According to Steve Chapman (2002) a family is “an intimate domestic group composed of people related to each other by blood, sexual relations and legal ties” A nuclear family consists of 2 generations, parents and children, living in the same household. Traditionally we think of two parents when we think of a family, as that is how families are always presented especially in the media, but rising divorce rates mean that actually it is highly likely that a family consists of many variations on this theme.
The Marxist view of the family is that the family arose in response to development of private property and the need for men to pass on their property to their own offspring, so the main function of the family was to keep the capitalist system going. In 1977 Beechey argued that families perform two major functions for capitalism, providing free childcare for future labour and as a cheap reserve army of labour which can be returned home in times of recession. So the man is the breadwinner and the woman is the child carer and a kind of ’emotional sponge’ looking after the children and listening to everyone’s problems.
The nuclear family is seen by feminists such as Barratt and Mackintosh (1991) is an ‘ideological tool’, meaning that average families of two parents and their children are presented as the ideal for people to aspire to. This means families that don’t fir this ideal are anti social and not as good. Functionalists see traditional family structures as needed for society to be maintained. They say a family made up of a father and caring mother where the father provides economically for the family is the most sensible and stable way for people to live in society.
The percentage of lone parent families has tripled since 1971 and Britain has one of the highest proportions of lone parent families within Europe. Women head Nine out of ten of these families. Nearly 1 in 4 children now live in such families. (Ken Browne 2002). The new right such as Charles Murray says the growth in lone parent families is linked to the generosity of the state in providing benefits for them. These lone parent families have been pictured as licentious parasites and blamed for a wide range of negative factors in society such as rising juvenile crime, drug abuse and educational failure of children.
There has been quite a lot research into the consequences of families where no father figure is present. Dennis & Erdos (1992) argued that the causes of riots in the early 1990’s in America and Britain could be linked to the rising number of young men growing up without a father figure. Dennis ; Erdos argue that it is not true to say that people are equally successful whether they grow up in lone parent or two parent households.
They said boys in fatherless families grow up without restraints and with no discipline or role model, and they then go on to have their own children but don’t take any responsibility for them. Boys brought up with no father do less well at school and are more likely to gain a criminal record than those in two parent families. They got their evidence from a study of 1000 children born in Newcastle in 1947 . This study clearly seems to suggest that families do need fathers, especially if the children are boys, as they are more likely to have poorer physical health and criminal records.
However poor health could also be to do with the fact that lone parent families generally have less money than two parent families and this could affect quality of life which can have an affect of physical health, and education and therefore crime as they would have less opportunities. John Bowlby said that the child makes a primary attachment with it’s mother and that a father isn’t really needed if the child has a caring mother, then it will be psychologically healthy but that if there is a break in the bond between the mother and the child then the child will be more likely to become delinquent.
Feminists said that Bowlby was a traditionalist who was trying to keep women in the home, especially as his research was funded by the government at a time when there was high unemployment amongst men returning from the second world war, so Bowlby’s ideas were popular with the Government as it was thought it could help reduce unemployment in men if less women worked According to Ken Browne (2002) all the problems that have been linked to absent fathers may actually be related not to whether or not a father is absent or present but to how involved a father gets in the upbringing of the child. It is likely that in a family where children are not disciplined there will be later problems, even when there are two parents. A home office report in 1985 found that there was no difference in crime rates from lone or two parent families, so it seems that children just need to have both parents involved, it doesn’t really matter whether the father is living with them, but they do need to be part of the care and discipline of the child.