Critical Essay on Historical and Contemporary Changes in the Family Structure

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Within this essay, I will discuss the main historical and contemporary social changes which have occurred in family life. Family structure has shifted, as in previous years couples tended to cohabit after marriage with children following shortly after, now things have changed as there is a rise in divorce rates and a decline in marriage. According to David Morgan (1999), family represents a constructed quality of human interaction or an active process rather than a thing like an object of detached social investigation; he prefers to use the term ‘family practice’.

There are several types of family structures. A nuclear family is traditionally two generations with the parents and the children living within the same household. An extended family includes all family grandparents, aunts, cousins, and uncles. Lone parents are traditionally when they have no partner or something has happened to their partner or someone who wasn’t married. Beanpole family is a family with fewer children and multiple generations of older people, this is having fewer brothers and sisters in one generation, which leads to fewer aunts and uncles in the next generation.

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Within the last few years, there have been changes to the family structure. In 2015, families and households within have seen an increase in the numbers of cohabiting couples both with and without children, there has also been a slight rise in lone parent households. Married couple households both with and without children had remained stable. According to the ONS, in 2020 families and households within have continued to rise with the growth of the population over the past decade. Married and civil partners remain the most common, but this is declining as more couples are choosing to live together without getting married.

Families had focused on the family structure, but with the different types of families and relationships changing, feminism succeeded in directing attention to family relationships and examining the experiences of women within the domestic sphere. Feminist studies have shown that housework, domestic tasks, and childcare are shared between men and women, and it’s examined the strength of the claimed gender relationships (Giddens and Sutton, 2017, Pg. 378-419). In the 19th century, women stayed at home and did the housework and the men would go out to work. The only time they would see each other is for breakfast and dinner. “Women were considered physically weaker yet normally greater than men” (Hughes, 2014). According to Hannam (2008), feminists argued that the relationships between men and women are just as important as social classes’ understanding of social change, and that recognition of conflicts between men and women leads to the understanding of standard accounts, social movements, as well as opening new areas of inquiry. This has changed now as some men are staying at home while the women are out working, or the roles have now been equal with both out working.

According to Fulcher and Scott (2011), the functionalist approach looks at the growth of the family starting from the assumptions that social institutions developed to meet the basic needs of society. There are two needs for the family to meet and they are primary socialization and personality stabilization. The primary socialization is that the children learn the basic needs of society from their families during their early years. Personality stabilization is providing emotional support. This approach thinks that the nuclear family is the ideal family, as the studies think that it’s suited for modern societies, as one adult was earning money through paid work and the other was bringing up the children.

Marxists argued that the family performs moral functions, or a set of ideas or beliefs that support differences between the classes and encourages people that the capitalist system is a fair one. Women will be working, but not be getting enough money for it, as when the men are working, they are earning the money as they are the ‘breadwinner’, as they are supporting the family (Fulcher and Scott, 2011). According to Bernardes (1997), “There is a wide range of feminist perspectives that commonly share a focus on the subordination of women with some kind of commitment to ending the inequality”. As Marxists focused on social inequalities, feminists argued that men and women should be treated equally within the home environment and the work environment by getting the same pay and being treated the same within the work environment.

Family size is getting smaller, according to the BBC, Ives (2018), it is at a record low of 1.89 children. Those born in the 1940s and 1970s had an average of 2.19 children. Families were larger in the 1950s than families in the 2000s as families are reconstituted. This has most likely changed as women are not staying at home doing the housework, they are out working and earning money for food and rent, and they are not staying at home raising the children, they will be in a nursery or with family members. Men are helping women with the housework, now they have it spilt equally.

According to the ONS (2021), in 2020 there were 19.4 million families, this is an increase of 1.4% from the previous year. There are 2.9 million lone parents in 2020, which accounts for 14.7% of families 21.3% are within Northern Ireland. The number of people living alone had increased by 4% over the last 10 years. According to the ONS (2019), in 2018 the number of same-sex couple families has grown by more than 50% since 2015, this is four times as many same-sex married couples in 2018 compared to 2015.

According to the BBC, Fenton (2013), Northern Ireland laws changed to allow same-sex couples to adopt for the first time. This was the last part of the country to implement the change. Figures show that since the law has changed in Northern Ireland, 30 same-sex couples applied to adopt children.

According to NISRA (2021), in 2020 within Northern Ireland, there have been 20,815 births, 3,724 marriages, 95 adoptions, and 43 civil partners. The population within NI is 1,895,500, there has been a 0.1% growth from 2019. In 2019, there were 7,225 marriages these are down by half. There were 1,507 divorces, which decreased in the previous year by 2,357, which is 48.3% lower than the peak number of 2,913 in 2007. Non-cohabitation has remained the most recorded with 71.1% of all divorces. There have been 30 fewer adoptions a decrease of 24% from the 2019 figure of 125. The pandemic has made some of the numbers decrease with marriages and divorces as some were postponed.

Society may have an impact on the changes of families as there is more same-sex parents adopting children and there are more religious groups together, and in the 1950s this wasn’t seen as there were the same cultural groups were together, e.g., Catholics, Muslims, and Protestants. According to the BBC (Nd, online), church attendance is declining as research suggests that it has dropped by approximately 60% since 1985. This impacts family life, e.g., the increase in divorce, sex outside marriage, cohabitation, and the decrease in the number of people who see marriage as something scared and important. When someone is looking for a divorce, they must be married for 2 years, under new law couples can now divorce without having to cite blame.

According to Sherwood (2017), more than half of have no religion, and only 3% of adults under the age of 24 describe themselves as Anglican. Three out of four 18–24-year-olds say they have no religion, this is a rising percentage point since 2015. Fewer than 5% of people identified as Catholic. Religion is declining as the majority of people say that they have no religion, and this could be resulting in why people are choosing not to marry as this could be putting stress on families and they may have different values and beliefs.

According to McVeigh (2012), 8 out of 10 married women do more housework than men. 1 in 10 married men does an equal amount of housework as their wife. 13% of married women say that their husbands do more housework than them. Only 3% of married women do fewer than 3 hours a week with almost half doing 13 hours or more this is within a household.

In 2020 there were 31,174 domestic abuse incidents in Northern Ireland, this is a decrease of 964 from the previous year. There are 16 domestic abuse incidents and 10 abuse crimes per 1,000 population this has decreased from the previous year with 17 domestic abuse incidents and 10 domestic abuse crimes.

To conclude, I have discussed the main historical and contemporary social changes that have occurred in family life, as well as the reasons for the changes and the causes of these. The family structures have changed over the last few years as there are different types of families. The reason for this change is the decline in families, re-marriage, divorces, and people choosing not to marry. The majority of families are now cohabiting families, and this has started to rise in the last couple of years compared to the 1950s, when the family structure was more of a nuclear family. Lone parents within are on the rise within the last couple of years other families are starting to agree with this, compared to the 1970s people would judge them as being a lone parent. Also, there are a lot of lone parents within and this can have a huge impact on the children, as they have more chance of living in poverty that children with 2 parents.

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Critical Essay on Historical and Contemporary Changes in the Family Structure. (2023, September 19). Edubirdie. Retrieved May 30, 2024, from
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