CHAPTER 15: FAMILIES
Is the family in decline?
o Socio-structural arrangements are “tight” in that they demand
conformity to norms (ex. everything looking alike and everyone acting
alike in a suburban neighbourhood). But over the course of a generation,
the world of Canadian families went from being structurally tight to
structurally loose- it went from impositions that must be conformed with
to suggestions that could be interpreted.
o Sociological research about the family focuses on whether or not the
family is in decline, and what we should do about it. People sound the
alarm whenever something in the family changes—like divorce rates
o People are concerned about the decline of the nuclear family, which
consists of a cohabiting man and women who maintain a socially
approved sexual relationship and have at least one child. Some people
are also referring to the traditional nuclear family, which is a nuclear
family where the husband works outside the home for money and the
wife works without pay in the home. By 2006, fewer than 39% of families
o Many sociologists- primarily functionalist—think the decline of the family
will result in rising crime rates, illegal drugs use, poverty, etc. as a result
of less 2 parent households with stay-at-home moms. They want to
make it harder divorce. In contrast, conflict and feminist sociologists
think it is incorrect to believe that there is only one correct family form,
and they believe changing family forms do not represent deterioration—
they can improve the way people lives.
o The nuclear family was ideal under a certain set of historical conditions,
but these conditions have changed. Family forms vary across class,
ethnic, religious, sexual orientation, etc.
Functionalism and the nuclear ideal:
o Functionalists think the nuclear family is ideally suited to create
emotional stability and create people who will operate as productive
o They believe the nuclear family serves 5 functions:
It provides a basis for regular sexual activity
o Functionalists recognize other family types as well, just don’t think they
are as suited to perform these functions.
o Ex. Polygamy expands the nuclear family “horizontally” by adding
one or more spouses (usually women) to the household. o The extended family expands the nuclear family “vertically” by
adding another generation—one or more of the spouse’s
parents—to the household.
o Still, functionalists note the basic building block of the other types of
families is the nuclear family.
o George Murdock (1940s) did a study of 250 foraging (hunter-gatherer)
societies and found that the nuclear family is still the basis of family in
every society. He said the nuclear family is based on marriage.
o Marriage is a socially approved, presumably long-term sexual and
economic union between a man and a woman. It involves
reciprocal rights and obligations between spouses and between
parents and children.
o Foraging Societies are nomadic groups of 100 or less people. In some
foraging societies, women hunt and men can tend to babies and children.
Gender differences do not create large differences in power because
women collect 80% of the family’s food. They also travel in bands, and
when they hunt they distribute the food to the whole band, not just their
own children. This suggests that Murdock’s findings are incorrect and the
basis of efficient social organization among these societies is the band,
not the nuclear family. Band members try to keep the ratio of children to
productive adults low for economic security. The band, not the nuclear
family, is responsible for socializing children in foraging societies. This
calls into question many of functionalist’s generalizations.
The Canadian Middle Class in the 1950s: functionalism does explain family
patterns in the 15 years after WWII. People postponed marriage during the
Depression and the Wars and after this period many people married, settled
down and had children in an era of prosperity and optimism. Women who
joined the labour force during the war resumed housewife roles. The result was
a “marriage boom” in Canada, and the second result was a baby boom. Not all
women could afford to stay out of the workforce though, but many engaged in
an “orgy of domesticity” where they gave increased attention to child rearing
Trends in divorce, marriage and child bearing show a gradual weakening of the
nuclear family from the early 20 century until WWII. The resumption of a
weakening trend began in the 1960s. The marriage rate (the number of
marriages that occur in a year for every 1000 people in the population) peaked in
1942 and 1946 and then started to fall. The divorce rate (the number of
divorces that occur in a year for every 1000 people in the population) started to
increase in the 1960s.
Functionalists missed the big picture because they ignored the fact that the
traditional nuclear family is based on gender inequalities and because the
ignored the degree to which changes in power relations between men and
women restructured the family in recent decades. Conflict and Feminist theories:
o Friedrich Engels suggested that that power differences between genders
explain the prevalence of different family forms. Men had economic
control, which allowed him to pass wealth on to his sons, and sexual
control over his wife in the form on enforced female monogamy ensured
his wealth/property would be transmitted only to his offspring. Engels
thought that private property should be eliminated and economic
equality enforced in order to bring an end to gender inequality and the
traditional nuclear family.
o Engels was wrong about economic equality eliminating gender
inequality—gender inequality exists in both communist and capitalist
societies. For this reason most feminists believe that something other
than or in addition to capitalism account for gender inequality. They
think it is patriarchy’s root in society, not just capitalism.
Power and Families:
o Love and mate selection: historically, love had little to do with marriage—
it was arranged by third parties and based on economic and political
calculations. The link between love and marriage we have today
originated in the early 20 century when Hollywood and ads began to
promote self-gratification. Love has become the essential basis for
o Social influences on mate selection: although the appearance of online
dating increased the number and range of potential mattered to which
people have access, social forces continue to influence mate selection.
Three sets of social boundaries influence you:
Resources: potential spouses bring resources to the marriage
market they use to attract mates and compete against rivals.
These include financial assets, status, values, tastes, and
Third parties: families, neighbourhoods, and religious institutions
raise people to identify with groups they are members of and
think of themselves as different from members of other groups.
They apply sanctions to people who threaten to marry from
outside the group (ex. ethnic intermarriage).
Demographic variables: if you are a member of a small group or a
group that is dispersed geographically, you are more likely to have
to marry outside the group. People usually meet spouses in “local
marriage markets” – universities and colleges, places of work,
bars, neighbourhoods—these settings are socially segregated and
influence mate selection.
o Marital satisfaction: it has come to be about having a happy marriage
rather than a useful marriage. Women are freer than ever to leave marriages when they are unhappy. This female autonomy was a result of
birth control (able to delay having kids, have fewer kids) and having their
own sources of income. During the late 1960s, divorce laws were
changing and making it easier.
o Main factors underlying marital satisfaction:
Economic factors: the lower the social class and the lower the
income level, the more likely financial pressures will make them
unhappy and the marriage unstable. Marital satisfaction
generally increased when wives enter the paid labour force.
Divorce laws: when people are free to end unhappy marriages
and remarry, the level of satisfaction increases among married
The family life cycle: divorce rates peak at year five of a marriage,
and martial satisfaction reaches a low point after about 15-20
years. Marital satisfaction starts high, falls when children are
born, reached a low point when children are in their teenage
years, and rise again when children reach adulthood.
Division of household labour: couples that share household and
are equal are happier than those who don’t. Equitable sharing
tends to increase with education.
Sexual relations: people with good sexual relations have happier
marriages. Marital happiness could lead to good sex, or good sex
could lead to a happy marriage. The relationship between marital
satisfaction and sexual compatibility is probably reciprocal.
Religion: religion doesn’t influence martial satisfaction, but does
affect divorce rates. States with a high percentage of churchgoers
have a lower divorce rate.
o Divorce: the Divorce act of 1968 expanded the ground for granting a
divorce to include mental or physical cruelty, rape, addiction, sodomy,
bestiality, and homosexual acts.
The 1985 amendment specified only one ground for divorce—
marital breakdown—defined in three ways:
a. The spouses lived apart for one year,
b. One of the spouses committed adultery,
c. One spouse treated the other with mental or physical
Today, a marriage can be legally dissolved in the relationship is