Each group in society has a different idea on what the main role of the family is. As Item 2B says, “Marxists see all social institutions as serving the interests of capitalism. ” This includes the family, and they say that it serves the interests of capitalism by maintaining and justifying class inequality and exploitation by the rich. Other groups, however, have different opinions, such as Functionalists who think that the family performs essential needs of society.
Marxists and Functionalists opinions are completely contrasted, as Marxists think that we live in a Capitalist society based on unequal conflict between the classes, whilst Functionalists see society as based on “value consensus”, where everyone agrees. The family is an important market for the sale of consumer goods because advertisers encourage families to be in competition with each other (“keeping up with the Joneses”), and to keep buying all the latest gizmos and gadgets. They also target children who use their “pester power” to get their parents to buy more things and spend more money on them.
This is one of the ways that Marxists say the family serves capitalism, because the family generates major profits for it. They also say that capitalism exploits the labour of the workers, making a profit by selling the products made from their labour for more than it costs them to be produced. Another argument from the Marxist perspective is that the family performs key ideological functions for capitalism by justifying and maintaining inequality , which in turn maintains capitalism. As suggested in Item 2B ,they say that the family socialises children into accepting and being used to heirarchy and inequality.
The parents power over their children gets the children used to the idea that someone is always in charge, which prepares them for working, where they will contribute to capitalism by obeying orders from their employers. Zaretsky says that the family performs the ideological function of offering a “haven” from capitalism. However, he says that this is just an illusion because the family cannot meet all its members needs, for example women, who are the “takers of shit”. In past society, there wasn’t any private property and all means of production were owned communally.
In this society, there was no “family”. Engels called this the “promiscuous horde” because there were no boundaries on sexual relationships. As society’s wealth increased, private property began to develop. As this developed, a class of men emerged who were in control of all means of production. Engels said that this change introduced the “patriachal monogamous nuclear family” into society, because men needed to know for sure which children belonged to them, so that their private property could be inherited.
These ideas are challenged by Feminists, who say that Marxists concentrate too much on capitalism and social class and ignores gender inequality within the family. Functionalist say that they are too negative and ignore the benfits that the family can provide for its members, like mutual support. They can also be criticised because they assume that the nuclear family is dominant in capitalist society so ignore an increasing variety of families in society. Functionalists disagree with the Marxist idea that the family serves the interests of capitalism.
Item 2B says “functionalists argue that the family performs vital functions for society. ” Murdock says that it does this in four main ways. One is, “stable satisfaction of the sex drive”. He says that having sex with the same partner prevents social disruption. The next is reproducing the next generation, because society needs people to continue. Another essential function is to socialise the young into a value consensus and teach them society’s shared norms and values and to meet its members’ economic needs, so that everyone is economically provided for such as the children by the parents or the parents when they get older.
Parsons says that the family meets industrial societies two essential needs of a “geographically mobile workforce” and “socially mobile workforce”. It is easier for a nuclear family to move for work if they need to, than it would be for an extended family. In the past it wasn’t problematic because big families often stayed on one farm their whole life but in a modern industrial society people often have to move for work. The second, a “socially mobile workforce”. In today’s society, Parsons said that each person’s status is achieved by effort and ability rather than being ascribed by background.
This enables them to be socially mobile, or able to “climb the ladder”. The nuclear family is therefore better because it can avoid any conflict that may arise between a father, whose ascribed status is head of the household, and a son who has higher achieved status than his dad does, if they lived in the same house. He also intoduced the “warm bath” theory which shows that the family can be a refuge for emotional support, for example a husband taking his strains from work home where his family act as the “warm bath” , so that he is able to continue contributing to society, lthough this doesn’t neccesarily mean contributing to capitalism, just contributing positively to society. Parsons and Murdocks ideas can be criticised because they are both quite old, Murdocks in 1949 and Parsons in 1955. They can also be criticised for favouring the nuclear family too much, as in you don’t need a nuclear family to perform all four of Murdock’s functions, such as reproduction.
So, whilst there is some evidence for the Marxists view that the main role of the family is to serve capitalism, it is clear that the family does serve more than just the one purpose. For example, the Functionalist view that the family performs vital functions for society, or the Feminist view that the family creates gender inequality and oppresses women. Whilst both the Marxist and Feminist view are critical of the family, they disagree on what kind of inequality that is brought about by the family and who is oppressed by it.