Types of family

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Types of family

Source: The Place of Men in changing family cultures. Geoff Dench (1996).

An example of how differing ideologies support different family arrangements.

The study was an exploration of contemporary cultural variations in family roles allocated to men. It can only be considered a pilot study because only small numbers were involved. The importance of the study is the light it sheds on the impact that ideology can have on how family life is lived and experienced.

The fundamental ideological division was between: conventional regulation (marriage) and individual choice.

Conventional families

Family is understood as a network of interpersonal rights and obligations arising out of birth and marriage and extending across household boundaries. Personal choice is allowed for to some extent, as in marriage, but once exercised it should foreclose further choices.

Family ties are seen as binding together people of all ages and sex categories into groupings whose members feel responsibility to provide reciprocal supports for each other. Such interdependence within families is seen as the moral basis of society, and therefore as requiring compromise of purely personal interests.

Many of the respondents in this study emphasized a distinction between what may be good for individuals and what is good for families as groups.

Deregulated families (individual choice)

One third of the respondents in the study rejected all group conventions and insist that family arrangements are a private matter to be freely negotiated among those people choosing to share a household. Most consider traditional families, and especially conventional divisions of domestic labour, as sources of social inequality and injustice.

Personal choice and autonomy are regarded as being of fundamental value in achieving a fair society.

It was found that it was the deregulated (alternative) family culture that leads to the loosening of family expectations on men. The advocates of the alternative position tended to be younger, childless, and the view enjoyed more acceptance among white British than among ethnic minorities.

Types of family

African Caribbeans seem the exception to this but this could be due to the speedy acceptance and conversion to UK libertarianism than to Caribbean cultural values. Migrants born in the Caribbean are divided from African Caribbean children raised in the UK by differences of cultural practice and values.

Alternative values were not retained by many of the respondents after they became experienced parents. The ideology emphasising personal choice does not provide a stable basis for enduring family relationships.

The study criticises much research into men's family roles as shallow - little more than measurements of men's participation in domestic activities. In such research, the 'male breadwinner role' is regarded as a reactionary phenomenon that nobody would want to analyse. Indeed, women's economic independence is viewed as a self evident uncontested good.

  1. Most people gravitate towards conventional family life - more so as they raise children and move to middle age.
  2. Many women do want more than domestic roles.
  3. The highest levels of personal and marital satisfaction were among people who lived in traditional families. The highest levels were connected to families in which the man worked and the woman was at home. The lowest levels occurred when the woman worked and the man stayed at home.

Types of family

  1. Restore a positive valuation of some sexual division of labour and identify some important roles for men.
  2. Encourage marriage through financial and legal benefits.

In the UK, the debate around conjugal rights and responsibilities is bogged down in the pursuit of fully symmetrical roles.

The individualist philosophy that has resulted in alternative lifestyles has denied men any responsibility for creating and maintaining family ties and responsibilities.

When the 'male breadwinner role' started to deteriorate, so did many men's felt obligation to work and support their family. This has had a particularly disastrous effect on young African Caribbean males.

It seems that men who pursue alternative lifestyles are:

More likely to live alone.

More likely to be unemployed.

Have less contact with relatives.

Generally, such men are less likely to be needed and this can mean that men are left out of the family picture - either because they opt out by being absent or because women choose to manage without them.