We have started our Institutions unit by looking at the family institution. We have been focusing on how this institution has changed over time. A particular focus has been the transformation of the family form. During the pre-industrial era, the extended family was the dominant form. According to Conflict theorists, the Industrial Revolution resulted in the demise of this family form and the emergence of the nuclear family. The reason the nuclear family form became dominant during this time, according to Conflict theorists, is because it best met the needs of a capitalist society; nuclear families are small and transportable, thus making them flexible in the workforce.
During the post-war era (1945-75) the nuclear family enjoyed major dominance due to the economic instability at the time and the focus on traditional gender roles. Not only was the nuclear family thought to be socially stable, but also ideal for consumerism. The more families, the more products sold. Feminist theorists, on the other hand, explain the dominance of the nuclear family form as being due to the fact that Australian society has and, in many ways, continues to be, a patriarchal society. In other words, a society run by men for men. The traditional nuclear family consists of women fulfilling essential, yet low status, services for society (e.g. childcare, elderly care, and domestic labour). The traditional gender roles also serve to benefit men, as having someone take care of the private realm (home, children etc.) means that one can fully engage with the public realm (career etc.).
In contemporary Australian Society (CAS), the nuclear family has become less dominant, though its ‘prestige’ still remains, less and less people are forming nuclear families. During class today, we looked at just how the nuclear family has changed, from nuclear to what Holmes (2003) would describe as This is partially due to the Family Law Act (1975) which made it far easier for people to divorce in Australia. Rather than having to prove cruelty, adultery or instability, individuals can now get a divorce through claiming ‘irretrievable damage’, also known as ‘no-fault’ divorce. There are also wider social factors that have lead to the decline of the nuclear family and the rise of a diverse range of family forms.
FamilyChangeStats (Current Australian family statistics)
Students read an extract from Holmes (2003) which attempted to explain the wider social factors that have lead to change in the family. Here are some of their summaries: