family totally differ from those of the
Barrett and McIntosh (1991) suggest that the ‘nuclear family’ is
presented as ideal for society to aspire to, thus makes the concept of
the family ‘anti-social’ because it implies that other forms of family
life are inferior.
There are also other alternative family structures such as the
This is basically the nuclear family plus distant relations, such as