This paper explores the argument that the family is in decline. Firstly, a definition of family will be provided. Secondly, three theoretical perspectives will be presented in regards to the family being in decline. Finally, a conclusion will synthesize the main points raised in this paper, and provide recommendations for future research.
Defining what a family is is a highly contentious issue. In 1949 George Murdock defined a family as a group of people that includes two of both sexes, at least tow of who have a legally sanctioned relationship, and one or more children. This view was upheld by functionalist theorists such as Parsons and Goode (Parsons & Bales 1955, Goode 1963 cited in Levy, Widmer, & Kellerhals, 2002). However, over time the variety of families in industrialised societies has increased dramatically, hence its definition has been modified. Macionis and Plummer (2002) define a family as a social institution that can be found to exist in all societies. The function of the institution being to unite people into a cooperative group, to enable survival and raising of children, socialization of children and a regulation of the sexual activity of the people within the group. The family unit being a social group of two or more people who may be related through blood or marriage, or through adoption or by virtue of cohabitation or family by choice, and so share in the economic and social responsibilities (Macionis & Plummer, 2002).
In 21st globalised society numerous forms of family structure exist: the nuclear family remains, with two parents and children, although the term has been extended to include same sex couples who may not be married; the reconstituted family that combines two one-parent families; single-parent families; and the extended family which may be "vertical" in that grandparents live within the home, or "horizontal" in that relatives of the same generation as the parents are included in the family household. It is due to the various forms that a family exist in contemporary society that a functionalist approach contends that the family is in decline, as they perceive the changes to the basic family structure as having negative effects not only on familial inter-relations, but on family member's interactions with the wider society (Marcia, 2006). Further, that the acceptance of the diversity of family structures reflects the negative orientation of social values and beliefs that can only lead to more negative impacts on society as a whole (Henderson, Tickmyer, & Tadlock, 2005).
Decline, Democratisation or Continuity
According to the functionalist approach the de-traditionalization of the family is due changing social values that emphasize individualization, which is causing a decline of the family unit (Murray, 1994 cited in Gillies, 2003). Family values have become constrained and impacted on the family identity leading to a weakening of intra-familial ties; this in turn has severely impacted on wider social harmony (e.g., increased crime rates, less concern for the well-being of others). As such, the interests of the "self"