British family structures - changes since WW2

Length: 11 Pages 2863 Words

Discuss the ways in which British family structures may have changed since the Second World War. Introduction In order to discuss and evaluate any changes which may have taken place within the structure of the British family after the Second World War, it is first necessary to examine the structures of the family unit prior to the Second World War. Only then will it be possible to make comparisons between the two. In this essay I shall look at overall family structures, more specifically the gender roles played out by men and women within the family. Before considering these, I shall begin by exploring what is meant and understood by “family” and whether the definition of family can include households composed of single parents and their children, childless and cohabiting couples and same-sex relationships. Definitions of the Family Definitions are always crucial in discussing social issues, because a word such as “family” is almost inevitably laden with value-based meanings. As society has changed and attitudes and values have influenced sociological thinking, some theorists have redefined the terms in which family is studied and discussed. The Oxford Dictionary definition of family is: “members of Continue...


When considering alternatives to the traditional conjugal family structure, it is also worth looking at deliberate attempts to set up alternative communal structures, for example, communes. However, it is obviously impossible for both partners to be the biological parents of the child. They attempt to share all responsibilities and in some ways imitate the functions of an extended family. Social Values and Attitudes Society in the 21st century now has a very different set of attitudes and values from pre-war Britain. They are not constrained to marry and have children for economic or social reasons, and although there are role models for men and women, there is also more scope than ever before for flexibility and opportunity in lifestyle. In some cases, the lone parent may be a single mother who has never had a relationship with the father. Given the magnitude of the social change over the last few decades, in some ways it is surprising that the typical image of a family seen in advertisements still shows two (probably white) biological parents with a son (generally the eldest) and a daughter (the youngest). The influential work of Parsons (1956, quoted in Abercrombie and Warde, 1994, p. 57) Women were meant to represent virtue and any deviation from the ideal was considered immoral. However, poorer families were more likely to live in extended family structures, for the simple reason that survival would otherwise have been very difficult, if not impossible. Many families, then, especially middle class ones, conformed to the model of the nuclear family structure, with the husbandfather working outside the home, and the motherwife at home in a nurturing role. In some ways, the war gave women more autonomy than they had experienced since industrialisation took work outside the arena of the home and community and created a clear division between public and private spheres of life.