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What Are The Functions of Families?

In studying the family, Functional Theorists have identified some common and nearly universal family functions. That means almost all families in all countries around the world have at least some of these functions in common: Table 2 shows many of the global functions of the family:

Table 2. Global Functions of the Family

· Economic support - food, clothing, shelter, etc...

· Emotional support - intimacy, companionship, belonging, etc...

· Socialization of child - raising children, parenting

· Control of sexuality - defines and controls when and with whom (IE: marriage)

· Control of reproduction - the types of relationships where children should/could be born

· Ascribed status - contexts of race, socioeconomic status, religion, kinship, etc.

By far, economic support is the most common function of today’s families. When your parents let you raid their pantry, wash clothes in their laundry, or replenish your checking account that’s economic support. For another young adult, say in New Guinea, if she captures a wild animal which is cooked on an open fire, that’s also economic support in a different cultural context. I’ve always been amazed at how far family economic cooperation extends. Some families cooperate in business-like relationships. In Quebec, Montreal there is an established pattern of Italian immigrants who help family and friends emigrate from Italy to Canada. They subsidize each others travel costs, help each other find employment once in Canada, and even privately fund some mortgages for one another. Each participant is expected to support others in the same manner. To partake in this form of economic cooperation is to assume a very business-like relationship.

Emotional relationships are also very common, but you must understand there is a tremendous amount of cultural diversity in how intimacy is experienced during emotional support in various families around the world. Intimacy is the social, emotional, spiritual, intellectual, and physical trust that is mutually shared between family members. Family members share confidences, advice, trust, secrets, and ongoing mutual concern. Many family scientists believe that intimacy in family relationships functions as a strong buffer to the ongoing stresses experienced by family members outside of the home.

Socialization of children was covered in detail in a previous chapter. For now, keep in mind that children are born with the potential to be raised as humans. They will realize this potential if older family members or friends take the time to protect and nurture them into their cultural and societal roles. Today the family is the core of primary socialization. But, many other societal institutions contribute to the process.

Controlling sexuality and reproduction have traditionally been sanctioned by families. A few centuries ago the father and mother even selected the spouse of many of their children (they still do in many countries). Today, US parents and children want their adult child to select their own spouse. Older family members tend to encourage pregnancy and childbirth in only marriage or a long-term relationship. Unwed Mothers are mothers who are not legally married at the time of the child’s birth. Being unwed brings up concerns of economic, emotional, social, and other forms of support for the mother that may or may not be present with the father. Many fathers reject their fatherly obligations in the case of unwed mothers.



When an unwed mother delivers the baby, it is often the older female family members who end up providing the functions of support for that child rather than the birth father. Table 3 shows the unwed mother births for the US in 2000 and 2006. Most of the 4,266,000 live US births in 2006 were to married mothers. But, about 1/10 of teen mothers and 38 percent of all mothers were unwed (retrieved 30 March 2009 fromhttp://www.census.gov/compendia/statab/tables/09s0077.pdf). This trend of increasing unwed birth rates suggests that more and more families have less control by sanctioning childbirth within marriage. On the other side of the coin, many of these unwed mothers marry the child’s fathers and many of those marriages eventually end in divorce.

Table 3. Percentage of All Births that were to Unwed Teens and Mothers of All Ages Years 2000 and 2006

Year Births to Unwed Teens Births to All Unwed Mothers
11.8% 33.2%
10.4% 35.8%

Taken from Statistical Abstracts of the US on 30 March 2009 from Table 87. Births to Teenage Mothers and Unmarried Women and Births With Low Birth Weight—States and Island Areas: 2000 to 2006http://www.census.gov/compendia/statab/tables/09s0087.pdf

Finally, ascribed status is there at birth. You were born into your racial, cultural-ethnic, religious and economic statuses. That shaped to some degree the way you grew up and were socialized. By far, in our modern societies, achieved status, or those statuses that come as a result of your own efforts, is more important than ascribed for most members of society. The degree of achievement you attain often depends heavily on the level of support families give to you.

Since marriage is so very common in the US, it would be wise for this chapter to cover the process of pairing off and forming marriages as well as the process of divorcing and dissolving marriages that often occurs. Pairing off can be better understood by incorporating a few principles that tend to describe, explain, and help us predict how two people move from strangers to intimate partners during the pairing process.


Date: 2015-12-24; view: 491


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