‘Is the Nuclear Family a universal social unit?’

In this essay I am going to be looking at whether Murdock was right in saying that the nuclear family is a universal social unit. I will have evidence that will prove and disprove his theory and will conclude in what I think. The nuclear family is seen as it being a mother, father and one or more children own or adopted.

Murdock is a famous sociologist from a group called the functionalists, he claims that the nuclear family is universal and is the only type of family he recognises and says you have to be part of nuclear family to be a successful family. Murdock sees the nuclear family as being a man and women, living together with their children own or adopted. Murdock carried out a study that included 250 different societies and concluded that the nuclear family was the most popular; he sees it as the proper type of family. If the family was divorced, separated or there was a death he called it the broken nuclear family as at one time it started off as the nuclear family and had just broke down.

One of the first people to disagree with Murdock was an anthropologist called Kathleen Gough; she studied the ways in which tribes lived. One tribe in particular that she studied was called “the Nayar”, it was based in south west India and there was no nuclear families in that tribe at all. The Nayar society had a different way of life. All girls were married off at puberty, the marriage was dissolved and all the girl had to do was turn up to her husband’s funeral, so he had a good sending off to the after life. Then after marriage the men could have intercourse with any girl of their choice in the same cast as them. The girls were allowed up to 12 men from the same cast they were referred to as visiting husbands. If the women became pregnant the man had nothing to do with the child, all they had to do was one of the 12 men had to claim the child, and they had to pay the midwife. Once the child was born the man left and the woman was responsibly for the child and her brothers had to support her and her family. Kathleen Gough says Murdock got it wrong and these were perfectly functional families and lived as good a life as anyone in a nuclear family, and said his definition of the family was too narrow, but now the Nayar has broke down and disappeared they are now living in nuclear families, so in some ways Murdock was right as they were not strong enough to stay together outside the nuclear family also Kathleen Gough only studied one tribe so it could have been different else where.

Single parent families have increased over the years and are now “expected and accepted”. Murdock calls the single parent family a broken nuclear family, one sociologist disagrees Hannerz says it can’t be a broke family as I most cases there is nothing there to break, the father normally disappears and the mother on her own is just as capable. 1/5 families in the UK are single parent families and 90% of them are Matriarchal. Jenn Renvoize believes that some choose from the beginning to do it alone and are just as capable and this is on the increase. Yanina Sheeran calls it the “female carer-core” the basic unit of most families are the mother and child anyway so; it won’t affect or change the child if the father was around. Murdock doesn’t really see this as nuclear family and doesn’t believe that a single parent family is a strong or as capable.

Many people now decide to either not have children or too wait until they are older and have progressed further in their jobs. Some people don’t have children now as they don’t see it necessary to and are not under any pressure form society to have child. May people now want to pursue a successful career over having children, without children it is easier to move about and it makes it easier to relocate so people are choosing not to have them. The average family size now is 1.9 were as years ago it used to be 2.4. People decide now to just have a relationship with someone but not have any kids they are called DINKIES – Double income no kids. If they want to have children they will. Toffler believes that cutting the family down to the elemental components will prove more efficient at navigating through educational and social shoals. Murdock doesn’t even see a married couple or just a couple with no kids as a family, to be family there has to be children in the picture. Some people wish to be in a family but don’t desire to have any children as they want to concentrate on there career and don’t think it would be fair to have a child or just don’t want to have children. People who are child free are choosing not to have children by choice whereas people who are child less want children but can’t have them.

There is an issue arising now about Homosexual couple becoming parents. Murdock doesn’t see this as socially acceptable but as we go forward this type of family is on the increase. Now homosexuals are socially accepted and can now get married from 2005 the civil contract allows homosexual couples to get married this now gives them the right to have children through IVF, Surrogacy and adoption, it also gives both partners equal rights to the child. Sidney Callahan believes that homosexual families are just as capable of bringing up children in a stable home and stable relationship as a heterosexual couple would be, but Murdock disagrees he doesn’t see this as a family because he believes it’s not socially accepted so therefore couldn’t be as strong as the nuclear family.

There are may alternatives to the family for example the Kibbutz, it is found in Israel it’s a sort of Commune it was found in 1910; The Kibbutz settled in Israel and lived as one big extended family, they all lived in one place and shared everything. They were quite poor because they believed everything should be shared, so they didn’t end up with much money. From 1945 to 1960 was the peak time for the Kibbutz with around 270 different ones with around 350 people in each group, but this was only 4% of the population. Everyone worked fulltime even the women in the early days the mothers didn’t really see much of their children as they would be, being looked after by someone else while they went out to work, then at night all the children slept together I one place. They held a meeting once a week to make all the decisions together. Murdock didn’t see this as a nuclear family. They also practise exogamy, where they marry outside their own Kibbutz and see more of the children now. Another Commune was the Postlip it was found in 1968 just outside Cheltenham, it was set up in a manor house with 8 separate units and either a nuclear family or couple lived in a unit, they all had their own separate space and all worked away from home and they didn’t share their income. They only occasionally met. There is also another well known commune called Monkton Wyld in Dorset. They all live and work in the same house, grow their own food, to get money they sell the food or do course like Yoga, they share all the money and home educate the children they see each other as a family but Murdock doesn’t, even though the bases of the communes are nuclear families so in a way he was right and they are the strongest even though they all live together, the set up is still the nuclear family.

In 1917 something happened called the Russian revolution Tsar ruled the country and left his people to starve and wasn’t particularly nice to his people. Lenin took over and tried to make the society more equal. He tried to undermine the nuclear family; he thought it was selfish and meant people didn’t care about anyone else. He tried to weaken the nuclear family and made it so marriage was less of an issue; it was easier to divorce, made contraception available, made abortion legal and introduced free childcare. From 1917 to the 1930’s there was a higher level of Juvenal crime in the younger generation, the reason for this was thought to be that the family wasn’t around to guide them, the birth rate also dropped, so Lenin changed back to the way it was before. This helped Murdock prove his point that the nuclear family was the strongest; it showed how important it was. Orphanages are trying to make up a form of the nuclear family as they feel it is the strongest form of family this again supports Murdock’s theory.

To conclude I feel that Murdock was right the nuclear family is the strongest form of family but I feel that what he sees as a nuclear family is too narrow there are may forms that he has forgotten about like fostering, homosexual couples and alternative families. I see these as a family and believe they are as strong as the stereotypical 2.4 families. There were many attempts to prove Murdock wrong but in the end they disappeared or went to being a nuclear family, which therefore shows it is the strongest type of family.